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In Between the Lines

By Ed Botti

April 19, 2024

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As the 2024 baseball season started to unfold, that old friend of ours Tommy John became the most talked about man in baseball. Not because the crafty lefty won 288 games over his career, but because of the good old ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction surgery named after him.


Baseball has arrived at a very frightening time when it comes to pitchers and their “money makers”, AKA their arms. It seems like we can’t go more than a few days without a pitcher getting hit with an elbow injury.


I can remember when it was common to be told that the most unnatural movement in sports is a pitching windup and delivery.


The weird thing is, while guys from my era were being told that, arm injuries weren’t really a big deal. Yes, they happened, but it was never really a problem.


I am sure I am leaving some out, but so far Jonathan Loaisiga, Nick Pivetta, Framber Valdez, Spencer Strider, Shane Bieber, Shohei Ohtani, Eury Perez, Walker Buehler, Shane McClannahan, Lucas Giolito, Jacob deGrom, Trevor Gott, and Trevor Stephan, just off the top of my head are all set for the infamous surgery, or have already had it and will miss the 2024 season.


And we aren’t even at May 1st.


Lately, most it seems, want to place the blame on the pitch clock. Why the pitch clock? Because that's the easiest target because it is latest thing to be implemented that effects pitching.


The pitch clock was put into MLB in 2023. So how does that explain that in 2022 there were a total of 104 Tommy John surgeries to MLB players?


To put a little perspective on that number, consider that just as recently as 2000 there were 29 such surgeries to MLB players. Backing up a bit more, in 1996 there were 11, and going back a bit more, in 1985 there were 3 (David Wells, Jamie Nelson and Kevin Towers).


Did the human body suddenly change? No it did not.


So, what exactly changed?


That is the million dollar question. I can tell you that since the late 1990’s when steroid abuse was rampant and obvious for all to see (unless your name was Bud Selig) and home runs become a huge part of the game, the injuries to pitchers has sky rocketed.


Not too long ago throwing 95 mph in a big league game was newsworthy.


Currently in MLB, almost everyone on the mound is trying to push their arms to the max and throw the ball through the wall.


Alarmingly it starts at an early age.


By the time kids make it to the big leagues their elbows have become abused to the point of being ticking time bombs. They throw too hard and way too often. It is rare these days when kids play multiple sports. Now, if a kid can hit decently or throw pretty well, the parents see dollar signs and junior does nothing but play baseball. No basketball, no karate, no hockey, nothing. Just play baseball.


When I spoke about this topic with ex Yankee Ron Blomberg, he told me that it was the single biggest mistake kids and their parents are making these days. Ron by the way was recruited by Bear Bryant for football, John Wooden for basketball and then ended up signing as the number 1 draft pick by the NY Yankees in the 1967 MLB draft. I think he knows a thing or two about cross training.


I train kids in the martial arts, and I encourage them over and over to play different sports, use different muscles, and not just focus on the one sport they may me good at.


Another culprit, in my opinion, is how Commissioner Manfred and his flock have changed the baseball over the last several years.


Have any of you picked up a new baseball lately? I have, and I can tell you it is not the same ball I played with, even in my college years as a skinny third baseman.


These new balls are made to fly. As a result they have removed the art of pitching from the game. Now, we see guys like Rougned Odor check his swing and watch the ball leave the park. Nothing against Mr. Odor, he seems like a pretty strong individual, but even Dave Winfield had to put some muscle behind a swing to clear the fences. Oh by the way, Dave was also a multi-sport star who could have played pro football, basketball or baseball.


Pitchers now play the game to get swings and misses instead of just making good pitches to get soft contact. Why, because you don’t have to hit that new ball very hard to get it over the fences.


Home runs sell, and the league is not ready to go back to real baseball, they love home run derby. So much so they have even made it an official competition at the All-Star Game.


To keep the home runs flying, last year the commissioner blocked the use of all sorts of sticky materials used by pitchers to improve grip, spin rate, and velocity, and even more important, command.


Let me get this right, pitchers throw a harder ball at velocities rarely seen over the last 100 years, and you remove a substance that helps them control the ball and where it ultimately ends up?


Why is that?


To me that does two things. It puts a hitter at greater risk of being hit by a pitch, and it forces the pitchers to use different grips and pressure to throw the ball, putting their arms at risk of injury.


All in the name of home run derby, and those prop bets that the league cashes in on.


I recently heard Tyler Glasnow opine on this very topic, and he is absolutely convinced that he suffered arm injuries due to having to completely change his grip and pressure on the ball after the sticky stuff was banned.


Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery


Just this past weekend, the great Doc Gooden stated that another reason why pitchers are getting hurt at such an alarming rate is because they no longer use their lower body when throwing, like he did. He says it now is all focused on arm speed and velocity, not on technique.


Whatever the reason is, it gets traced back to a pitcher feeling that he has to do more now to get positive results because the parks are smaller and the ball is harder and slicker.

So what do they do to fix this?


No one has the answer, but it has become a major issue right now in the league.


Maybe, if the insurance companies decide to no longer underwrite pitchers insurance coverage and force the league to self-insure, then the league will be forced to look at the who, what, where, when and why to solve this problem.


What I do know is that pitchers have gone from thoroughbred athletes to fragile ballerinas in one generation.


It is now April 19, and I have not seen a single shred of evidence about the entire Ohtani gambling matter. Folks, I can tell you first hand, there is a mountain of data that is being suppressed from us.


All we got was him reading a prepared statement and the Feds backing off.


Along those same lines and fresh out of the pages of “I told you so”, yesterday the NBA announced that they have banned Toronto Raptors forward Jontay Porter for life after an investigation found he manipulated his participation in a game to influence the outcome of a bet and also bet on NBA games.


What a shock!


According to sources, the NBA projects to generate close to $200 million in revenue from gambling this season; an 11% increase from last season.


Remember, always follow the money!


Congratulations go out to the great John Sterling for his retirement. Since 1989 he has been a staple to my summers. His voice accompanied me to many pools, beaches, long car rides, lazy summer days and just about anywhere else I could sneak my radio into during a Yankee game.


To this day when I hear his voice I think of those great 1990's Yankee teams and those wonderful playoff runs.


I for one will miss his humor and excitement.




RIP to the great Dickey Betts!

3 Comments


Jeff Korell
Jeff Korell
Apr 19

Pedro Martinez said the same thing, now many other former players are saying it, and now, Greg Maddux is saying it. It is ABSOLUTELY the emphasis on VELOCITY. Young pitchers are being scouted and drafted out of high school based entirely on VELOCITY. And SPIN RATE. All these young prospects from high school, to college, to the minor leagues are all being evaluated by how many MPH they can throw, how high a velocity. And this is ruining pitchers arms and elbows, and that very sensitive, very frail, Ulnar Collateral Ligament. And this is why so many pitchers are needing Tommy John surgery and missing approximately a year and a half of playing time because of it. This has…


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Alan B.
Alan B.
Apr 19

I think there's a whole bunch of reasons for the arm injuries, but don't discount any of the above mentioned reasons as not being part of the problem. Yes, pitch click doesn't help, the stickiness and constant change of the baseball doesn't help. Neither does the max velocity on every pitch. Don't underestimate either that kids are now throwing years round, with no break. Even MLB pitchers are not taking any down time in the off season. Then, there is the most underrated reason of all - the legs. Does the arm really fatigue or can the pitcher no longer have the same power, speed of his legs, so it's more straight arm. Throw in the babying of the pitchers…


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fuster
Apr 19

interestingly, grumpy old fans continue to complain about how pitchers are being ruined by not being expected to throw 100+ pitches per game and pitch in 40+ games per season

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