During his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz offered a warning to parents and youth-athletes about the dangers of year-round pitching.
Smoltz underwent Tommy John surgery to repair a torn elbow ligament in March 2000, causing him to miss the entire 2000 MLB season. The Braves limited his wear and tear by moving him to the bullpen for the next few years upon his recovery, where he quickly returned to form as a dominant hurler.
Toward the end of his induction speech Sunday, Smoltz referred to the rise of pitchers undergoing Tommy John surgery as an “epidemic” and “something that is affecting our game.” He offered the following advice to parents and youth pitchers:
I want to encourage the families and parents that are out there to understand that this is not normal to have a surgery at 14 and 15 years old. That you have time, that baseball is not a year-round sport. That you have an opportunity to be athletic and play other sports. Don't let the institutions that are out there running before you guaranteeing scholarship dollars and signing bonuses that this is the way. We have such great, dynamic arms in our game that it's a shame that we're having one and two and three Tommy John recipients. So, I want to encourage you, if nothing else, know that your children's passion and desire to play baseball is something that they can do without a competitive pitch. Every throw a kid makes today is a competitive pitch. They don't go outside, they don't have fun, they don't throw enough, but they're competing and maxing out too hard, too early, and that's why we're having these problems. So please, take care of those great future arms.
Here’s the video of his full speech, for those who are interested. His comments about youth pitchers begin around the 24:20 mark:
Last April, renowned orthopedic sports surgeon James Andrews suggested year-round baseball was the No. 1 cause for the rise in Tommy John surgery among baseball pitchers of all ages. In a radio interview, he noted youth pitchers “are not just throwing year-round, they’re
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.