Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

A Hall of Famer Issues a Warning to Baseball Parents

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

A Hall of Famer Issues a Warning to Baseball Parents

Article excerpt

The message was tucked deep inside a long and personal Hall of Fame acceptance speech, important words of warning amid heartfelt words of gratitude.

John Smoltz touched all the emotional bases Sunday afternoon in Cooperstown, N.Y., thanking everyone from family and friends to former teammates and coaches for helping him realize baseball's career pinnacle. But it was when he turned his attention to a long- ago major league pitcher and a host of doctors and trainers that Smoltz's moment of personal achievement morphed into one of public service.

With an impassioned plea to parents across America to protect the arms of their budding baseball stars, Smoltz gave an important big- league voice to an issue that threatens the future of our long- standing national pastime.

As the first pitcher in the Hall of Fame who had Tommy John surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing arm, Smoltz spoke from a perch of experience. Though filled with gratitude and appreciation for the career-saving procedure pioneered by noted orthopedist Dr. Frank Jobe and famously performed on onetime Yankee pitcher Tommy John, Smoltz is part of the growing chorus of baseball fans alarmed by the increase in Tommy John procedures, particularly among young athletes.

"It's an epidemic, it's something that's affecting our game," Smoltz said. "It's something that I thought would cost me my career, but thanks to Dr. James Andrews and all those before him performing the surgery with such precision, it has caused it to be almost a false read, like a Band-Aid you put on your arm.

"I want to encourage families and parents that are out there to understand that is not normal to have a surgery at 14 or 15 years old, [that] you have time, that baseball is not a year-round sport, that you have an opportunity to be athletic and play other sports. Don't let the institutions that are out there running before you, guaranteeing scholarship dollars and signing bonuses, [tell you] that this is the way.

"We have such great, dynamic arms in our game, and it's a shame we are having one and two and three Tommy John recipients."

Smoltz delighted in telling stories of his own Michigan youth, one in which his polka-playing parents dreamed of raising an accordion aficionado, not an athletic achiever. They merely stood in support as Smoltz spent hours in a cold back yard throwing a ball against a fence, playing out game-winning scenarios in his head while he threw. They were not wrapped up in today's ever-growing overscheduled existence, where parents ferry kids between multiple teams in various leagues, never putting away their gloves for more than days at a time, always being monitored by coaches and talent evaluators.

The latter is what we see so often now, where lives like Smoltz's are the exception rather than the rule in youth sports. …

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