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High school coach cuts a pitcher who can’t field bunts. Oh, and the pitcher has two prosthetic legs.

Feb 11, 2011, 9:59 AM EDT

Burroto

Reader Ben alerts me to this story: A high school sophomore pitcher who can throw 80 MPH with a “wicked curve” gets cut from his high school team because he can’t field bunts all that well.

Oh, the fact that he happens to have two prosthetic legs may have something to do with it.  And did I mention that the kid was a cover boy for an ESPN Magazine story about athletes with prosthetics? Yeah, this is a poop-storm, alright.

Where you come down on this probably correlates pretty nicely with where you believe high-pitched, winner-take-all competition in sports should begin. Is that on a varsity high school team?  Earlier? Later?  And the subject raises a host of other ethical questions:

  • Should this kid’s teammates expect only the most able athletes to go into battle with them, or is pretty darn good but flawed good enough for high school baseball?
  • Do we give this kid extra points for determination and courage that we wouldn’t give to an otherwise able-bodied pitcher who can’t field bunts because, hell, he just doesn’t have the reflexes?
  • Is it somehow unfair to the other teams that shame will prevent them from laying down bunts if this kid were pitching when they’d certainly do it if, say, a fat kid were pitching?

I’m inclined, based on the information presented, to think the coach here is a jackass and that he should have found a way to keep the kid on the team.  And that’s certainly the narrative that tends to get created in these situations.  But I don’t pretend to have all of the answers on this stuff either.  Any time you get into this subject there are unexpected advocates on either side.

There are disabled people who contend that any special treatment (i.e. letting the kid pitch even if he has trouble fielding his position) does the disabled person a disservice.  There are likewise some people who can never look past the prosthetic legs no matter what the performance. There are also some people who will ignore the unintended consequences of either course of action because paying attention to such things doesn’t jibe with their world view.

Personally, I see any argument that is grounded in a belief that an ultra-high level of competition in high school baseball should be inviolate to be a rather pathetic one.  But I’ll grant that it’s more complicated than saying “player good, coach bad!” and relying on the expected sympathies as well.

  1. Jonny 5 - Feb 11, 2011 at 10:21 AM

    Keep working on fielding those bunts Anthony….

  2. BC - Feb 11, 2011 at 10:28 AM

    Dumb. Tim Wakefield’s back was so bad last year he couldn’t field anything, yet he’s on a major league team. And let’s not talk about many other pitchers who um.. enjoy the buffet table.
    And if there were teams bunting like 137 times in a game against the kid, then 1) they should just play the game the right way and not make a sham out of things, and 2) the kid needs to work on when to use the brushback and beanball.

    • Utley's Hair - Feb 11, 2011 at 10:58 AM

      Don’t forget about Ollie Perez’s disability, too. He has vaulted over obstacles between the majors and pitchers who have the inability to…you know…pitch.

    • paperlions - Feb 11, 2011 at 11:11 AM

      Cutting the kid on the 2nd day for the bunting thing is extreme, I agree that there is probably room for him if his pitching is good enough.
      .
      Baseball is played to win, that is playing the right way. Saying kids shouldn’t bunt because the pitcher can’t get off of the mound is retarded. That’s akin to saying that every players weakness should not be exploited by the other team. In HS, bunting for hits is often a pretty big part of the game, now teams are supposed to ignore that strategy? The kid should work on fielding bunts and opposing teams (or hitters in practice) should bunt until he can prove he can field them….making the team should be merit based, not pity based. If he can’t field bunts at all, and is a liability even as a relief specialist, then he shouldn’t be on the team….but it doesn’t seem that there was enough time to evaluate things (unless the coach was already familiar with the kid’s abilities, which seems likely).

      • BC - Feb 11, 2011 at 11:21 AM

        The only way I’d excuse the coach here is if the kid was loafing or had a bad attitude – which we don’t know. Failing that, cutting the kid like that is bush league. And yes, maybe the coaches could figure out a way to help him with the fielding, changing his follow-through or something. And, there’s the brushback element. Throw a pitch at a guy’s belt buckle if he sqaures to bunt. So many better ways this could have been handled, again, assuming the kid was a good teammate and hard worker.

      • Coach Tony - Feb 12, 2011 at 1:55 PM

        FINALLY, another sports guy who uses the word retarded. I got in trouble for using it on my radio show. Guys like you wold probably enjoy it.

        Bottom line, if the kid is a good pitcher, any decent coach can work bunt defenses to compensate for his disability. This is a real shame.

        Let me know if you think this is a good topic for my show and perhaps next Sunday, I’ll highlight it.

