Tag Archives: Koshien

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.

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.”