On Stephen Strasburg, idols and the unknown
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 7:41 AM
The point of my story today is not to refute the fascinating, excellent piece Tom Verducci wrote about Stephen Strasburg this week. I'm not good at pinpointing exactly which writers most compelled me to want to write about sports. I do know that, from the time I was 12 or so, I practically lived for the moment every Thursday when Sports Illustrated would arrive in my mailbox. Once I started becoming aware of bylines, I came to anticipate Verducci's more than pretty much any other. If I had to make that list of writers who inspired me, I'm certain Tom Verdcucci would land near the very top. So, no, my intention was not to start an argument in print with Verducci. I'm smart enough not to play swords with Zorro. The point of the story was to add another voice to the discussion, and that voice, primarily, is that of Dr. Tim Kremcheck, one of the leading surgeons rebuilding elbows these days. His point is not that any one theory of why pitchers break is right or wrong. It's that there are only theories, not definitive answers, and that clinging to one theory as gospel can be, to use his word, "dangerous." There is really only one certainty. The human arm was not meant to throw a baseball overhand, certainly not to chuck it 100 miles per hour. Pitchers get hurt, essentially, because they're pitchers. Incidentally, there were two other pieces on Sports Illustrated's web site that added to the Tommy John conversation, one by Will Carroll, an authority on sports injury, and another by Joe Lemire. With that said, a few quick nuggets left on the cutting room floor: >>> Kremcheck made an interesting analogy about changing a pitcher's mechanics. He likened altering a pitcher's motion with giving a long-distance runner new shoes. Suddenly, a familiar activity would create unfamiliar stresses on ligaments and joints. Every pitcher has developed his own unique arm slot, release point, etc., and trying to change those on the fly can throw off the way muscles have been built and trained, he said. >>> Kremcheck also hailed the way the Nationals handled Strasburg last season. "When someone young like that injures their elbow, especially a young phenom, the first thing people want to do is point fingers," he said. "Somebody wants to look for a blame. I don't necessarily think there is a blame, because I think the Washington Nationals handled him as well as they could, especially given the scrutiny. "I watched how Stephen Strasburg was taken care of and coddled by the Washington Nationals, and everybody tries to throw a rock at them. I would have done the same thing. They did not - here's a young kid who was crying and ready - they definitely walked him along the right way. I just believe that." >>> From afar, Kremcheck developed one hunch for why Strasburg's ligament may have snapped. He talked about the trap many young pitchers fall into of "pitching to the radar gun." Basically, no matter how fatigued, pitchers will try to reach a certain velocity, because it's such a tangible and clear measure of what they're doing. The incredible attention on Strasburg, Kremcheck postulates, could have led to him throwing harder than his body wanted to, affecting his mechanics just enough, for at least one pitch, that the torque in his elbow surpassed the strength of his ulnar collateral ligament. "Kids pitch to the radar gun," Kremcheck said. "Here's a guy that was on an international radar. He was under the microscope to throw the ball hard from a young age. Maybe that had something to do with it. I think it's very, very important that somebody doesn't step out and say, 'He planted his foot here, and that's why this happened.' " FROM THE POST The questions surrounding Stephen Strasburg may not have any clear answers.