        Would love some feedback so please check my stuff out. I started to YouTube my shows lately.

        Here’s the segment where I use “retard” Seriously, let me know if this is out of line.

        Thanks

        Coach Tony

    • hasbeen5 - Feb 11, 2011 at 11:35 AM

      And if the kid threw at somebody every time they squared, we’d be reading a different article about this rogue pitcher with no legs and no sportsmanship. And the coach would get fired for tolerating/encouraging/not discouraging this extreme violence.

      • BC - Feb 11, 2011 at 2:29 PM

        No, don’t bean everybody. Bean someone if say, three players in a row bunt. And even then, hit them in the backside, not the head.

  3. genericcommenter - Feb 11, 2011 at 10:41 AM

    High School kids bunt?

  4. hankg42 - Feb 11, 2011 at 10:44 AM

    As I understand it, he was cut on the 2nd day. Is that considered a full tryout? Seems as if there may have been some preconceived notions of the kid’s abilities. I can’t help but wonder if Jim Abbott faced similar adversity, on top of the physical handicap.

    • scapistron - Feb 11, 2011 at 11:29 AM

      All credit to Tango on looking these up.

      http://www.uwire.com/2010/08/02/michigan-alum-jim-abbott’s-unlikely-trip-to-the-major-leagues/

      http://bioproj.sabr.org/bioproj.cfm?a=v&v=l&bid=1593&pid=13

      Turns out it happened a lot to Abbot. One time he threw all of the batters out, the next time the rest of them simply couldn’t even connect.

    • hasbeen5 - Feb 11, 2011 at 11:31 AM

      I’ve coached in HS. Maybe it’s different where he lives, but we only had 2 or 3 days for tryouts. With such limited pre-season work time, you have to set the team quickly and then go about preparing for game situations

  5. whodoes - Feb 11, 2011 at 10:47 AM

    Well, it has to be one of two ways: either high schools must have policies stating that all students that want to participate must be allowed on the team, or, if high school coaches are allowed to make cuts based on ability, then they simply must be allowed to make cuts based on standards of ability that are the same for everyone. You can’t say, “Well, I think the coach should be allowed to cut kids because they lack ability, but I just don’t think he should have been able to cut that particular kid because thinking about it makes me feel bad.” All that happens in that instance is allegations of unfairness and hypocrisy. One way or the other, consistency is the only way to be fair.

  6. benjdwilson - Feb 11, 2011 at 10:55 AM

    Why does the coach blame the bunts? By doing so he implicitly states that the kid is a good enough pitcher to be on the team. If the Sentinel is correct in reporting that he throws 80 with a wicked curve then that should easily make him an average high school pitcher.

    Pitcher ability to field bunts seems like nonsense – high school teams regularly send the 1B and 3B in on bunt plays while rotating the SS to second base and the 2B to first base. If there were a runner on second base, this would leave third base unoccupied – allowing the runner to easily steal third on a fake bunt play… but this seems like a small price to pay for adding such an inspirational player to your team.

    • paperlions - Feb 11, 2011 at 11:15 AM

      Unless his stuff is unbuntable, it may be hard for him to record outs, especially if there are any men on so the 1B can’t come in…is it just bunts? Can he cover 1st on a GB to 1B? Can he back up plays at 3B and home? Those are more minor, but in HS, the fielding ability of the pitcher can be pretty important considering relative frequency of over-throws.

  7. hasbeen5 - Feb 11, 2011 at 11:04 AM

    Learned about this yesterday. This kid was one of 23 players cut, so he wasn’t singled out. If you have that many kids trying out, would it be fair to have someone else give up a roster spot to someone the coach feels is inferior? The kid himself said he doesn’t want special treatment, doesn’t want to make the team out of pity. He said he wanted to make the team if the coach thought he was good enough. He didn’t. The kid seems reasonable, his mom is making a big deal about it to get sympathy.

    • vader000 - Feb 11, 2011 at 12:17 PM

      If he was one of 23 players cut then obviously there’s a lot of competition to make this team. Most likely there are several other kids who can pitch and can also play other positions. It wouldn’t be fair to the kid who gets cut instead of him if he’s a better player. I used to help coach a high school team and we never kept a kid as a relief specialist, theres not enough roster spots. Its a shame for the kid but sports are competition, there’s always a winner and a loser. If this kid should make it out of sympathy then don’t keep score and give everyone a trophy.

  8. cincycoltsfan - Feb 11, 2011 at 11:04 AM

    Craig, nice balanced story. None of us know enough to really make a call on this. But it sure seems like they should find a spot the kid.

