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South's coaches deserve the blame

May 24, 2008|By DAN KAUFFMAN

Basic math did what no Maryland Class 2A baseball team could: Beat South Hagerstown.

And before I start going off on the Rebels' coaching staff, let me just say this: I feel terrible for the players. The Rebels had a great season, and this travesty does not, and should not, reflect on the players. So many of them had outstanding seasons, and a few will no doubt earn All-County and possibly All-Area honors. They played with heart -- their two come-from-behind victories over Century and Liberty in the 2A West regional playoffs showed it -- and they played with pride, passion and skill. This story has nothing to do with the kids.

Now, let me take off the gloves.

First, the nuts and bolts: There's a National Federation of High Schools rule that states, "A pitcher may pitch in a maximum of 14 innings in any seven calendar-day period and a maximum of 10 innings within a three calendar-day period."

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Rebels pitcher Brandon Knight threw 15 innings in seven days: One inning (the seventh) in the 2A West quarterfinals against Winters Mill on May 15, and seven-inning complete games May 17 in the region semifinal against Century and May 21 in the state semifinal against Marriotts Ridge.

South's coaches were aware of the rule -- head coach Ralph Stottlemyer mentioned it to me Monday. But somehow, they let this happen. Was it an accident? Sure it was. Should it have happened? Not a chance. How hard is it to make sure a player stays within the 14-inning limit for a seven-day period? Not very. Breaking the rule is inexcusable in my opinion.

The excuses already are flowing. One of them has to do with the bad weather that forced the postponement of games. If the games had been played as originally scheduled, Knight's innings would have come on May 12 (one inning), May 14 (seven) and May 20 (seven), and the inning of relief would no longer have been counted against Knight's total.

Is that unfortunate? Sure. Still, it does not change what the rule is, and it does not change that the rule was broken.

Some people will probably argue, "What difference does one inning make? Why keep the kids from playing in a state final over one inning?"

Let me answer that by reminding everyone why the rule exists: To protect the pitchers. News flash -- pitching kids too much, too often, leads to health problems. There have been numerous studies done on this, all one has to do is a Google search for "baseball pitch count."

If anything, the pitching rule should be even more strict. I personally believe a pitch count should be enforced, not just in the playoffs, but by the National Federation of High Schools for all high school games across the country. Restricting pitchers to 14 innings per week is not enough, because it does nothing to prevent them from throwing way too many pitches in any one start.

I don't pretend to be an expert on this subject, but I've done a lot of reading about it, and here's what I understand to be the truth: High school pitchers who throw more than 100 pitches in any one game put themselves at greater risk of injury, either at the time or down the road, with every extra pitch they throw. The mechanics of throwing a baseball overhand are destructive to the shoulder and elbow -- proper mechanics, and proper conditioning done in the offseason, after starts and in between starts, can only lessen the impact so much. And the damage to the arm happens at the time those late-game pitches occur. The damage may not be seen until later, but it's happening.

Earlier this season, I watched Tim Leather throw 131 pitches in a complete-game 14-8 victory at Clear Spring. When told of Leather's high pitch count, a Rebels coach told me, "Well, it's a cool day today, and he won't pitch again for seven days, so he'll be fine." In the regional final against Liberty, Leather threw 142 pitches, and Stottlemyer told me after the game that he planned to start Knight on two days' rest against Marriotts Ridge after Knight threw a complete game against Century. Knight wound up making the start on three days' rest after rain pushed the state semifinal back one day. For the record, Knight threw 156 pitches Wednesday -- 100 in the first three innings.

Here was Stottlemyer's quote Monday: "Our pitchers are conditioned. (Two days) is plenty for (Knight). They're not doing anything dangerous to hurt themselves. They do the right things."

That is absolutely ridiculous.

Does South Hagerstown's coaching staff really think it knows more about handling pitchers than Major League Baseball teams? Are they really that arrogant? Major League teams would never allow their top prospects to throw anywhere near 130 pitches, they'd be lucky to get close to 110. Why? Because Major League teams have invested a lot of money into their prospects, and invested a lot of money into researching the best way to develop them and cut the risk of injury. They know high pitch counts are extremely dangerous.

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