May 12, 2014
Seventeen major league baseball pitchers and a number of minor league pitchers have needed surgery for torn elbow ligaments since the start of spring training this year, more than in recent whole seasons. All were 30 years old or younger.
The number of elbow ligament tears is going up because players are abusing their arms in the hopes of making it into the majors. Teen players are throwing more pitches per year without giving their arms time to recover. While 20 years ago, aspiring baseball players focused on playing other sports throughout the year, now there is pressure to stay in the one sport; to attend showcases, travel tournaments, and college camps, and to get private indoor lessons after baseball season.
On top of that, there is more and more focus on pitch speed, which adds to the stress on pitchers’ arms. Also, Tommy John elbow surgery is increasingly widespread and accepted, especially since it can sometimes allow pitchers to throw even harder than before.
The whole sport is set up for a very small number of owners to make enormous sums, and for a few stars to make not so enormous sums. Given the few prospects for young people and the high salaries dangled out for a few, it’s no surprise that so many young people would be willing to destroy their arms for a chance to make it to the big leagues.
Destroying young players’ arms, then turning them into “bionic ballplayers” through surgery, is just part of the profit game.