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A call to arms - Take it easy on little league pitchers

July 10, 2003|by DAN KAUFFMAN

It's not very often that something in a story I'm editing makes me sit up in an outrage. One of those moments happened last week.

While reading about a 9-10-year-old little league all-star game - one in which the losing team scored 10 runs - I noticed that the winning pitcher had thrown a complete game.

Wait a minute. This kid's coaches let him pitch all six innings when the opponent scored 10 runs against him?!

Based on my experience covering baseball, I know nobody gives up 10 runs - whether they were his fault or not - without throwing a whole ton of pitches.


There's nothing like telling a 10-year-old, "Great game, son. Now make sure you ice your arm tonight to keep the swelling down."

Earlier this week, I saw an 11-12-year-old game in which the winning pitcher threw 72 pitches in a one-hit shutout. That's a vastly different game than a 24-run slugfest.

My estimate is the first pitcher threw at least 20 pitches per inning (a conservative estimate), meaning he threw at least 120 pitches - and likely quite a few more.

I'm sorry, but that's way too many pitches for any 9- or 10-year-old to be throwing under any circumstances, period.

I have two questions:

  1. Since when was trying to win a game reason enough to risk a kid's health?

  2. Are the coaches even aware of the risks to the arms of these young pitchers?

    Quoting a story that ran in The Herald-Mail on June 2, 2002, William A. Grana, M.D., a clinical professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation at the University of Oklahoma, College of Medicine in Oklahoma City, "suggests that kids should throw no more than 40 to 50 pitches in a practice and no more than 70 to 80 in a game."

    The Hagerstown Suns rarely, if ever, let their starters throw more than 100 pitches per outing because of health concerns. If there's a risk to mature adults throwing more than that, what kind of risk is there to kids whose arms are still developing?

    In all-star tournament play, there are limits to the number of innings a player can pitch over a certain time period, but not on how many pitches he can throw during those innings. My suggestion to those in charge is to put in place a limit on how many pitches a kid can throw during a game.

    If some coaches aren't willing to regulate how many pitches a youngster can throw, somebody else needs to do so.

    To its credit, Little League Baseball has taken numerous steps to ensure the safety of its players over the past several seasons. This is one more step they need to take.

    I used to be one of many who made fun of athletes whenever they suffered groin injuries. No longer.

    It happened during the Hagerstown Suns Media Softball Tournament on June 28. I'm not quite sure of the exact play, but I think I pulled a muscle while turning to try to run down a fly ball in the outfield. I must have been flatfooted when I made my initial move, because 10 minutes later I couldn't walk right.

    The next day, I needed four tries just to put on my socks. Getting in and out of bed was no painless feat. Walking up stairs was next to impossible. I felt like I was 23 going on 63.

    I was supposed to play golf the next day. I'm not even going to try to describe what happened when I attempted to take a swing. It wasn't pretty.

    Just more evidence why those of us who write about sports for a living, well, write about sports for a living.

    Dan Kauffman is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7520, or by e-mail at

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