Everybody has a pitch count, be they a baseball pitcher or a military, police or critical care health provider. At some point one can push themselves so hard that they can injure themselves or if not that start making mental mistakes that cost games for a pitcher or lives to people in military, public safety or critical care medicine. In baseball managers have to make sure that their pitchers don’t wear themselves down. It is very easy for a pitcher, especially a hard thrower to wear out early from overuse causing injury. At times hard throwers, or for that matter any pitcher can over pitch. They can try to do too much. At first this may not be noticeable, maybe they lose a little bit off of their fastball or their curve ball may not be as sharp. The pitcher may shake it off and tell his coaches and trainers that nothing is wrong. They do this for a couple of reasons. First, they are competitors; they want to do the job that they have to do. Second, they don’t want to admit that something is wrong with them be it a possible physical injury or maybe even a mental issue which is keeping them from getting good control of their pitches. Of course the physical wear and tear on pitcher is brutal. The physical punishment of throwing a baseball 80-100 mph on the arm, especially the elbow and shoulder is brutal. The amount of torque applied to these joints is severe. If a pitcher is using incorrect technique or has thrown too many pitches the effects can be devastating to his career.
While I am not a pitcher, when I played I was a utility infielder and catcher, I do think that everyone has something to learn about life and work from managers, pitchers and knowing when a pitcher is suffering from overuse injuries or has lost his physical or mental edge. The manager has to know when the pitcher has reached his pitch count and when it is time to pull him even if the pitcher wants to stay in the game. The same is true with anyone who serves in military, police or intensive medical professions such as EMS, Emergency Rooms and Intensive Care units. This became apparent to me over the past year and a quarter since I returned from Iraq. I am now 49 years old. I stay in pretty good shape and physically can still outperform many younger people in such things as push-ups, sit-ups and running. I pretty much know my physical limitations especially coming back from Iraq with some physical and emotional scars. I work in ICUs and if my life as a chaplain was limited to simply doing that work on the floor I could do it forever. I thrive in the environment and actually am more at ease on an ICU or in an ER than I am on general patient floors or doing administrative tasks. However, those are also part of my life. So I have to achieve a balance. I am usually pretty good at knowing when it is time to tell my manager, in this case our director of pastoral care that I am not doing well. Yet, sometimes even when I know I’m not doing well I won’t stop. I will push myself to the point of physical and emotional collapse. I hit this point last week following a month of family illness, end of life planning for my dad, a medical emergency with Judy and several very demanding weeks at work where I put in a huge amount of hours because the job had to get done. I hate to leave something undone or have to leave something for someone else to do. I don’t like to be taken out of a game. My first Navy tour after 17 ½ years in the Army I was my Division Chaplain’s relief pitcher. I ended up taking several battalions because their chaplains either got in trouble or were pulled for another assignment. Likewise I was given the task of working with young guys who had run into some kind of trouble to see if they could be salvaged.
A good manager has to recognize when his pitcher is having problems before he gets in trouble. Until the advent of relief pitchers that were primarily relief pitchers and not washed up former starters, they generally pitched deep into a game. As such many racked up huge numbers of wins, strike outs and complete games. In fact most of the top ten are guys that pitched when it was almost unheard of to bring in a reliever. Thus there are men like Cy Young who won 511 games, Walter Johnson with 473 wins and Grover Cleveland Alexander and Christy Matthewson who won 373 each. Young played 22 years and had a record of 511 wins and 316 losses. He pitched 7356 innings. He played in 906 games, started 815 games and had 749 complete games. No wonder the award for best pitcher is named after him. Cardinals Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson started 482 games and completed 255 of them. In 1969 he won 20 games, 13 of which were shut outs. Gibson once reportedly said: “I used to get tired in the seventh inning too. And the manager would come to the mound and ask me if I wanted to come out. Then I would look over at the bullpen and see who was warming up. Then I would say, ‘No, I’m going to stay in.”
As baseball moved forward teams began to have more depth on their pitching staffs. Rotations were developed where pitchers pitched every 4th game, and frequently in our era every 5th game. Additionally since the 1970s the specialist relief pitcher has become a key part of the game. While there were relievers prior to that, the relief pitcher as a specialist did not really get off the ground until Rollie Fingers of the Oakland A’s won salary arbitration against A’s owner Charlie Finely. At that point pitchers who could come into a game on no notice in certain situations became more and more a trend. Now it is standard for a team to have long, middle and short relief specialist as well as “Closers.”
In a sense while some people may not like it, it is not a bad thing for the game. One only has to look at how many pitchers had abbreviated careers o of overuse injuries including Sandy Koufax and Dizzy Dean who are both in the Hall of Fame. If you look you can find others. This was especially true before the advent of “Tommy John surgery” when pitchers with a torn rotator cuff faced the end of their careers. As such teams became much more aware of how many pitches a starting pitcher and even relievers should throw in a game. The pitch count was developed. For a healthy starting pitcher in the middle of a season this is usually around 100 pitches. Relief pitcher counts will vary. While pitch counts are not necessarily the Gospel, there is a point in every pitcher’s career where he hits his own pitch count limit, be it in a game or a career. As Whitey Ford said: “Sooner or later the arm goes bad. It has to…Sooner or later you have to start pitching in pain.”
So you may be asking what does something arcane like the mechanics, kinetics and injuries have to do with life. As you know the Deity Herself speaks to me through baseball. This has application to those in high stress jobs where they are called on to put their lives on the line for others or deal with danger, death or tragedy in an environment where just one mistake can be fatal or where a word, gesture or throw away comment can harm someone else. The managers, supervisors or commanders of people who do such work have to be cognizant of the effects of this on their people.
I am luck, the Deity Herself has surrounded me with a number of people who can look at me and tell me to sit down even when I want to continue to keep pushing. Last Friday was one of those days. It was the culminating point of a nearly a month of personal and professional stress, lack of sleep and the lingering effects of my PTSD and chronic pain which flare up when I have exceeded my personal pitch count. My boss was away last week. However we remained in communication. I was scheduled for weekend duty, which for me I remain in house because I am not able for the most part to meet the response time for a emergency call. When my boss came back he must have checked in with several folks who k now me to see how they thought I was doing. Friday afternoon after I got home I got a call from the acting department head who told me to stay at home that my boss was going to pull my duty for me. I really needed this. However, I told him that I still could come in if needed and was told to stay home and take care of myself.
With a manager like that I will be able to keep playing my game longer. I may have occasional rough outings but I will do fine. The lesson is that everybody has their own personal “pitch count” even if they do not throw a baseball. Like my favorite theologian Harry Callahan says: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”