So there's this kid in Japan named Tomohiro Anraku, and Baseball America describes him as "one of the top 16-year-old pitchers in the world." He just finished pitching in Japan's hugely popular national high-school baseball tournament, and here's how things went for him:
At the start of Spring Koshien, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Anraku showed incredible talent, with a fastball that touched 94 mph, flashes of a future above-average breaking ball, along with good flexibility and coordination. Today, his fastball sat at 78-85 mph and topped out at 88. Anraku allowed nine runs (three earned) and 12 hits. He didn’t walk anyone, but he hit three batters and struck out just two.
Anraku left after throwing 109 pitches, bringing him to 381 pitches in three days and 772 pitches in nine days for the entire tournament, a workload that Major League Baseball’s most durable starters amass in five to six weeks. The symptoms of Anraku’s heavy usage were clear beyond his diminished fastball. His normal rapid-fire pace slowed considerably, his breathing appeared heavy and his curveball deteriorated into a slow, rolling pitch without its typical bite.
A long time ago, I saw Ben McDonald, obviously fatigued, pitching in the College World Series. It was infuriating, but at least McDonald was a grown man and was already assured of a hefty payday -- more than $800,000, in the event -- as the No. 1 pick in the amateur draft. LSU head coach Skip Bertman might have damaged McDonald's career by overworking him, but at least McDonald had a shot and did win 78 games in the majors.
Anraku, though ... Well, you never know. Maybe in the long run he'll be stronger for having throwing a million pitches in nine days. That doesn't seem to be where the smart money is, though.
But of course this is less a baseball issue than a cultural issue. It's easy for us -- that is, anyone weaned on modern American baseball, with its pitch counts and its worries about guys having career-ending injuries -- to wail about another culture's practices, but our culture does all sorts of things that seem crazy to people in other cultures.
This still seems crazy, though.