Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University and pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeye baseball team from 1971 through 1974.  He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league league umpire for seven years, working in the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA).  He has written for numerous websites and outdoor publications, and for the past ten years has served as a regular columnist and photo editor for Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press.  Widely knowledgeable on that period of American History, Fulks is a frequent speaker on the Civil War at local roundtables throughout the Midwest. He and wife Mindy have two grown children and live in Covington, Ohio.

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I’m sure the brains behind the new rule limiting the wear and tear on high school pitching arms is well-intended, but I join a lot of veteran baseball people who say…it takes even more fun out of playing baseball.

The 2017 baseball season starts this weekend with our coverage of Ohio State (in Florida) and UD (in South Carolina)…and no better way to break in the year than with thoughts on the memo received recently from the OHSAA detailing the new rule for 2017 that limits the number of pitches that can be thrown by high school pitchers in the coming season.

By the way, this is not an OHSAA rule…it’s a mandate set down by the National Federation of State High School Associations, somewhere out there in the land of “big brother” watching over us.

It’s the same group of people who say you can’t slide hard into second base, make hard contact with the catcher at home plate if you’re trying to score, or intentionally throw close to a hitter to drive him back off the plate. As you can tell, I’m quite cynical about agencies like the NFHS and their grasp on competitive reality.

The new rule says that if you throw at least 31 pitches in a Monday game you can’t pitch again on Tuesday. And that if you throw at least 76 pitches on Monday you can’t throw again until Thursday. And overall, the total number of pitches any pitcher can throw in a game now is 125. Of course, anyone who breaks the rule, or fails to report to a designated data collection system will be subject to water-boarding as an incentive to do better. I’m really cynical about this bunch!

The new rule is intended to protect adolescent arms from overuse, a theory long held by critics who say some coaches abuse the one good arm they may have on a typical high school team – especially during tournament season. And there is merit for concern, especially if a young pitcher either hits or comes close to the 125 pitch mark and is used again the next day.

But the rule doesn’t take in account the fact that other arms on the field are in just as much jeopardy.

For instance, there is no concern apparently about outfielders who are forced to stand for five innings on a 35 degree day and then field a batted ball and throw it 200 feet to home plate trying to cut down a runner attempting to score. Trust it, if you haven’t played, that it’s a greater risk than throwing additional pitches because at least the pitcher’s arm is warm and loose.

Second, it says nothing about the wear and tear on catchers’ arms, who for every throw the pitcher makes the catcher makes a like throw to return the ball to the mound. He also has to throw between innings, and in the bullpen when he warms up pitchers, and in the course of fielding his position. Catchers actually throw more than pitchers do, but no one takes the time to care, or at the very least, observe.

Sonny_inset0211Not that it even matters in the minds of some. Veteran pitching coaches have long said that the only way to build up arm strength is to throw more, but properly. And I admit that as an adolescent baseball player growing up we threw the ball every day; and no one ever counted the number of pitches.

That’s how we learned to throw breaking pitches, change-ups, pickoff moves, etc., once upon a time. Sore arms were a by-product of just plain bad luck. But truthfully, I don’t ever remember having one, and if you did you just quit throwing for a couple of days.

Back then it was just fun to play baseball. “Big Brother” wasn’t watching – didn’t care.

Wasn’t needed.

I’m not sure he is now, either!

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