Mac Engel

August 6, 2014

Commissioner should lobby against year-round youth baseball

Experts have spoken against it; now the MLB’s next commissioner should reverse the troubling trend that leads to injury and burnout.

Bud Selig has been blamed for much since he assumed the role of Major League Baseball commissioner in 1992. Yet there is one development that has happened on his watch that is decidedly not his fault.

My preference is for the departing commissioner to speak out against the evolvement of year-round baseball for the kids who aspire to make it to the big leagues.

Bud, in his final season as baseball’s boss, is in town for a stop on his 30-team farewell tour. It is not exactly moving the masses the way Derek Jeter’s or Mariano Rivera’s goodbyes did.

Bud’s tenure was spotty, and he is not an at-ease public figure, but the man has always cared tremendously about baseball. His love of the game should be the reason he lobbies hard against playing baseball year round.

This week, Dr. James Andrews, the most recognized name in sports medicine, spoke out against kids playing baseball year round for a variety of reasons.

I asked Bud if he was OK with a trend that has taken off since he became commissioner.

“I think playing baseball year round is good,” he said. “It has to be done with good, knowledgeable coaching. I like that idea. It has to be done smartly.”

It should not be done at all.

All this year-round stuff, in any sport, does is lead to injury, fatigue and, ultimately, burnout.

One of the benefits of being a kid is the ability to try everything, but now we have done a good job of taking that away, too.

It is not uncommon these days for a seventh-grader to be asked to decide what sport he or she wants to play — forever.

It is not uncommon these days for a seventh-grader to play more games in a year than a major leaguer does in the same time span.

The days of a kid playing baseball, football, basketball, track and golf — much the way Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo did in his high school days in Burlington, Wis. — have been replaced by “select” teams, All-Star teams, traveling teams and all sorts of other money-making possibilities for youth sports organizations.

The parents push, and pay, for it because it is the best way for their sons/daughters to earn a college scholarship, often unaware that virtually no college baseball or soccer player ever earns a full ride.

The kid does it because, well, he does not have enough power to say no.

The coach does it because more games must be better.

Andrews told MLB Radio Network that all of this year-round stuff has led to increased strain on the body, and the mind.

“These kids are not just throwing year round, they’re competing year round, and they don’t have any time for recovery,” Andrews told MLB Radio.

He was also highly critical of kids trying to blow away a radar gun because talent evaluators have a lusty relationship with a device that reads 96 mph. Who cares if the guy can pitch? Does he have an arm?

I asked TCU baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle what he thought of year-round youth baseball.

“I despise it,” was his response. “Too much organized play. Not enough disorganized play.”

The latter has become one of the biggest knocks on youth sports these days — no game is spontaneous. No kid figures how to play on his own, thus slowing down his own “feeling-out” process for a game.

Sandlot baseball is dead. About the only game remaining where kids just play on their own is basketball. A June report by ESPN said that playground basketball has been replaced by AAU and indoor ball where players display their talents for adults.

Schloss also said he has seen a general lack of competitiveness because kids play so many games that don’t mean anything. It is not uncommon to see a high school kid simply quit because he is sick of it.

This yearning for kids to play a variety of sports is not the result of wistful pining for the old days when things were better. Not everything in the “old days” was better.

Perhaps the only way this year-round nonsense changes at all is if too many kids suffer injuries as a result and parents pull their kids out and the organizations start to lose money.

The development of little kids playing baseball year round did not happen as a result of anything Bud Selig did, but it would be nice if his successor addressed a trend that needs to be reversed.

Follow Mac Engel on The Big Mac Blog at

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