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Baseball Hall of Famer Warns Parents About Dangers of Year-Round Pitching

John Smoltz_500.jpgDuring 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 competing year-round, and they don't have any time for recovery," which Smoltz emphasized Sunday.

According to a study presented last year at the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine's annual meeting in New Orleans, youth-athletes from higher-income families are 68 percent more likely to suffer serious overuse injuries compared to lower-income athletes. The study authors surmised that because single-sport specialization can cost upwards of thousands of dollars annually, "having the financial resources to afford such costs may provide increased opportunities for young athletes to participate in a single sport." That specialization can prove costly, however, especially in terms of injuries.

To combat the rise of Tommy John surgery and elbow injuries in young pitchers, Major League Baseball debuted a "Pitch Smart" initiative last year, which aims to limit the number of pitches youth-hurlers throw on a day-to-day basis. An advisory committee of 12 experts, including Andrews, produced a set of recommendations for pitchers at each age level, including a daily maximum of pitches and the recommended amount of required rest for those pitchers. For instance, a pitcher who's 11 or 12 years old should never throw more than 85 pitches in a day, and pitchers below the age of 15 should never throw more than 20 pitches on zero days' rest, 35 pitches on one day's rest, or 50 pitches on two days' rest.

Smoltz is the first pitcher in MLB history to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame following Tommy John surgery. However, he's fearful of being the last pitcher to do so, too, as he told USA Today's Bob Nightengale earlier this month.

"We're not developing pitchers the right way," Smotlz said. "We're asking them to go as hard as you can, and as short as you can, and that's not good enough.

"So when they come back from this, that's all they really know. It looks sexy. It feels good. And we fall in love with it. But these guys are not given the balance, or they're not given the proper time to figure out what kind of pitcher they are. I'm fearful and feel bad for a lot of these guys."

Photo: National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee John Smoltz speaks during an induction ceremony at the Clark Sports Center on Sunday, July 26, 2015, in Cooperstown, N.Y. (Mike Groll/AP)

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