Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has a music degree from Ohio State University.

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More legislation coming from the National Federation of High School Baseball rules people to govern the number of pitches that can be thrown by teenager pitchers.  This is good…sort of!

There was an announcement last week by the National Federation of High School Baseball rules committee that starting in 2017 amateur pitchers with NFHS member schools will limited to the number of pitches they can throw in weekly competition.

They didn’t mention specify, by the way, leaving that to the determination of individual state associations.  Each is to develop its own standard of maximum number of pitches allowed during a game to afford pitchers a required rest period between pitching appearances.

Of course, this is good in most instances because young arms should have a limit for reasons of lack of physical development.  On the other hand, no two arms (or athletes) develop at the same rate so they’re throwing a net over the entire catch here, making what’s good for one good for all.  Better safe, than sorry!

Generally, it’s a good decision, but it brings to mind the saying about even when the glass is half full…it’s still half empty!

It doesn’t take into account what veteran pitching coaches at every level of baseball have argued for years.  And that is…the only way to develop a stronger arm is to do more of the “right kind” of throwing in order to stretch and strengthen young developing muscles, a different activity from the stress of pitching in actual game situations.

A number of high school coaches across the state of Ohio currently use the practice of “long throwing”, or bullpen sessions during the week to add strength and flexibility to their pitchers’ arms, notably Tom Held at Defiance High School, well known in recent years for the number of college and professional prospects he’s developed.

It also reopens the age-old discussion about what age to teach the breaking ball to young pitchers.  It’s been long assumed that throwing the curveball adds stress on muscles and joints, but many veteran teachers of pitching refute that notion, citing that the maximum exertion of throwing the fastball actually does more harm.

pbizek@brunsrealty.comI once asked hall of famer Warren Spahn the very question of what age is right for a youngster to start throwing the curve.  Without hesitation, he said, “About two weeks after birth.  Learned properly, in his view, there is no damage that comes from throwing the curveball.”

But learned properly is the caveat for training all pitchers.  Throwing 80 pitches in a normal seven-inning game is a physical routine that must be approached on a gradual basis.

“The problem is that a kid grows four inches and puts on pounds during an off-season, and then comes out throwing harder than anyone else on the team in the spring,” said Reds pitching coach Ted Power in an interview I did with him last summer.  “Suddenly his coach sees the difference in arm strength and says, ‘You’re a pitcher now’, and it’s not that easy.”

In addition to pitching, the NFHSB has also instituted a tiered warning system for coaches and players to provide for “teachable” moments regarding sportsmanship to decrease the likelyhood of being ejected from the game.  I’ve long asserted that this is not an issue to start with, and when it becomes an issue it’s one for school administration to address, not the umpires.

It still fails to address the fact that there is no recourse for coaches who are OFTEN right about rules interpretations when umpires are not.  Twice this past season I observed misinterpretation of rules, one on the infield fly rule, and the other was a batter who hit out of order.  Both happened in tight games at critical points of determining the eventual winner, and in both cases the coaches had no recourse (except official protest) except to throw up their hands and accept the inevitable.

In the one case they called time and placed a runner back at third base after he had scored, ruling that the runner could not advance on an infield fly, citing that time had been called;  in the other they called out the wrong hitter for batting out of order.

Now it takes a pretty good man to accept the fate of your team’s season when it hinges on the improper decision of an inexperienced umpire, and frankly in both cases the coach proper should have been ejected…because the argument and/or discussion simply delayed the game for too long.  Note, neither lost their minds or acted that badly;  it’s just that the umpire didn’t know when to put his put on the brake and go on with the game.  And, they didn’t know what to do when they must have had a sense they were wrong.  There is no replay in high school.  There is no phone call to New York for review.  And unfortunately, there is no recourse for the aggrieved, either.

Sonny_thumb0216This is an unfortunate scenario, to be made worse in the future by the constant manipulations of basic baseball rules in order to make the game safer and eliminate hard, physical play.  And one can argue that that’s good, except it puts even more responsibility on “two” amateur umpires to ‘interpret’ what they see, rather than just rule on the outcome of the play.

An old minor league umpire evaluator once told me, “The more they mess with it the harder they make it to play and umpire.”

It’s kind of like today’s government, isn’t it?  The glass is half empty…even when it’s half full!

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