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Tom Seaver thinks pitchers today should be like him and his Hall of Fame friends

Aug 30, 2013, 8:23 AM EDT

Tom Seaver

This is in keeping with my observation from the other day that, when talking about the pitchers of yesteryear and their heavy work loads, people almost always talk about the exceptional and other-worldly talented, not the ones who never made it because their arms blew out.

Here’s Tom Seaver talking to Bill Madden of the Daily News about how today’s pitchers get hurt because they’re coddled, and how his generation (and the generation before) was not coddled and look how good they were:

“Take a look at all of them, Marichal, Jenkins, Spahn, what do you think made them successful?” Seaver asked. “They conditioned their arms by pitching more, not less, starting from when they signed their first contract. Jenkins threw 300 or more innings half a dozen (actually five) times. Same with Palmer, Carlton and Marichal. I keep going back to that (July 2, 1963) Marichal-Spahn game when they both pitched 16 innings and threw almost 500 pitches between them.

“Neither one of them had any adverse aftereffects from it.”

No, they didn’t. And that’s one of the things which made them absolutely incredible pitchers. It’s quite possible, however, that there are tons of anonymous guys who would have come up in the 50s and 60s and had great careers — or even good careers — but never did because they blew out their arms in Double-A or two years into their major league career and were done for.

The point isn’t that coddling pitchers is the way to prevent injuries. Obviously guys still get hurt, so Seaver’s points about coddling not being the answer could have a lot of validity to them. His point that we don’t know what’s going to lead to injuries certainly has validity, because we don’t. The point is that Hall of Famers like him and Marichal and others are not the best examples of a better way of doing things precisely because they were, by definition, exceptional.

I am certain there are pitchers in the game today who could log the innings that those guys did and be just fine. Felix Hernandez? Justin Verlander? CC Sabathia? There have to be several. But there are tons of guys who fate and physiology are not going to allow to do that, just as there are guys who pitched alongside Seaver back in the day who could not do it either without blowing out their arms.

Teams and doctors need to figure out how to help those guys. How to tailor workloads and physical regimens to — if possible — prevent catastrophic injuries from occurring. Maybe that is futile. Maybe there is absolutely no way to prevent this stuff. But I feel like it’s worth trying to do that with the best information and evidence we can rather than to just throw up our hands, say “there’s no hope” and immediately go back to four-man rotations and 300 inning workloads for everyone.

Because while that did work for Tom Seaver and Fergie Jenkins, it didn’t work for a lot of Joe Shlabotniks whose careers were over before they began thanks to blown out arms.

  1. chacochicken - Aug 30, 2013 at 8:28 AM

    Survivor bias, a very common logical fallacy. Beware of advice from the very successful.

    • jarathen - Aug 30, 2013 at 8:32 AM

      It’s my favorite bias. I watch the 2002 World Series DVD sometimes because I’m an Angels fan, but it gets harder and harder to see players like David Eckstein talk about how they were “never out of a game” and how they weren’t scared of anybody.

      Well, it’s easy to say that, because now narrative supports everything you say. I bet the Giants never counted themselves out either until it was all over.

      • paperlions - Aug 30, 2013 at 12:07 PM

        You have survivor bias bias. :-D

      • crackersnap - Aug 31, 2013 at 1:57 AM

        No but, on the other hand, Dusty Baker counted the Angels out. Game 6, inning 7.

    • unclemosesgreen - Aug 30, 2013 at 9:31 AM

      So you’re saying I didn’t really make it to shore because I’m the strongest swimmer?

    • aceshigh11 - Aug 30, 2013 at 11:06 AM

      Yup…kinda like Donald Trump saying, “Hey, I’m a billionaire! Anyone can do it!”

