Tag Archives: high school baseball

Virus hits japan’s baseball omelet Factory

For the first time, Japan’s national high school baseball championship was canceled for a reason other than war or civil unrest — a wave of “rice” riots that swept Japan in the summer of 1918.

A president with the tournament’s sponsor, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, spoke eloquently on Wednesday about how holding the tournament would not only endanger players but tournament staff while asking volunteers turn away from essential work in communities where they are badly needed in the battle against the “invisible coronavirus.”

After that display of passion and understanding, the head of the Japan High School Baseball Federation, Eiji Atta droned on about the mythical importance of the tournament for not only the physical well-being of Japan but for the moral educational value baseball provides.

His sermon was complete with the disinformation that makes Japanese high school baseball ideologues so entertaining.

The press conference opened with the news that both the finals and the regional tournaments, whose winners advance to the finals, had all been canceled together by the stakeholders in Wednesday’s meeting.

Hatta then said nobody but regional federations would decide whether to hold or cancel their tournaments. That’s like Donald Trump telling a U.S. government employee to do her job as she sees fit when she knows that not kissing his ass sufficiently is grounds for dismissal.

This happened a year and a half ago, when Niigata’s federation unilaterally established pitch limits for its spring regional tournament. The national federation, known in Japanese as “Koyaren,” responded that Niigata had no business doing anything on its own without asking permission first.

Breaking eggs

That move, which Niigata walked back on under pressure, did not occur in a vacuum but was part of a larger movement to save Japanese baseball from itself. One by one, other baseball bodies began seeking ways to prevent injuries by establishing rules to limit abusive overuse of young arms.

But by braving Koyaren’s wrath, Niigata’s move was the pebble that triggered an avalanche and opened a public debate on what had been Japanese baseball’s most sacred doctrine: “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs, and you can’t develop truly great ballplayers without breaking bodies.”

By year’s end, the hardass ideologues at Koyaren had bitten the bullet and accepted modest pitch limits at its big national tournaments, the spring invitational and the summer finals.

For decades, reformers in Japan have sought to find a way to build strong young bodies, arms and elbows within a system that seems bent on destroying them. And just when it seemed like progress was only a few years away, the whole system crashes.

“We were going to take the first step into the future,” said Hatta, whose body for years had screamed and kicked in an effort to forestall that future.

Pandemic vs epidemic

Despite cleaner air, wildlife reclaiming suburban streets and Venetian canals, there is no bright side to the coronavirus pandemic. At best, it’s Alien vs Predator, where there’s little we can do but shelter in place and see what’s left.

The best thing about youth sports in Japan is the lack of travel teams and coaches selling parents that “the only way for their talented children to make it professionally is to specialize and practice the sport year-round.”

The bad things about youth sports in Japan is a school system that replicates the intense year-round physical burden of travel teams — without the need to go anywhere! Your children’s bodies can be pushed past the limits of endurance and given no time to recover at their school club activity. Year-round practice? You’ve got it.

I don’t mean to be flip, but amid the debris and human misery left in the wake of the pandemic will be young children in Japan whose bodies’ biggest need was the rest that school closures provided them.

Looking out for the kids

School closures were one reason given for canceling the national championships.

“Ballplayers who have lacked practice will be at a higher risk for injury,” Hatta said, again without any sense of irony in his voice.

Don’t forget that nine months ago, a high school coach was roasted nationwide for not starting his best pitcher in the final of Iwate Prefecture’s tournament, where a berth at the finals at Koshien Stadium was on the line. The manager did so to protect the youngster’s arm.

The line used by so many was, “I could see it if he WAS hurt, but this is Koshien! How dare you throw away his dream and that of his teammates on the grounds that it might save wear and tear on an arm (that had already seen extensive use over the past five days)?”

Summer HS championship faces cancellation

The Japan High School Baseball Federation will decide on Wednesday whether or not to cancel its 102nd national championship, Japan’s most iconic sports event, at Koshen Stadium in light of the current public health crisis.

The federation’s second-biggest tournament, March’s national invitational, was canceled.

From Friday, the government-issued state of emergency was lifted in 39 prefectures. The Nikkan Sports reports that 20 of the 35 prefectural federations that replied to their inquiries indicated they will hold their annual summer tournaments regardless of whether the national championships are held or not.

According to the report, Tokyo’s federation is still planning to hold its tournament in some form.

High school body sets limits, kind of

For the first time in its history, Japan’s national high school baseball federation set pitch limits for its games and those organized by prefectural federations.

