With the first day of summer on our heels, most little league championships have concluded and young baseball players are done for the season. Unless you, like I, have a TOK (totally obsessed kid) that plays post season Allstars, followed by summer ball league, sprinkled with summer baseball parties and topped with pitching sessions with dad in the yard. We are All-Baseball, All-The-Time.
At one particular little league championship this spring, an 11-year old pitching dynamite on the mound was destroying our team. He was throwing curve ball after curve ball, striking out one batter after the next. He was fierce. He was feared. The championship was on the line, and he was a Hero. That is, until his 11-year old arm gave out on him and he collapsed on the mound, grabbing his ravaged elbow, screaming in pain.
According to the Division of Sports Medicine at Children’s Hospital Boston, the “Little League elbow” is on the up-tick, and they are seeing 12-14 year olds in droves with injuries caused by throwing curve balls.
Sports medicine physicians seem to agree that pitchers under the age of 13 are simply not physically capable of absorbing the torque and strain on the elbow caused by throwing a curveball. The ulnar collateral ligaments that connect the lower and upper part of the arm are too underdeveloped to survive the strain. The American Sports Medicine Institute says, “don’t throw curve balls until you can shave.” ASMI Executive Director Lanier Johnson added, “The kid who throws all those curve balls in the Little League World Series is a hero. But does he ever get a change to earn a college scholarship or sign a major league contract? Do you want to take a chance on your son or daughter to get a college scholarship? Do you want to be a hero at 13 or 14 but never much else after that?”
Dr. Lyle Micheli, director of the Division of Sports Medicine at Children’s Hospital Boston, believes the curveball is best not thrown until a pitcher is at least 14. He also said kids shouldn’t attempt to throw a slider, a pitch that puts even more stress on the elbow, until 16.
Little League International and Little League Baseballs have tried to minimize the risk to young pitchers by mandating a pitching count limit and innings’ pitched limit per game. They have not, to date, mandated an age requirement or restriction on curve balls. “It doesn’t mean we’re advocating throwing breaking balls,’’ Stephen D. Keener, president and chief executive of Little League International. “We don’t promote it. We just think it’s very difficult to regulate it out of the game, and there is no data to show that throwing breaking balls is at the root of arm injuries.’’
Timothy Kremchek, an Ohio orthopedic surgeon and the Cincinnati Reds team physician, disagrees. “They have an obligation to protect these 12-year-old kids and instead, they’re saying, ‘There’s no scientific evidence curveballs cause damage, so go ahead, kids, just keep throwing them.’’’
While there is no Little League rule banning the destructive pitch, parents should remain vigilant to protect their children from serious injury, and heed the warnings by the medical profession concerning this growing trend among young pitchers. Without Little League oversight, parental knowledge is instrumental in protecting young athletes. These injuries are totally preventable, and awareness is key.
Dr. Kremcheck offered the following tips to parents and their eager, baseball loving children, on appropriate measures to minimize serious injury to pitchers:
- No curveballs until aged 14-16;
- No more than 300 pitches per week, be it games or practices; and
- Good coaching: ensure your child has a knowledgeable, experienced pitching coach teaching proper techniques.
If you are someone you know has suffered a traumatic, preventable, injury while participating in a sporting event, we have trained, knowledgeable and experienced attorneys in the area of sports injury law that are able to consult with you.