  9. bcopus - Feb 11, 2011 at 11:11 AM

    It seems hard to have an opinion on this without any real relevant information. Maybe the coach is a jackass. But maybe the kids is. Who knows? You know a high school coach can’t come right out and say “this kid has a terrible attitude” without catching flak.

  10. Chris K - Feb 11, 2011 at 11:13 AM

    Considering that players get drafted from High School, I’d say you should probably field the best team you can and give the best players the team spots. Honestly, I think it should probably always be like that. If opposing players can get on base by bunting to him then maybe he doesn’t have a place on the team.

    I guess I come from the school of equality and performance based judgement. Take out any mention of prosthesis from the article. If it was a fully able bodied kid that couldn’t field bunts, this wouldn’t be a story at all. I’ve been a charity case on teams before (I was just the worst player). It doesn’t feel good being a bench warmer and playing the odd garbage time.

  11. bigharold - Feb 11, 2011 at 12:20 PM

    “I’m inclined, based on the information presented, to think the coach here is a jackass and that he should have found a way to keep the kid on the team.”

    Then Craig you would be wrong!

    One either can play or one can’t and the last time I checked bunting was part of the game. If you can’t meet all aspects of the game, even in the barest most rudimentary way, then you are in fact being given a break that you neither deserve nor should covet.

    When I say that it’s from personal experience so it’s not just an unfounded opinion. I lost my left arm above the elbow as a child yet I played HS football, wrestled AND got cut from the baseball team. When I say I played, I really mean I made the teams. I was a bench player that saw limited action and to this day I think they kept me around so that the first string had somebody to run over in practice. Or, I was the guy the really good wrestles would tie in knots to hone their technique. I can still remember the starting halfback getting grief about running to my left during tackling drills and me being embarrassed because as he pointed out if I can’t tackle him in practice what was I going to do in a game. He was 100% right, during a game I better be able to make that play. I got cut from the baseball team, in part, because of my insistence that I wanted to play 2nd base. Had I went along with the coach and took LF I might have made the team but as a second baseman I was going to have trouble turning a DP. But, then and now I didn’t think it was the coaches fault. Moreover, had I made the team then come to realize that the only reason I did was because the coach didn’t want to cut the one armed guy I can assure you that would have been FAR WORSE.

    While I can’t speak for every amputee, it’s been my experience that if I’m given the opportunity I’d rather people forget that I’m missing a limb. I don’t do things because I have only one arm nor do I avoid things just for that reason. I don’t do thing in spite of the fact that I have one arm, I do things regardless. If this coach cut this kid I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he had enough reason. I’m also sure that he knew that he would have to take a lot of grief for it, unless he is in fact a jackass. Whether this kid realizes it or not this to his benefit. He’s better off not having anything handed to him because of his disability. The things you earn on your own are the ones most appreciated whether you’ve a disability or not.

  12. agelardi - Feb 11, 2011 at 12:58 PM

    Somebody is taking their win-loss record too seriously. Let the kid play you douche.

    • bigharold - Feb 11, 2011 at 1:31 PM

      You are missing the point completely.

  13. saints97 - Feb 11, 2011 at 12:59 PM

    I really don’t see what the hubbub us about. A sophomore gets cut from the varsity baseball team (along with 23 other players) because the coach thinks there are other players that can help the team more. There is no evidence anywhere that the coach cut him because of his disability. Why is his story more of a tragedy than the other 23? Do they not feel the sting of being cut, too? Do they not have parents and friends who will tell a reporter what a great player they are?

    The fact of the matter is that there are bleeding hearts that want this kid treated special because he is disabled. That sounds great in theory, but would you also be honest and tell the kid that eventually gets cut for the disabled kid that he got cut because of a feel good story and not because of talent or fairness?

    • bigharold - Feb 11, 2011 at 1:30 PM

      “Why is his story more of a tragedy than the other 23? Do they not feel the sting of being cut, too?”

      EXACTLY! If you want to be treated as an equal you have to expect be held to an equal standard.

  14. jh0088 - Feb 11, 2011 at 1:24 PM

    I have two examples in favor of the kid and one in favor of the coach. Ironically, two of them involve Curt Schilling.

    1. If the Yankees refused to lay down a bunt against Curt Schilling in game 7 of the 2004 ALCS because they didn’t want the appearance of taking advantage of his surgically repaired, and I heard somewhere still bleeding ankle, because they knew he wouldn’t be able to field his position, then other teams should have to gonads to go up there against this kid and swing away. Man up and take your hacks, don’t abuse the situation just because you can.