      Sure. If:

      – You’ve got a rich father who leaves you millions
      – You lie about actually BEING a billionaire (on paper doesn’t count, esp after several bankruptcies)

      • km9000 - Aug 30, 2013 at 12:16 PM

        Just trust your instincts! Even if they’re not well developed yet, but that’s a minor detail…

  2. js20011041 - Aug 30, 2013 at 8:39 AM

    Has there ever been a study done that compares the number of arm injuries from today to the past? It does seem like there are more, but I think that part of that might be due to an earlier diagnosis of arm injuries. Also, pitchers just throw harder today. I remember Mark Wohlers being such an anomaly in the 90’s because he could throw 100 mph. Today, it seems like all teams have at least one guy who can hit triple digits. Pitchers routinely throw 94 or 95. I wonder if pitchers are simply throwing too hard to stay consistently healthy.

    • chacochicken - Aug 30, 2013 at 8:48 AM

      My thinking has always been it will take lots of data to pick this one apart. Much larger men are pitching today with more extreme speeds and breaks. Accurate reporting of arm/shoulders injuries was practically nonexistent for decades. Deadball soft tossers who pitched to contact vs. strike out pitchers, and actual number of pitches thrown per inning. So many potential factors.

      • unclemosesgreen - Aug 30, 2013 at 9:30 AM

        I’m gonna go ahead and toss in ‘shrinking strike zones.’

        Someday they’re going to figure out that it’s all about the mound – OF’s don’t have as many injuries because they don’t throw downhill.

    • NatsLady - Aug 30, 2013 at 8:53 AM

      Not only do “average” pitchers throw 94-95, they start throwing in the 90s in high school. Yes, better nutrition and training are a factor (average height and weight of Americans is increasing astronomically). Still, you have to wonder if 15 or 16 year-old kids should be throwing 90+.

      • paperlions - Aug 30, 2013 at 9:53 AM

        Agreed. The drive to pursue millions of dollars (especially on the parts of parents/coaches) pushes kids too early and may create damage that doesn’t result in the need for surgery for several more years.

        With respect to work load, there are plenty of pitchers that are abused by their college (and/or HS) coaches, almost none of those guys wind up making it in the pros…so the whole, “they need to throw more to condition their arms” mantra pretty much dies with that treatment…many of those guys have arm problems before ever leaving college.

        As far as I know, Harvey only had one such performance in college, left in for 157 pitches, which was and is atypical for UNC.

    • raysfan1 - Aug 30, 2013 at 9:36 AM

      To do comparison studies with injuries from the past, one would have to have data from the past. We don’t. The first CT scanners in the US were installed in 1973 and did not become common until later in the ’70s. Before that a lot of ruptured UCLs went undiagnosed. MRIs have made diagnosis even better, being able to detect subtle partial tears and even inflammation. Before Tommy John’s surgery UCL ruptures ended careers and got nonspecific labels like “arm gave out.” Medical record keeping was also much less precise and comprehensive. Minor leaguers who got hurt and couldn’t play anymore were just gone. The litany of anecdotal evidence of early flameouts among major leaguers though is long.

    • sheahey61 - Aug 30, 2013 at 3:41 PM

      I recently heard an interesting theory. Stephen Strasburg pitched 55 innings in the minors. Early Wynn pitched 1,055 innings in the minors. The point is that maybe, because pitchers used to pitch much longer in the minors, the same injuries would occur before they even reached the majors. At that time, a bad rotator cuff and you faded away before playing a major league game. Survival of the fittest. Today, it’s mostly the 2- to 3-year old major leaguer needing TJ surgery.

    • crackersnap - Aug 31, 2013 at 2:15 AM

      It’s incorrrect to think that pitchers throw harder today than they did in the past. We humans have been at the mechanical limits of human pitching performance for almost the entire history of baseball (http://www.slate.com/articles/sports/sports_nut/2005/04/pitcher_perfect.html).

      What would be accurate is to say that more pitchers are now throwing at, or near, the limits of human mechanics and, therefore, more pitchers today are at risk of exceeding the health limits of their own body. This, in turn, would result in the more injuries.

      When focusing on pitch type, do we really know what kinds of pitches were being thrown in previous years? Were they all named? Were they all named the same? We could also add that, based on available film, pitching mechanics of the past sure were rough. That couldn’t have been good.

  3. paulhargis53 - Aug 30, 2013 at 8:45 AM

    It probably wouldn’t have to do with any Ped usage, would it? Nahhhh….

    It wouldnt have to do with the $ involved either.

