By: Austin Davis
The culture surrounding baseball has to change. Sure, the game right now is fine. But with Commissioner Manfred’s absurd pace of play rules, the game 10 years from now won’t be one to watch, and it will be because of a moderately sized group of people, profiting off of kid’s dreams. The dark future of baseball will be caused by youth development.
Let’s start as early as it gets. Every dad wants their son to be a pro athlete, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But some dads take this personal desire too far. They put a bat in the kid’s hands before they can walk, and show it off on social media like hitting a wiffle Ball is impressive. By the time they’re five or six, with a year of t-ball under their belt, they start getting private lessons; we’ll discuss these more later. By 7, they’re on an “elite” or “select” travel ball team going around the country. This process is where trouble starts. Some people have the ability to cough up several thousand dollars a year so their kids can live out their “dream”. But is it too much? Pushing a sport on your kid then paying others thousands to make your kid elite?
“Joey Erace knocks pitch after pitch into the netting of his $15,000 backyard batting cage, the pings from his metal bat filling the air in the south New Jersey cul-de-sac. His private hitting coach, who’s charging $100 for this hour-long session, tells Joey to shorten his stride. He’s accustomed to such focused instruction: the evening batting practice followed a one-on-one fielding lesson in Philadelphia earlier in the day, which cost another $100.” That is from TIME magazine’s 2017 article on the youth sports industry. On the cover: 11 year old baseball “superstar” Joey Erace, perhaps the best example of how baseball has become a rich kid sport. Little Joey’s dad, a business owner, spends upwards of $30,000 on baseball. For some families, that’s a large chunk of one parent’s salary. And Joey is just 11. Once players get into high school, there are otherworldly expenses. Perfect Game (the premier provider of amateur baseball events) charges thousands just for the opportunity to play five or six games in one of their tournaments, even more if you want more exposure. $600 to attend a showcase and get an evaluation. Baseball Factory, a rival organization, charges nearly $2000 for a week long training session, after you’ve paid $100-$400 at one of their National Tryouts. Hitting instructors, usually former college or MiLB players, but sometimes MLB vets, charge hundreds of dollars for a lesson to “fix” your kids swing, and they will usually recommend more. Gyms charge hundreds per month to go train. And yes, some of these players go to college or even get drafted out of high school. But, with the rise in travel ball, and the promotion of tournaments in showcases, has come at the same time as the rise of the Tommy John epidemic.
The rise in Tommy John surgeries correlates directly with the increase in travel ball. Players, PO’s especially, spend whole summers trying to throw as hard as they possibly can to impress the scouts They do this for three, four, five, sometimes even six years. Common sense leads you to the realization that this causes more than just some wear and tear on the elbow. This is more so in high school pitchers than college pitchers, though, as they have more solid arm care programs. So, let’s look at the top HS pitchers drafted in the last 8 years, and see how they’ve done.
2010- Jameson Taillon (2) TJ in April 2014 (27-21, 3.63 ERA, 389 Ks)
2011- Dylan Bundy (4) TJ in June 2013 (31-31, 4.63 ERA, 440 Ks)
2012- Max Fried (7) TJ in August 2014 (2-5, 3.32 ERA, 66 Ks)
2013- Kohl Stewart (4) No TJ (2-1, 3.68 ERA, 24 Ks)
2014*- Brady Aiken (1) Didn’t sign, TJ in March 2015 while at IMG
2014*- Tyler Kolek (2) TJ in April 2016, 5.34 in 4 MiLB seasons
2015- Kolby Allard (14) No TJ, (1-1, 12.38 ERA, 3 Ks)
2016- Ian Anderson (3) No TJ, 2.64 ERA in 3 MiLB seasons
2017- Hunter Greene (2) No TJ, 4.95 ERA in 72.2 IP
2018- Ryan Weathers (7) No TJ, 3.44 ERA in 18.1 IP
So, as you can see, many of the pitchers that grew up in the developmental culture discussed in this article have either had Tommy John, aren’t impressing, or both. There are a few bright spots though, like Kohl Stewart and Ian Anderson. But for the most part, the latter is true.
Today’s MLB is disliked by many. And the kids today are growing up in a culture where velocity and power is everything, throwing good habits of the past out of the door. But at what cost?