Q&A: Will Carroll, Sports Journalist and Injury Expert
This Wednesday, nationally recognized sportswriter and author Will Carroll—an Indianapolis resident—will be staying close to home to take part in an open-to-the-public roundtable discussion at IUPUI, “Epidemic at the Mound: The Stats and Facts of Youth Baseball Injuries.”
Carroll writes for Bleacher Report and has contributed to Baseball Prospectus and SI.com, and he has covered medical issues in sports extensively, particularly injuries related to performance-enhancing drugs. He also has two books to his credit, Saving the Pitcher (2004) and Juice: The Real Story of Baseball’s Drug Problems (2006), and has been a member of both the Baseball Writers Association of America and the Pro Football Writers Association.
Joining Carroll on the panel are orthopedic surgeon Dr. Robert Klitzman, former Major League pitcher Bill Sampen, and Ralph Reiff, executive director of St. Vincent Sports Performance. Indianapolis attorney Milt Thompson, who specializes in sports and entertainment law, will moderate. The discussion is presented by IUPUI’s Department of Journalism and Public Relations and National Sports Journalism Center.
Carroll spoke with us in advance of his appearance:
You’ve been writing almost exclusively about sports injuries for the better part of two decades. What drew you to the issue?
I’ve been around this all my life. My father was in sports medicine. It was an area I didn’t see enough coverage of, and I was crazy enough to think I could do it.
In 2013, noted sports physician Dr. James Andrews said that youth arm injuries had increased sevenfold since 2000. Why the sharp increase?
The biggest issue is specialization. This has happened in every sport except football, and we’re even starting to see it in football a little bit. Kids and their parents are thinking they’re the next football star or the next Venus Williams or Tiger Woods, so they play the same sport year-round, and they don’t get rest. Especially in baseball, where pitching is so specific, if you aren’t getting the rest between starts, the arm is going to break down. It’s inevitable.
What can reverse this trend?
It’s not going to happen. That’s the problem. Little League Baseball did a great job of institutionalizing pitch counts, but it isn’t going to work. What that has done has shifted the kids who want to pitch, who want to be seen and showcased, and who want the scholarships, to the travel leagues.
What is the health risk to a 12-year-old throwing curveballs and breaking pitches?
Dr. Andrews says you shouldn’t throw a curveball until you can shave—that’s the first outward indication of physical maturity. But kids are going to do it anyway. When I teach, I look for kids who can control the fastball. If they can do that, I progress to the changeup. If they can control that, which is hard to do, they can strike people out and make them look silly. If they can control those, then we start talking about a curveball, but with extreme limitations. They can only use it in certain situations.
Has the concussion controversy in football distracted media attention from the rise in baseball arm injuries?
No, it’s a different issue. With concussions, you’re talking about someone’s life. If the arm breaks down, you’re going to have a scar and a great story. If you have concussions, you may need 24-hour nursing care when you’re 40. The consequences are just different.
“Epidemic at the Mound: The Stats and Facts of Youth Baseball Injuries,” March 4, 6–7:30 p.m. Admission is free. Hine Hall Auditorium, IUPUI, 850 W. Michigan St. journalism.iupui.edu
Photo courtesy Will Carroll