    Instead of guessing to make your point, why don’t you do the research on this?

    I bet you might be suprised. I’m tired of the talk that newer is ALWAYS better, because its not.

    • paperlions - Aug 30, 2013 at 8:56 AM

      No, it wouldn’t have anything to do with PED usage. Feel free to find any study that links injury to PED use.

      • raysfan1 - Aug 30, 2013 at 9:48 AM

        Further, see my comment above on the problems of trying to do retrospective research.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 30, 2013 at 10:01 AM

      Instead of guessing to make your point, why don’t you do the research on this?

      What should he do research on? Read the linked article from the other day. Many of us pointed out numerous players that threw a ton of innings early on, and either got injured or suffered from declining performance that they ended up out of baseball. It’s easy for the Ryans, Seavers and Carltons to say that a player should throw more like they did, because they survived.

    • sabatimus - Aug 30, 2013 at 12:58 PM

      I challenge you to find research on this from the 60s and 70s. Good luck.

  4. skeleteeth - Aug 30, 2013 at 8:46 AM

    What’s the rate of season/career/whatever ending injury for pitchers in Japan compared to MLB given their purported differences in methodology?

    • misterj167 - Aug 30, 2013 at 11:34 AM

      The Japanese system is torturous, there are HS kids that throw as many as 200 (or more!) pitches during a game. 16-yo High schooler Tomohiro Anraku pitched 22 innings and threw 391 pitches in five days during Japan’s national tournament, and in 1998 Daisuke Matsuzaka threw 413 pitches in three days.

      The Japanese are extreme in this of course because their baseball philosophy is different than ours, but while killing kid’s arms isn’t as bad as HS or college football players in the US being killed during summer practices or sustaining life-altering concussions because that’s what the culture demands, it’s still pretty bad.

  5. dondada10 - Aug 30, 2013 at 8:54 AM

    Maybe it’s not workload or pitch-counts that’s causing arm injuries. Maybe the pitch types need to be examined, in particular the slider. I remember Kerry Wood had an unreal slider the year he struck out 20. Coming back from injury, he had to get rid of it.

    Fangraphs would made GIFs of Harvey’s sliders. Now his elbow is shot.

    • paperlions - Aug 30, 2013 at 9:00 AM

      Exactly. Back in Seaver’s day pitchers didn’t throw a whole lot more than a steady stream of FBs with an occasional curve…few change ups, no splitters, few sliders….guys that threw a lot of “off speed” stuff were the guys that already blew out their arms.

      The Harvey injury has made me wonder about his slider. He was an okay prospect until suddenly he had this devastating slider one day, out no where. Is it possible that whatever he had to do to throw that thing accelerated the degradation of the UCL?

      It would be interesting to see a study on guys that suddenly developed a new high effort pitch or that suddenly added a few MPH to their FB had a higher likelihood of UCL tears in the next couple of years compared to the general population of pitcher.

      • chacochicken - Aug 30, 2013 at 9:14 AM

        Watch Patrick Corbin next season. He was an average pitcher before developing a very good to excellent slider last off season and now he is having unheralded success mostly due to that pitch.

      • yahmule - Aug 30, 2013 at 12:49 PM

        It is a brutal pitch on the elbow, but some guys threw thousands without ill effects: Feller, Gibson, Carlton, Smoltz, Big Unit, Guidry, Stieb. Bob Lemon was going to wash out as outfielder before becoming a Hall of Fame SP due to the slider.

      • paperlions - Aug 30, 2013 at 1:03 PM

        I wonder if the sudden appearance of Harvey’s slider didn’t allow his UCL time enough to adapt to the new stress put on it, resulting in the injury…compared to say, a pitcher that had been developing one for years….new pitch combined with more innings…maybe?

  6. sillec28 - Aug 30, 2013 at 8:55 AM

    I’m going to condition myself to jumping off the roof of skyscrapers by doing it ten times. Today is my first time. Then I’ll do it each day for the next 9 days. Wish me luck.

