The Baseball Hall of Fame is a shrine that glorifies the careers of the greatest to ever take part in our national pastime. From record holders to World Series heroes, the elite are all assembled in Cooperstown, New York. The way baseball is played and the way the players prepare has changed dramatically. Young pitchers are overworking their arms at an early age and therefore encounter reconstructive elbow injuries at an earlier age then we have seen in the past. The longevity of a pitchers success is on the decline due to this very issue. The Baseball Writers Association of America needs to recognize this trend and adjust their view on how a Hall of Fame caliber pitcher is defined.
We lionize the records that may never be broken. Whether its Nolan Ryan’s 5714 career strikeouts or Cy Young’s 511 career wins, we stand in awe to admire such insurmountable feats. Why are these records considered unbreakable? Because the game has changed. Pitchers are throwing too many pitches and are worried about throwing too hard at too young an age. This calls for arms to blow out earlier in careers then we have become accustomed too seeing.
The last 4 starting pitchers to be selected into the baseball hall of fame are Nolan Ryan, Bert Blyleven, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine. Each of these players has either recorded 300+ career wins or 3700+ career strikeouts, if not both. Is that what the BBWAA expects every pitcher to do in order to gain entry into Cooperstown?
If so, what active pitcher do they expect to surpass those marks?
That was a different era. The old timers weren’t playing on travel teams and going to baseball clinic after baseball clinic as a kid. They played baseball seasonally until they were drafted and then their workloads increased accordingly, allowing for healthier and more sustainable careers. The elbow being overworked has led to many UCL related injuries for pitchers.
Since February of this year an astonishing 16 major league pitchers(and counting) have undergone Tommy John Surgery after blowing out their elbows. This does not include young stars Matt Harvey, Stephen Strasburg, Adam Wainwright, and Brian Wilson who have all undergone the operation in recent years.
Baseball executives and fans are wondering if the rising number of Tommy John Surgeries is an epidemic. Even Tommy John, the original recipient of the surgery, has expressed that the rise in numbers of the surgery in recent years is “Unreal”. John sat down with Watertown Daily Times recently and voiced his opinion on the matter:
"Throwing pitches in the big leagues will not hurt your arm," The former All Star told the Watertown Daily Times. "It's what you did down the road when you were younger. ... In essence, the injury itself is a buildup of overuse. And not overuse as an adult, but overuse as a kid”.
By the 1990’s globalization of the sport was on the rise like never before. More and more young players were coming to the majors from Latin America and Japan, increasing the competition of making it to the big leagues. Because of this, this pressured aspiring major leaguers to throw harder and more frequently in order to get recognized by major league scouts. These young arms effectively had no offseason causing their arms to blow out earlier in their major league careers. This has been an increasingly concerning issue amongst the best young pitchers in the game.
Now back to how this ‘epidemic’ affects future Hall of Fame ballots.
Because of the overuse of these young arms, pitchers are likely to encounter injuries much earlier in their careers then we have seen historically. Because of this their career stats will not as profound as they have been in the past. Most pitchers comeback from this injury and undergo a loss in confidence and are realizing they will never be able to pitch the same way again. The great pitchers comeback from the surgery and adapt to the change relying more on their command rather than overpower the hitter. Nowadays these are the pitchers who exceed 2000 strikeouts and 200 wins as opposed to 3000 strikeouts and 300 wins. The baseball writers who will fill out their ballot beginning in 5 years need to realize that the game has changed. There will be no more Randy Johnson’s, no more Greg Maddux’s. Obtaining 300 career wins and/or 3000 strikeouts will become much more infrequent then it has been because of such injuries.
It’s up to the baseball writers to recognize that many of these ‘Hall of Fame clinching milestones’ may never be achieved again, or at least at a lesser rate. In my eyes, Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia are both Hall of Famer caliber players. Sure there stats don’t match up to Bob Gibson or Steve Carlton, but the game is different now. Halladay and Sabathia are two of the best in their era and should be respected acoordingly. The accolades and achievements of a player should be compared to that of their own era, not to those in another era. That is what the BBWAA must understand.
Bob Gibson was one of the best of his era. That is what gained him entry to Cooperstown. Roy Halladay is one of the best in this era. If those who have a vote do not consider him to be a Hall of Fame caliber player because his statistics and accolades do not match up to other inductees then what happens to the best in this era? What pitchers get inducted? No one?
This article isn’t about just Roy Halladay. This article is about future pitchers getting the recognition they deserve. Though current and future pitchers career stats may never again be on par with those in the Hall of Fame, the iconic and dominant players of each era must be represented in Cooperstown. The game has changed and will continue to change, and what the BBWAA believes is the definition a Hall of Fame pitcher needs to change as well.