Kyodo News’ English language story is HERE.

The move is for three years starting from next spring’s national invitational. During the time the rule is in effect pitchers will ONLY be allowed to throw 500 pitches over any seven-day period, but will be able to pitch on back-to-back days, although not on three straight days.

The move comes 11 months after Niigata Prefecture’s high school body implemented its own measures and was shouted down by the national federation. But without Niigata going out on a limb and without some strong words of support from the head of Japan’s Sports Agency, Daichi Suzuki, it is an open question whether the national body — which had resisted considering pitch counts for so long — would have acted.

Still, it’s a positive step, and the mere fact that is coming from a body that has in the past seemed so intransigent, could have an oversized impact on the amateur baseball landscape.

Area coach holds efficient practice

This is not from the Onion or the Rising Wassabi. However, when the manager of a Japanese high school team limits his practices to 2-1/2 hours, it has a chance to be a national news item with a headline worthy of those satirical news sites.

Here’s the Sports Nippon Annex story HERE.

On Tuesday, 33-year-old Christopher Robert Kawamoto Boothe — known as Robert Kawamoto in Japan — won his first official game as manager of Hachioji Jissenchugakko High School, beating Meiji Gakuin Higashi Murayama High 11-7 in the first round of Western Tokyo’s summer tournament.

The Japanese story’s headline reads: “1st game for ‘Robert-san’ shows improvement from revolutionary 2-1/2 hour efficient practices”

Boothe, who grew up in Japan as the son of a Japanese mother and American ballplayer, signed with the Dodgers after he was not selected out of Asia University in NPB’s 2007 amateur draft. He appears to have played three seasons in the low minors. Since 2012 he has played mostly in Japan’s independent minors with a brief stopover in Taiwan with the Lamigo Monkeys.

He was hired this spring, and Boothe has asked his players to call him “Robert-san” instead of “Manager Kawamoto” as is customary.

The team captain said, “We are close to Robert-san. He patiently works out our mechanical issues, and reminds us that rest time is for getting rest.”

According to the story, the manager has also revolutionized the players’ workloads, reducing practices to 2-1/2 hours.

Changes coming to old school rules

Pitching limits are coming to the tradition-bound world of high school baseball.

On Friday, a panel researching measures to prevent pitching injuries decided to include defined limits on pitcher usage for Japan’s prestigious national tournaments. The panel will consider specific numbers for mandated rest and maximum pitches when it next convenes in September.

The panel concluded that hard limits were needed upon reviewing research data on youth baseball players presented by Dr. Takashi Masatomi, an orthopaedic surgeon employed by the National High School Baseball Federation’s medical committee.

“The doctor’s evidence was clear,” said the panel’s chairman Keio University professor Takanobu Nakajima said. “No opinions were expressed in opposition to placing limits on how many pitches can be thrown within a specific time period.”

“The schedule for the end of the tournament will become tight, but the talk was that restrictions are probably necessary.”

The panel will convene four times by early November and present its findings to the national federation’s board of directors at the end of that month.

The unlimited use of pitchers that saw Kanaashi Nogyo High School pitcher Kosei Yoshida throw 881 pitches at last summer’s national finals. The pitcher was gassed in the final, when he pitched for the fourth time in five days and got hammered.

For years, the national federation has done nothing but take baby steps toward attacking this issue, and it remains to be seen whether anything but double talk will come out of high school baseball’s national body.

The panel was only formed this March, and was seen by reformers as little more than public relations measure after the national federation in February shot down a plan by Niigata Prefecture’s federation to test pitch limits in its spring tournament.

Satoru Komiyama, a former professional pitcher who is currently the manager of Waseda University’s baseball team is on the 13-member panel, as is Japan Softball Association Vice President Taeko Utsugi. The choice of Yokohama High School manager Motonori Watanabe discouraged reformers from thinking anything might come from the committee, as Watanabe has so far publicly denied there is any need to reform the high school baseball system.

The real Hunger Games

For those unfamiliar with Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” trilogy or its cinematic offshoots, the story revolves around a world where 24 teenagers are selected each year to battle to the death for the entertainment of a wealthy capital that the 12 poorer outlying districts support with their labor once tried to overthrow.

Every part of the tournament is marketed nationwide, the selection of the candidates, the training, the details of their struggles and finally the deaths in the arena and the glorification of the winners. Collins has said part of the idea came from the Roman practice of having gladiators fight for popular entertainment.

