Column: Youth baseball should strike out the curveball

By Casey Bass

Yakker, Uncle Charlie, Yellow Hammer, Hook, Snake, The Deuce, The Local, Lord Charles, Spinner.

A curveball can be called many things, but most experts call it TROUBLE.

In recent years youth baseball leagues have drastically changed pitch count rules to help protect kids’ arms.

Overuse is a major contributing factor to arm injuries, but misuse is just as dangerous.

David Marshall is the director of sports medicine at Children’s Health Care of Atlanta.

He explained that “Little League Elbow” is a separation of the growth plate in the elbow caused by overuse and misuse.

Yes, they call it “Little League Elbow.” How’s that for a legacy?

According to Marshall, “The growth plate is not completely closed until a child is 17 or 18.”

Leagues are doing a great job of policing pitch counts to deal with overuse, so let’s focus on misuse–specifically the curveball.

The overhand throwing motion is unnatural, and the curveball exaggerates the motion by increasing torque on the elbow and shoulder.

“I have a teenage son, and we did not throw anything other than a fastball and changeup until he was 16,” said Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell.

“Since becoming a Major League pitching coach, I have learned about growth plates and the importance of being a good steward of a kid’s arm,” explained McDowell.

Former Braves reliever Mike Gonzalez agrees.

“I am not a big fan of curveballs until you are a sophomore in high school. You have nothing to prove until then. The longer you can wait the better,” he said.

“It’s not a good idea for a kid to throw a curve ball, I don’t even throw one now,” said Chuck James of the Washington Nationals.

Former Brave Buddy Carlyle said, “I threw curveballs when I was 12, and I wish I wouldn’t have. I wish someone had taught me a changeup instead. Maybe I would not have so much trouble with it now.”

Not only is a curveball dangerous, it is the easy way out.

Teach a kid to pitch. Give him a fastball and a changeup and explain how changing speeds and hitting your spots is more effective than a big hook (it worked pretty well for Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux).

Pitch smarter not harder, or in the words of the greatest fictional manager of all time, Lou Brown, “Forget about the curveball, Rickey, give ’em the heater.”

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