    • themohel - Aug 30, 2013 at 10:46 AM

      Perhaps not the cleanest analogy I’ve seen. Two guys want to bench press 300 pounds – the first slowly works himself toward the number by practicing the bench press with increasing amounts, and the second just tries it once after sitting on the couch all day for a few months. Which is more likely to get to his goal?

      Here’s the trouble… Of course it would be great to have our #1 starters throw an extra 100 innings each season. To do so would require a building up of strength over time. This in turn would likely result in more injury.

      As noted above – today’s game is more of a max effort deal than in the past, including more pitches that will jack up the arm. Seems to me that the way things were in the past was the right thing for then, and the way things are now is the right thing for now.

      • sabatimus - Aug 30, 2013 at 1:02 PM

        I knew a jackass once who went to the gym and was upset that his girlfriend could lift more than he could…he never worked out his arms, then to show his manliness he picked up a 50lb free weight and lifted it cold with one arm. He tore his bicep.

      • cur68 - Aug 30, 2013 at 3:18 PM

        “He tore is bicept
        FIFY

      • sabatimus - Aug 30, 2013 at 10:28 PM

        BicepS. He tore “is” bicept?

    • rehortonjr - Sep 5, 2013 at 4:15 PM

      Smoltz had both elbow and shoulder issues. Probably not the best example.

  7. rickdobrydney - Aug 30, 2013 at 8:57 AM

    All Good points — The bottom line is, every arm and individual is different, and I think workloads have to be tailored to the specific arm and situation —

  8. paperlions - Aug 30, 2013 at 9:04 AM

    I’m too lazy/busy to do the research right now….but I’m pretty sure that ligaments can’t be “conditioned” the same way muscles can. Ligaments certainly become more resilient from adolescence to young adult hood…but I don’t think throwing more in and of itself will “condition” them to be able to handle a greater work load….just like you can’t “condition” your rotator cuff.

    • yahmule - Aug 30, 2013 at 12:55 PM

      Power lifters perform certain exercises to increase the strength of their ligaments and tendons. Most competitive bodybuilders will incorporate some of those techniques to enable them to handle progressively heavier weights without injury.

      • paperlions - Aug 30, 2013 at 1:01 PM

        So…in theory, there should be an exercise that will help increase the durability of the UCL which may allow it to tolerate more stress….I rather doubt that exercise is “pitching”, but there may be something…and if there is…I’d be shocked if every MLB team didn’t already know what it was.

      • dondada10 - Aug 30, 2013 at 1:17 PM

        I powerlift. That’s bench, squat, and deadlifting. I do yoga to strengthen my tendons.

      • yahmule - Aug 30, 2013 at 4:08 PM

        Tendons and ligaments can be healed through rehab when they’re injured, so they’re definitely trainable. Tendon and ligament strength, like anything else, also varies from person to person. I read that, Hall of Fame fullback Larry Csonka had an anterior cruciate ligament that was so durable, it actually broke away from the bone instead of tearing. Of course, there are hundreds of stories of Csonka’s toughness, so a good many must be apocryphal.

  9. zzalapski - Aug 30, 2013 at 9:06 AM

    Someone should ask Seaver about his 1969 rotation mate Gary Gentry (233 IP in his rookie year at age 22, out of the majors before age 29).

  10. epaduani - Aug 30, 2013 at 9:11 AM

    And in other news, Bill Gates said that if you work as hard as he does you will have as much money as himself, Warren Buffet and Larry Elison.

  11. sdelmonte - Aug 30, 2013 at 9:14 AM

    Please. Joe Shlabotnik wasn’t a pitcher. He wasn’t much of anything else, either. But he wasn’t a pitcher. Any member of the Joe Shlabotnik Fan Club (Charlie Brown, President) knows that.

    • stex52 - Aug 30, 2013 at 9:24 AM

      Aw, cut them some slack, Sdel. That’s a name for the ages. All of us older guys know it from Peanuts. But it’s in the public domain now.

      • sdelmonte - Aug 30, 2013 at 9:31 AM

        Wasn’t being serious. Just trying to defend poor old Joe, who I suspect is out there on the autograph circuit selling photos at 50 cents a clip.

      • stex52 - Aug 30, 2013 at 12:28 PM

        Neither was I sdel. I guess I should have used the smiley face.

