Good News (WITH ADDENDUM)
Young pitchers have been ruining their arms for years because of overuse. The reason is simple. Teams playing in tournaments -- not just Little League, but also other community leagues and travel ball -- are always trying to advance to the next level. In almost every game, a team faces the possibility of elimination. So managers and coaches use their best one or two pitchers over and over again.
Many pitchers throw in excess of 100 pitches a game and work with two days of rest. Think about that. Roger Clemens, the most physical pitcher of our time, usually leaves the game after 90 or 100 pitches -- and then he gets four days of rest. If Houston Astros Manager Phil Garner ever told the Rocket that he had to pitch on two days of rest, Garner would find himself upside-down in the trash bin. And yet Little Leaguers -- whose bodies are still developing -- have been working on just a couple days of rest. Absurd.
Little League CEO Steve Keener, the American Sports Medicine Institute, and other partners deserve a big cheer for this move.
Still, there are detractors.
One criticism is that there simply are not enough good pitchers to go around. The answer is simple: Get more kids a chance to take the mound. Only when you think that it's essential to win all the time, with a manchild power pitcher, can you resist giving more kids a chance.
Another criticism is that tracking the pitch counts will be too hard and that all kinds of disputes will arise. I agree that Little League -- and all youth sports, for that matter -- has gotten too rule-bound and bureaucratic. But you mean to tell me that the official scorer cannot have a clicker in his hand as he or she watches the game? Or that the scorer can't mark the book for each at bat and then report the counts every inning to both managers? Or that a volunteer cannot track pitch counts on a white board for all to see? Please.
A third criticism is that teams will work the pitch count to drive the best pitchers out of games. That might happen, although I'm not sure how many kids have the bat control of a Bobby Abreu. But the result could be very positive in two ways. First, it could encourage youngsters to pitch to put the ball in play rather than pitch for strikeouts. It's much more efficient to get grounders and pop flies than strikeouts. That could make games move faster and involve the rest of the team in games. How much fun is it for a left fielder or second baseman to stand around in a 14-K game? Second, even if the rule does enable some teams to work the count and get the aces out of the game, so what? The teams should be developing four or five pitchers, not just two or three.
This decision is very good news for every kid who plays Little League. Other organizations should follow suit, not just to protect young athletes' health and wellbeing but to involve all kids in a more well-rounded game.
ADDENDUM: Brent Musberger, in his broadcast of the U.S. championship game between Georgia and Oregon, effusively praised Little League's decision to establish pitch counts. Orel Hershiser and Joe Morgan, former major league stars doing the color commentary, agreed. But then Musberger said something about how these limits probably would have to be loosened for the Little League World Series and its qualifying tournaments. Hold it! Why is that, Brent? If the rule is ever essential, it's in those tournaments where the coaches and parents push their kids hard to get "to the next level." If this pitch-count rule does not apply to the tournaments, it is a fraud. It's the tournaments where the kids get pushed beyond their limit and damaged. Readers: Write to Steve Keener at Little League International, 539 U.S. Route 15 Hwy, PO Box 3485, Williamsport, PA 17701-0485. Tell him congratulations for the pitch-count rule, and then demand that the rule be applied to all tournaments.