Jan. 16 may be a strange date to discuss baseball, but when it’s 50 degrees outside and Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia is on Long Island, you discuss baseball.
Scioscia was the guest of honor Saturday at Ward Melville, where a panel of sports doctors discussed injury prevention. One doctor likened the overuse of young pitching arms to abuse.
“I tell parents and I tell kids all the time, the only person who is going to protect your arm is you,” said Dr. Luga Podesta, a former major league team physician. “It’s almost getting to the point of child abuse.”
One of the topics was Tommy John surgery.
Podesta and his colleagues at St. Charles Orthopedics in East Setauket dispelled beliefs that pitchers throw harder after that particular surgery, noting that only 69 percent of players who have it return to pitch more than 10 professional games. And he said their average fastball is slower than it was before the injury.
A young pitcher who has the surgery also is at a greater risk of having a repeat injury, said Podesta, who was a team doctor with the Dodgers from 1990-2006 and the Angels from 2010-13. He added that some players rush to surgery when there are better options.
“I think what you are seeing now is a pitcher with other options for rehab to get their ligament back to where it needs to be jumping into Tommy John because they think it’s some magic cure, which data is showing it’s not,” said Scioscia, who handled pitchers for 13 years as a catcher for the Dodgers. “So I think that’s an important part that a young athlete has to know.”
Scioscia, whose career ended after the 1992 season because of a shoulder injury, said that during his playing days, he never discussed pitch counts or innings with a manager or pitcher. Now it’s a rule of thumb.
“I think as you have kids at an earlier age being more aggressive and training and getting sports-specific, which is what happens in our culture sometimes, there is that problem of overuse,” he said.
Scioscia credits his prolonged tenure to not specializing in baseball while growing up in Pennsylvania. “You played enough to enjoy it,’’ he said, “but once middle of July came, end of July, I was thinking about football.”
Dr. Philip Schrank, an orthopedic surgeon at St. Charles, noted the growing number of high school pitchers requiring elbow and shoulder surgery. “There is an absolute epidemic going on in Suffolk County with these pitchers] falling apart,” he said.
The doctors said young pitchers require three to four months of complete rest from throwing to preserve their arms until they’re “old enough to shave.”
Ward Melville junior Ben Brown said he understands what the panel said but added that taking off months to rest isn’t always easy — even when it hurts to pitch. “Definitely, all of the time,” Brown said. “You’ve got to come to reality and say I got to short myself up and not throw so much.”