Japan’s arena

Collins could also have drawn inspiration from Japan’s summer national high school baseball tournament, creating her dystopian arena as a stand in for Koshien Stadium, Japan’s high school baseball mecca.

There, a sport officially recognized place in the national education system, is showcased, not as education but as mass entertainment.

In Collins’ world the real tragedy is not in the visible arena, but in the less visible system of brutality and authoritarianism that supports it, and the same is true in Japanese baseball. People are riveted to Koshien’s spectacle and care about the winners and losers. To a lesser degree, this is also true for prefectural tournaments, whose champions advance to that national arena.

Behind the scenes

Japan’s tragedy is in the system that supports the arena. At the elementary and junior high levels, competition mimics the Koshien model in the form of knockout tournaments in which a single loss equals heartbreak. Through endless, mind-numbing practice and abuse of pitchers’ arms, boys learn from a young age that the cost of victory is high and the bill often comes due in the form of broken bodies.

At the summer nationals, small adjustments have been made for the potential hazard of playing day after day in sweltering heat, rest days have been added in the final stages and international tiebreak rules were introduced in 2018 from the 13th inning to prevent overlong games. With that, the rule that forced games from 2000 to 2017 to be replayed from the start after 15-inning ties was abandoned.

The challenge

But the Koshien ideal that demands maximum effort and commitment remains ingrained and serves as a beacon informing an entire baseball culture that losing is hateful and mistakes therefore unacceptable in practice or in games from the moment a young child puts on a glove for the first time.

In December, Niigata Prefecture’s high school baseball federation, knowing that too many children were staying away from their sport when there are safer and less burdensome alternatives to baseball, acted to set an example.

For Niigata’s 2019 spring high school tournament, no player would be able to take the mound in a new inning after he’d already thrown 100 pitches in that game. The rule didn’t address practice time, pitching on consecutive days or affect any competition outside of Niigata, but it was a challenge to the status quo and to the idea that high school baseball is some kind of sacred temple that must not be fiddled with.

Niigata’s modest plan generated a tremendous backlash, with almost all of the responses falling into three categories:

  1. Forcing a team to take its best pitcher out of the game will make public schools with fewer good pitchers uncompetitive, making the spectacle less interesting.
  2. Batters will train to foul off more pitches to get the opposing starter out of the game, making games boring.
  3. It would eliminate marathon pitching feats that are a staple of tournament’s lore, crushing — for most pitchers – their lone chance at glory, further reducing the quality of the spectacle.

Some in the public supported the Niigata initiative, but they were drowned out by the chorus – including some from the national federation – that don’t want anyone messing with the ritual human sacrifice.

Japan’s High School Baseball Association authorities didn’t appreciate a local body overstepping its bounds and announcing rules without consulting their betters. In February, the national association instructed Niigata to “reconsider,” and the plan was withdrawn. After Niigata’s bold move drew praise from Japan Sports Agency chief Daichi Suzuki, the national association announced a blue-ribbon panel to study reform and health countermeasures.

A reporter who covered the proceedings told a Tokyo symposium on April 23 about an exchange he had with a national association executive at the time.

“He told me, ‘How do you know throwing more than 100 pitches is harmful? What evidence do you have? We are instituting a day off between games,’” the reporter said. “Is having a rest day between two 150-pitch games really OK? How can we possibly allow that?”

The Cambio Meeting symposium was the third annual meeting of a group dedicated to reinvigorating baseball in Japan from at its lowest levels by promoting education and rules to limit abuses. This year’s principle speaker, Dr. Kozo Furushima, has performed more than 1,200 surgeries on elbows and shoulders – mostly belonging to youth baseball.

Furushima told of a patient in junior high school, who had pitched his youth team to the semifinals of Saitama’s prefectural tournament, and about how his right elbow was deformed with three different injuries in comparison with his normal left elbow.

“Because his team couldn’t win if he didn’t pitch, he pitched every game and had been doing so for four years,” Furushima said. “His pain had started one week earlier. We needed him to extend his arm as far as he could for the X-Ray and he couldn’t. Some with the same injuries can’t bend their elbow.”

“Those injuries did not occur one week before. It was obviously not something that occurred suddenly because he was pitching in pain. The lesson from that is that just because you’re not in pain doesn’t mean you’re not hurt and not vulnerable.”

“This young man dreamed of being a pro, and now when I look at these (pictures of his arm), it makes my head hurt.”

Furushima presented research results that indicated, in declining order, four factors for increased injury among young pitchers.