    • raysfan1 - Aug 30, 2013 at 10:50 AM

      http://peanuts.wikia.com/wiki/Joe_Shlabotnik

      He had the wondrous talent of making exciting plays out of routine fly balls.

      • yahmule - Aug 30, 2013 at 12:58 PM

        Man, according to Schoeder he was batting .004 when he was demoted. Those 1 for 250 slumps are killers.

  12. joshfrancis50 - Aug 30, 2013 at 9:29 AM

    My question is why do guys like Tom Seaver even care about whether or not today’s players are like he and Spahn and Palmer and anyone else? To what end? So the teams can win more? I think the teams share that interest already. So the players make more money? Think they’re doing fine. So they can rack up “better” stats? Seems counterintuitive, when a whole slew of of HOFers want to believe they were better anyway.

    So what exactly is the point? If everything seems to be working okay for MLB teams with their current method of handling pitchers, what does it matter if they pitch more innings?

    • louhudson23 - Aug 30, 2013 at 1:58 PM

      Reducing injuries to pitchers is everyone’s goal. Seaver has a theory and some have agreed and some have disagreed and all have discussed here,just as every GM,trainer,Manager has. Whether they find any validity to Seaver’s theory or not, it is of huge interest because teams are not happy with pitchers injuries and take all actions that they can to reduce them…As fans and HoF players, I think their reason for caring are the same as the people here as well as those in baseball,including the pitchers themselves….

  13. tmohr - Aug 30, 2013 at 10:18 AM

    Marichal’s last big year was at age 31. Palmer missed his entire age-22 season with arm trouble, and was pretty much finished by age 36. Jenkins didn’t become a full-time starter until he was 24, Spahn when he was 26.

    Seems to me that Seaver’s examples don’t prove much of anything.

  14. The Dangerous Mabry - Aug 30, 2013 at 10:18 AM

    Seaver also battled shoulder and hip pain from the middle of his career onward. Fortunately for Tom, he was so talented that he was still able to be extremely effective.

  15. Ryan Lansing - Aug 30, 2013 at 10:33 AM

    You have to wonder if it has something to do with the changing lifestyle of American kids. Most current MLB players played a hell of a lot of baseball as kids and probably didn’t do much else other than go to school. Previous generations didn’t have kids who were aggressively groomed from a young age to play pro baseball. They did farm work, ran around in the woods or in their city neighborhood, and played other sports.
    This is hard to research, but I think there are two things about that lifestyle that might have led to healthier arms for the kids who went on to pitch pro ball. 1: Most of them didn’t throw at all in the winter. 2. They played a lot of baseball without adult supervision. This might seem counter-intuitive, but if there are no adults around to pressure the kids or tell them they’re doing it wrong, a kid will come up with his own pitching delivery that’s both effective and doesn’t make his arm hurt. The next big revolution in baseball might come when someone figures out that today’s “correct” mechanics cause cause a lot of injuries. Watch some video of pitchers from decades ago- how many of them do weird things with their deliveries? How much of that stuff would get coached out of a kid if he tried it now?
    And this is a little off-topic, but even if giving kids less adult supervision and more choice over how they spend their time doesn’t keep future big-league pitchers healthier, it would probably be a good thing for most kids.

  16. cubfan531 - Aug 30, 2013 at 11:30 AM

    Mark Fidrych didn’t need to be coddled. This is why he went on from his promising rookie season to an illustrious career, right?

  17. misterj167 - Aug 30, 2013 at 11:38 AM

    Sandy Koufax left the game while he was still pitching great baseball because he felt that he’d rather retire with two good arms.

    • ezwriter69 - Aug 30, 2013 at 12:10 PM

      Verlander and Sabathia have both lost 3-5 mph off their fastballs. Name me any prime pitcher today who’s thrown 250+ innings more than once who hasn’t had surgery.

    • ezwriter69 - Aug 30, 2013 at 12:11 PM

      Wrong, he left because the pain and arthritic deterioration in his elbow were no longer tolerable, and he couldn’t stand it any more.

