Every April the New England area takes a day off to observe Patriots’ Day, a commemoration of the Revolutionary War battles at Concord and Lexington. For over a century, the celebration has surrounded the running of the Boston Marathon, another event founded through war.
This war took place before the birth of Christ as the Greeks successfully fended off the Persians thanks in part to a messenger running from Marathon to Athens. This long distance run would become one of the first modern Olympic events, along with other wartime activities turned into athletic endeavors.
The most obvious ones,the javelin and discus throw, were brought over from the Ancient Games. Even the shot put, or soldiers throwing stones, is mentioned by Homer when writing about the Siege of Troy.
The biggest similarity with all these actions is while they use the arm to throw, it’s a one-time occurrence because the human arm isn’t meant to rotate over. It’s nothing like the repeated motion seen across fields of all shapes and sizes around the country. Baseball’s main motion might be against human nature, but that hasn’t stopped the growth of the sport even as new ailments add additional fears to pitchers of all ages.
Last year, the Atlanta Braves season was hijacked before the team returned to Georgia thanks to the loss of Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen to a torn ulnar collateral ligament. New York Mets’ prized prospect Zach Wheeler suffered a similar fate this spring, along with Texas Rangers’ starter Yu Darvish.
That is but the tip of the iceberg, one that can quickly dash a team’s hopes and result in surgery named after one of the first players to suffer the injury – Tommy John. As baseball arms have become an expensive commodity, the removal of one tendon with a healthy one has become commonplace but no answer for the cause of the problem has surfaced.
While there are surely studies taking place at the moment, there won’t be any change to the fact that throwing overhand is and will always be an unnatural motion. When factored in with the repetitive nature of the game, then adding in the torque, twisting, turning, and everything else done to make the ball get past the opposing batter. It’s a wonder why these arm troubles didn’t come up before.
A half-century ago, when players were lucky to make 10 percent of today’s average salary and had nothing close to the working conditions and rights of today, pitchers threw more pitches and stayed in games longer. They pitched through pain and might rest for a week or two with a “dead arm”. Was this because their livelihood was dependent upon them making their next start or could it have something to do with their upbringing?
Athletes today are advised to pick one sport at an early age and concentrate on just that. Whether it’s baseball, basketball, soccer, or football; the season never ends. If there isn’t a summer league, skills camp, or off-season practice to attend, there’s always the weight room.
This is one of the factors pointed out by Marc Fisher in a recent article for the Washington Post about the potential pitfalls for the future of what was once called “America’s Game”. While this certainly isn’t the first article of its kind (in fact this is a trend that’s been happening for over a century), one point made is the lack of fathers in the home to teach their sons the sport.
Gone are the days of Dad having a catch with his son in the backyard and explaining the nuances of a complicated game in the sunlight of the bleachers. While I grew up knowing many who were instructed in just this way, I was not one of them.
Then again, the fathers of my friends taught them other sports as well. There was a time when the school’s best athlete could be seen on the football field in the fall, inside the gym during the winter, and out on the diamond in the spring. Could it be the versatility of an athlete’s arm is what’s missing today, that the mandated attention to just one thing is what’s truly contributing to costly injuries and disinterest?
But when it comes to general interest, we are raising a generation accustomed to playing with pixelated professionals instead of imitating them outside and that’s the truth.