  1. Pitching competitively for eight or more months a year, 5.05 times normal
  2. Frequently pitching with arm fatigue, 4.04 times
  3. 80-plus pitches per game, 3.83 times
  4. Throwing fastballs over 85 miles per hour, 2.58 times

One inspiration for the symposium has been regular travel by Furushima and others to the Dominican Republic, a country with a population of less than 11 million that has produced roughly 150 active players in North America with major league experience. Japan, with a population of nearly 127 million, currently has less than 1,000 players playing professionally around the world.

During his time as Lotte Marines manager, Bobby Valentine was puzzled about why a nation as large as Japan that is so passionate about baseball and has such high levels of economic and educational achievement and public safety does not produce more of the world’s best players. Why, he asked, should America or the Dominican Republic be better at producing baseball players than Japan?

Furushima, who has performed ultrasound examinations on youth players in Japan as well as Japan’s Under-12 team, found one reason: injuries to young players. He examined youngsters in the Dominican and found far fewer injuries than among Japanese players the same age.

What Furushima and his fellow travelers discovered in the Dominican Republic was a youth baseball environment far removed from the highly pressurized Japanese norm.

Future MLB Hall of Famer Albert Pujols, asked in March about his baseball training in the Dominican, contradicted one of Furushima’s assertions that coaches there never yell at players.

“Oh, I got yelled at,” he told Japanese media in Tempe, Arizona. “But the job of the coach is to not give the kids reason to give up on sports. They have to treat the boys as individuals, help them grow, encourage their love for the game.”

Ryunosuke Seno, one of the symposium’s leaders, won national “Boys League” championships in 1999 and 2000 as manager of Osaka’s Sakai Big Boys baseball club. Since then, however, he has gone from an old-school hard-ass coach to reform advocate.

“As manager, I had hard practices, I’d get angry, sometimes use physical punishment. We won a championship and celebrated. It was an exceptionally strong team, and what happened to the players on such a strong team? One would expect players like that to…go on to play pro ball, be good ballplayers. But that wasn’t the case. They quit baseball or got hurt. They were saying, ‘I’m done with baseball. I’m full of it. I’m tired of it.’ Guys were burned out, a lot of them.”

“I thought I’d been coaching correctly. But was carrying out my duties like that right? A lot of the kids on the championship team quit playing in high school. When I looked at kids playing on other teams, this guy hurt his elbow, that guy had surgery or quit. There were an amazing number of those kids. I began to question the purpose of what I was doing.”

Seno and his colleagues are now advocating rules that will, among other things, limit pitches in games and the amount of time teams are allowed to practice and take those decisions out of the hands of coaches who simply don’t know any other way than the old way.

“If you’re limited to two hours practice, that’s the rule, not the coach’s fault,” Seno said. “Tomorrow is the final, but because players can’t pitch on consecutive days, today’s pitcher can’t pitch again. That’s the fault of the rule, not the manager. But if there are no rules, the managers are thinking, ‘We want to win, he can pitch.’ And the child will say, ‘OK.’”

“It’s going to take a real long time before coaches realize you can’t force kids to practice so much. That’s because coaches don’t think what they’re doing is wrong. If a player is fatigued or in pain, the coach will ask if they’re OK. But the boys are trained to tough it out. So asking a player if he’s OK is akin to ordering a soldier in battle to charge.”

Although Niigata’s initiative failed to make concrete headway, it helped push the conversation. In January, the Japan Rubber Baseball Association, which oversees school tournaments for elementary, junior high and girls teams, announced a 70-pitch limit for this year’s national elementary school tourney.

“That is 100 times more important than the Niigata proposal,” Seno said.

That’s because while high school ball is the tip of Japan’s abusive baseball coaching iceberg, and the number of elementary and junior high school players is shrinking more rapidly than the nation’s declining birth rate, and eroding the base that high school and pro ball depend on.

“You’d think playing baseball is cheap for kids, but it isn’t,” a long-time youth coach said. “There is a huge burden on parents to come and provide lunches for the long practices, and the medical bills can be extravagant.”

One of the nation’s more progressive teams is the Tokyo Aoyama Club, which has one national little senior hardball championships for junior high school boys. Tokyo Aoyama leases its own grounds with a dormitory an hour drive from Tokyo, where kids practice virtually every day they aren’t in school. But when they play in tournaments, game experience rather than victory at all costs is the focus. Pitchers are not allowed to pitch on consecutive days and their pitch counts are monitored.

Still, the training is Spartan, with lots of running and strength training and the rules strict.