      • misterj167 - Aug 30, 2013 at 2:28 PM

        So ezwriter, you’re telling me I was wrong but basically repeating what I said using different words. Here’s the quote from Koufax I based my comment on:

        I didn’t regret making the decision. I regretted having to make the decision. At the time, I was risking the use of my arm, the normal use of my arm.

        He also was asked about the loss of income and said

        If you’re a man who did not have use of one of his arms, and you told him it would cost a lot of money and he could buy back that use, he’d give ‘em every dime he had, I believe it. And in a sense maybe this is what I’m doing, I don’t know.

    • rehortonjr - Sep 5, 2013 at 4:25 PM

      Did you ever see a picture of Koufax’s elbow? Google is your friend! Koufax has been often quoted as saying if the CT scanner had been around in 1967 the surgery would be called “Sandy Koufax surgery” instead of Tommy John. Contemporary empirical reports at the time say that Koufax actually lost at least 5 MPH on his fastball in his last year and pitched mostly on guts, reputation, and residual skill.

  18. ezwriter69 - Aug 30, 2013 at 12:10 PM

    Verlander and Sabathia have both lost 3-5 mph off their fastballs. Name me any prime pitcher today who’s thrown 250+ innings more than once who hasn’t had surgery.

    • ezwriter69 - Aug 30, 2013 at 12:12 PM

      Sorry, don’t know how I double posted.

  19. sabatimus - Aug 30, 2013 at 1:08 PM

    The names that Seaver mentioned are obviously cherry-picked, to say the least. Interestingly, Seaver himself, since he played largely in an era when pitchers supposedly weren’t “coddled”, might be able to come up with a bunch of pitchers (some even on his own team) who did in fact blow out their arms. Listing a bunch of HOFers gets him nowhere in this argument.

  20. louhudson23 - Aug 30, 2013 at 2:04 PM

    Fidrych was abused. Pure and simple.

  21. wrongowright - Aug 30, 2013 at 3:49 PM

    How many careers did Billy Martin ruin with his “development” of young arms in all of those rebuilding teams he coached? Threw young guys into the fire for way too many innings that they weren’t ready to pitch.

  22. wrongowright - Aug 30, 2013 at 3:53 PM

    According to many storytellers, Fidrych pitched after his shoulder got injured outside of a ballpark. It has been told that he hurt his shoulder at the Lindell AC when a man walked in and took exception to Fidrych being with his wife. In the ensuing brawl, Fidrych had his hand on the bar, supporting his weight and the other gentleman came down hard on his shoulder. If the stories are correct, it was in his next start that he blew is arm out.

  23. guzmanje - Aug 30, 2013 at 4:00 PM

    Let Seaver manage at team. He’ll abuse 20 anonymous arms out of baseball to find one Verlander so he can say ‘Told ya’ so!’

  24. jimeejohnson - Aug 30, 2013 at 5:09 PM

    Seaver’s a snob…lived in SnobLand (Fairfield County, CT), and is now a winemaker snob in SnobLand West (Napa County, CA). Otherwise he’s been drinkin’ too much of his product.

  25. spoiledbratswhosuck - Aug 31, 2013 at 10:44 AM

    Problem today is most pitchers played DADDY BALL who know nothing about baseball cause most of these Daddys never wore a jock strap. They make kids throw curveballs and sliders before they are 12yrs old and never really condition their arms properly. Their Daddys have killed LITTLE LEAGUE, CAL RIPKEN and risk killing the game of baseball if not their sons, but hey? they get a big paycheck in the process.

    Proof: All MLBs that have the best arms at every position are foreigners. All the whites who played daddy ball 5uck.

    YEARS AGO everybody played with a ball everyday, tennis ball, wiffle ball, baseball, softball, throwing rocks etc etc. which conditioned an arm better than anything else. Day after day after day of playing like this made athletes of the past have “rubber” arms. By the time a kid was 15 yrs old he threw more than the pitchers today their age, then learned how to throw a curve, slider changeup etc.

    Add PEDs to this mix and what do you get? An athlete that might be huge physical wise but dumb as a rock and an arm full of “puss”.

    Tom Seaver is 100% right arrogant or not.

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