    2. If Curt Schilling wants to complain that Ben Davis was completely in the wrong, and showed horrible sportsmanship, for his bunt that broke up Schilling’s perfect game then a High School team should show the same level of sportsmanship and not try to bunt against this kid.

    Now, in favor of the coach:

    Bunting is not the only part of fielding your position. He has a wicked curve ball, huh? That sounds like a lot of soft ground balls between first and second. Can this kid cover first? Even if every batter swung away, and the kid was such a good pitcher that no one ever made solid contact yet they put the ball in play, they’d still wind up on base because no one would be there to cover the bag.

    And forget about backing up third or home. Jim Abbot was able to do all of those extra things a pitcher has to do to play the position.

    Lastly, I think everyone here who said it is up to the kid himself to practice all of those other aspects of pitching: fielding bunts, sprinting to first to cover the bag, backing up third and home are exactly correct. I don’t think there is a reason for him not to eventually learn those things. And as an example here is a NY Times article about a sprinter with no legs whose prosthetics actually make him FASTER than people with normal legs and how the IOC won’t let him compete because of it.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/15/sports/othersports/15runner.html

    I know for a fact this kid has had the worst possible time in life. But he has achieved some pretty amazing things so far, just being able to get on a mound like that is more than impressive. But the way he reacts to this could be the thing that makes him a man and not a boy. If he really wants to play baseball, he’ll spend the next year learning how to field his position in what ever way he can and then blow them all away at the next try out.

    THEN we’ll have a real story to talk about.

    • schlom - Feb 11, 2011 at 6:35 PM

      Actually it was Bob Brenly that complained, not Schilling.

  15. Reflex - Feb 11, 2011 at 1:34 PM

    The real crime here is that they are letting someone under 18 throw a curve. Great way to blow out an arm at a young age.

  16. kiwicricket - Feb 11, 2011 at 3:18 PM

    Kids are ‘cut’ from High School teams over there in the States???!! I am hoping that there is another team for this kid to join, otherwise this just seems a bit wrong in my opinion. The number of High School teams is dictated by the number of willing participants in other parts of the world. So the kid with the weak arm, no-legs or habit of playing with flowers instead of paying attention get to play the game. I have literally spent my morning coaching 50odd children the wonderful game of cricket. They pretty much just threw tennis balls at one another, but it’s the principal involved. None of them left there this morning feeling as though they will never contribute, nor will they. I just don’t believe this story.

  17. macjacmccoy - Feb 12, 2011 at 12:02 AM

    Its sports the best players should be on the field. And even though he was good at throwing the ball the fact that he cant field makes him not the best players. Its not fair to the kid who is better then him that doesnt get to be on the team bc he has both legs. I know that sucks but its life. There are plenty of park everybody gets to play leagues he can join. But high school sports are the highest level of competition the majority of athletes will ever get to play in. For most people thats where there athletic careers end. And because of that it should be treated seriously. Major leagues sports are only popular bc the people who werent able to be there still love the game and the competiveness of. Which is why we rout so hard for our fav. teams bc we feel like if they win we do too. We build that passion for sports through our expierences of it as kid. And if they turned high school sports, the place where most of our careers ended, into a let everyone play type of deal it could turn alot of people away from it. I know personally if my teams were like that in highschool I wouldnt have stayed. Im to competive. I had to deal with that on my youth teams and we were terrible bc of that. It was a relief knowing that once I got to 8th grade only the best would play and what do you know we started winning bc of it. If I didnt have those expierence I probably wouldnt be as big of a sports fans as I am. Turning highschool sports into little league would have taken those expierences away and made me not care about it. Which probably would have made me not care about the pro leagues. And without fans like me there would be no reason for there to be a pro leagues.

  18. Coach Tony - Feb 12, 2011 at 2:03 PM

    WOW! Some really great comments here.

    Until someone publishes that the coach cut him because he has no legs, you MUST assume that the kid just wasn’t going to be a producer at that level.

    Would it be a good story if the kid made the team? YES

    Do I think the coach should have found a spot for this kid? NO! He’s only a Sophomore. My guess is he’ll make the team next year or senior year.

    Anyway, it could make for a good debate. I host a radio show in NY but we stream live on the Internet.

    Would love to know if you folks think this would make for a good call-in show.

    Check out my stuff and I hope a group like this might have a few new fans for me.

    I started putting my shows on YouTube so please let me know what you think. This is one of my favorite clips so far. It gets good around 2:45 into it.

    Thanks

    Coach Tony

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