“They had a 1-kilogram bento rule,” said a woman whose son played with the club five years earlier. “The wanted you to eat so they could grow stronger. They would weigh the lunch boxes and if they weren’t heavy enough, the kids would get sent home.”

“Everyone was forced to eat that huge meal. My son was big, so it was no problem. But you’d see smaller boys crying because they couldn’t and then throwing up when they tried.”

At the Cambio Meeting symposium, one speaker who works for an NPB team, cited rapidly falling numbers of elementary and junior high school players across the country and predicted that even more high schools would soon find it difficult to field teams.

“One problem is that Japanese youth baseball is not fun,” he said. “Grounds are hard to secure, so little time is actually spent playing. Mostly kids are running. It is demanding and considered hard, and there are lots of hurdles to entry at the lowest level.”

“It needs to be made something the kids will want to come back and do more of. It needs to be fun.”

Dr. Furushima, however, said fun is not the old-school Japanese way.

“The old way is to shout at the boys and even hit them when they don’t do something the right way. But little boys who’ve never really played aren’t good at it when they start, so of course they make lots of mistakes, so many coaches who think they’re helping and doing the right thing will yell at them.”

“In high schools, if a pitcher gives up a lot of hits, there are cases where he is sent to the sidelines to throw a 250-pitch bullpen as punishment.”

“It really drives home the idea of how little hold the concept of human rights has in Japan.”

National body shoots down Japan’s 1st high school baseball pitch limit

On Wednesday the Japan High School Baseball Federation asked Niigata Prefecture’s high school federation to reconsider the pitch limit it announced for this year’s spring prefectural tournament.

The rule, announced unilaterally by the Niigata body in December without consulting the national federation, would have prevented pitchers from working in another inning after they had thrown 100 pitches.

Niigata’s decision sent shockwaves through Japan, where the two iconic high school tournaments at historic Koshien Stadium outside of Osaka are the nation’s biggest spectacle, and marathon pitching efforts part of the lore.

In making its announcement in Osaka, the national federation said it would convene a panel of experts in April to study how to prevent pitching injuries. Although there had been some words of condemnation for Niigata acting on its own, the national federation’s decision should not be seen as an effort to turn back the clock. This month, Daichi Suzuki, the chief of Japan’s Sports Agency praised the bravery of Niigata’s authorities and called on the national high school federation to act.

Osamu Shimada, a high school vice principal in Niigata Prefecture who was the project leader behind the plan to curb injuries to baseball players, said by telephone, “We have pushed the hands of the clock forward.”

Shimada, who became a teacher and a high school baseball coach after his own playing career ended in university, said Niigata was uniquely situated to upset high school baseball’s apple cart.

“We were able to put together a committee of elementary, junior and senior high school baseball authorities. Because we are weak (in national tournaments) we could find common cause at all levels,” he said. “This is something other prefectures with strong local bodies couldn’t do.”

“We are a small prefecture in terms of population and the number of kids who want to play baseball is dwindling. We want to change that. but there are so many other sports one could play, so why would a young athlete choose a sport where a lot of players get hurt?”

“We don’t know that 100 pitches is the best solution, but our plan is to collect data, learn and move forward. We felt if we didn’t act it would be too late. There was a sense of urgency.”

Elementary steps in war against injury

This past week, the civil war brewing within Japanese baseball over rules to protect pitchers’ arms heated up. On Thursday, the Japan Rubber Baseball Association adopted 70-pitch limits for the national elementary school baseball tournament this summer, and the rule did not pass without a fight.

Prefectural and regional federations will have a year to adopt the rule.

The national federation announced the following guidelines:

Guidelines

  1. All players will be limited to 70 throws at full strength per day in practice and 300 a week.
  2. Practice will be limited to six days a week, and not more than three hours in one day.
  3. Players should not appear in more than 100 games a year.

The chief executive of the national federation, Toyomi Munakata, said that over the past five years, national tournament games saw an average of 100 pitches thrown per team.

“I want to protect the rights of the children and their enjoyment of baseball,” Munakata said. “Through enactment of a pitch limit, I want coaches to change their policies.”

Same old song and dance

He said there was opposition from some on the federation’s board of councilors, who cited a phrase commonly heard the past two months “we can’t enforce such a rule because there aren’t enough pitchers.”

This was an objection heard frequently in December when Niigata Prefecture’s high school baseball federation announced it would introduce pitch limits at its spring tournament and moved ahead without seeking approval from the national federation.

The crux of the problem

On Saturday, Dr. Kozo Furushima, Japan’s most prominent Tommy John surgeon, told me that young pitchers are susceptible to suffering inner elbow fractures from placing too much stress on the elbow of the yet-immature bones in their elbows.

“Adults’ bones are hard and the ligaments are a big concern, but when children are in elementary school and junior high school, it is the other way around,” Furushima said. “The bones in children’s joints contain a lot of cartilage and are not rigid. The part of the bone where the ligament attaches can be pulled away from the rest of the bone, creating a fracture.

“Children will not feel pain or be hindered in ordinary activities but when they put a lot of stress on the damaged elbow, they will feel pain. And those that go untreated will often result in injuries later as the joints mature.

Furushima is the chief of the Sports Medical Center of Keiyu Orthopaedic Hospital in Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture, north of Tokyo. He said that of the 301 youngsters treated at his facility for inner elbow disorders, 81.3 percent reported practicing an average of five or more hours every Saturday and Sunday. The group of patients practicing 3 to 5 hours made up another 12.6 percent of the group.

“It’s not just pitching in games, but how much and how hard kids are throwing in practice,” he said.

The next phase of the debate is poised for the coming week, when the national high school federation is expected to lower the boom on authorities in Niigata for acting on their own to enforce pitch limits.

Former greats weigh in on high school pitch limits

The outer limits

Since Japan’s Niigata Prefecture has announced its plan to restrict pitcher usage in its spring tournament this year, three former Chunichi Dragons pitchers, two Hall of Famers Hiroshi Gondo and Shigeru Sugishita and Masahiro Yamamoto have weighed in on the issue and expressed widely divergent views.

On Jan. 15, Gondo was announced as one of the three newest members of the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. The right-hander’s playing career was defined by his first two seasons. As a 22-year-old out of corporate league ball in 1961, Gondo won 35 games in his 429-1/3-inning rookie season. The following year, he pitched 362-1/3 innings and won 30 games.

Niigata’s new limits will prohibit a pitcher from starting an inning after he’d thrown 100 pitches in a game but not prohibit pitchers from pitching on consecutive days.

Save the game

“I am absolutely opposed to that (sort of restriction),” Gondo said.

“Most of those kids aren’t going to be professionals, and this will be the end of their baseball careers. You don’t want to hold them back. Besides, if you can’t pitch that much in high school without ruining your arm, there’s no way you can make it in the pros anyway.”

On the question of whether high school baseball should be about competition or education, Gondo came down solidly on the side of competition.

“You don’t want to put obstacles in the way of people playing to win,” he said. “People are going to get hurt, and you can’t alter that fact.”

I don’t want to state that as his entire philosophy on the issue, since we only spoke for a few minutes, but he certainly seemed to think that high school ball is safe enough.

Save the kids

Sugishita, whose No. 20 Gondo inherited when he joined the Dragons, wasn’t certain if Niigata’s method was the right way to go, but said, “You’ve got to do something to protect these kids’ arms.”

Yamamoto, a lock to join them in the Hall of Fame after he enters the players division ballot for the Hall’s class of 2021, was even more emphatic when he spoke on Sunday in Yokohama.

At a seminar attended by nearly 600 people that included elementary and junior high school coaches, doctors and parents, Yamamoto spoke of last year’s high school superstar, pitcher Kosei Yoshida.

At the national high school summer championship, Yoshida threw 881 pitches over six games, with four of those games coming over the final five days of the tournament.

“It’s a good thing Yoshida didn’t break down,” Yamamoto said. “But I thought that continuing like he did put the player’s career at risk.”

When Niigata’s prefectural association imposed its rules without asking the national body, the Japan High School Baseball Federation lashed out, calling the new system arbitrary and unenforceable.

But Yamamoto praised the work of Japan’s national rubber ball federation, whose guidelines limit pitchers to 70 pitches in a single game and 300 within a week.

“They have done good work to protect children’s futures,” he said.

No magic number

In a recent interview, Dr. Tsutomu Jinji, a professor of biomechanics who has extensively studied how pitchers mechanics impart movement to baseballs, said there is no magic number of pitches that will prevent injuries.

“Some people possess thicker ligaments, that can withstand more stress and torque,” he said. “Other pitchers are more flexible than others, or possess better mechanics.”

“What that means is that some pitchers’ arms will break down even with very limited usage, while others will survive much heavier workloads without any damage at all. It is possible to prevent catastrophic damage with ultrasound examinations so that pitchers whose elbows are at risk get rest, but that is not being done.”