Monthly Archives: May 2005

pitchers and steroids: why I believed in Sidd Finch

I am embarrased to tell you that I am one of those people who believed in Sidd Finch, the engimatic mythical figure created by George Plimpton for a 1985 April Fool’s article in Sport’s Illustrated. I was so excited to read about Sidd because I am the kind of person who is always looking for faster, easier ways to get by in life. If there was magic to be found, I was going to find it. I read books like Autobiography of a Yogi and thought it was wonderful that his guru helped him pass his exams. I wanted a guru too.

I haven’t found one. Turns out that magic usually involves hard work.

I’m also embarrassed to say that it means I believed that a pitcher could throw a 168 mph fastball. Why not, I thought? It seems that pitchers limit themselves to 100 mph for some reason.

Well, there is a reason. A recent Slate article, Pitcher Perfect, Why can’t anyone throw a baseball faster than 100 mph, explains the limitation. To send a fastball screaming towards the plate, you need to generate as much force as possible to get your arm moving as fast as you can. It turns out that you can build up your muscles all you like but beyond a certain point, the ligaments and tendons will snap from the force applied to the shoulder.

The official record for the speediest fastball is a shade over 100 mph. It’s no surprise that Nolan Ryan holds that record.

Increasing muscle strength, of course, can increase pitch speed. In the Slate article, a biomechanical engineer says that he has seen increases in pitch speed of 84-88 and 88-91 but not 98-100. A 4 or 5 mph increase in pitch speed. That’s a good enough reason to take steroids.

Steroids help in two ways: they increase strength and they decrease recovery time. Are pitchers taking steroids? Almost fifty percent of the players who tested positive for steroids in Major League Baseball’s new testing policy were pitchers. That answers that question.

We know that sluggers have been taking steroids by looking at the court records and the home run records. Between 1920 and 2004, 61 players hit 45 home runs or better. Twenty seven of those players played from 1990 to 2004. In case that wasn’t clear enough, that means 44% of the top single season home run hitters played in the last 14 years.

How could we measure the impact of steroids on pitching records? The JUGS radar gun has been around long enough for us to chart the average speed of a major league fastball over the last decade and see if it has increased. The problem is that there is no way to accurately know pitch speeds for eras before the JUGS gun was invented.

Though it is unlikely that Jason Giambi could have become his formerly bulky self without steroids, pitch speed is harder to pin on steroids. Tommy John surgery and sophisticated biomechanical exercises have helped pitchers recover from injuries better, increase their speed and pitch longer.

I no longer look for magical solutions to life’s problems. I’m happy enough if I can do something today that I couldn’t do yesterday. Although… This past week 11-year-old Katie Brownell threw a perfect game and struck out all 18 batters she faced in a Little League game. That’s pretty magical.

extreme lax – lacrosse blows up

I saw my first lacross game this week. I watched the National Lacross League (NLL) championship game on network television. The largest crowd in NLL history, 19,500, filled up every space in the Air Canada Center to watch the Toronto Rock compete for it’s fifth Championship Cup in seven years against the Arizona Sting.

The NLL plays box lacrosse which is played on a hockey rink with the same glass and boards but a turf carpet instead of ice. They play on weekends and are allowed to practice as a team only two hours a week because they get paid, on average, $14000, therefore they all have day jobs.

Americans prefer field lacrosse which is played on a field slightly longer and wider than a football field and has ten players to a team. Canadians prefer box lacrosse with 6 players to a team. In fact there are only four Americans playing in this game.

Lacrosse is the faster growing sport in the U.S. The game that started with Native Americans and was named by a missionary who compared their sticks to a priest’s crosier has catapulted itself into the world of X Games and superstar egos with a new name – lax. One of the more amusingly misleading names ever given a sport.

With the current explosion of the sport, there is the inevitable old school new school schism. The new school sends their kids off to lacrosse camps so they they can earn college scholarships. The old school teaches the connection to spirit and the creator as expressed by the Native Americans who started the sport. The old school probably thinks that the lengthy Sports Illustrated article about the newfound popularity of lacrosse is a death knell for their sport. Once the sports mad – read money mad – American public gets hold of it, we’ll have Latrell Sprewells on lacrosse teams in no time.

Whoa, it’s like a football game. On the opening faceoff, players run down the carpet and take out other players. Crosschecking (hitting an opposing player with your stick) is allowed.

Arizona’s goalie, Mike Miron, is huge. He looks like an overdressed Sumo wrestler with all that equipment. Of course the back of his helmet says “Tiny,” what else would it say? I suppose that’s one approach, put a big guy in goal and hope he can move his pinkie or hip just enough to plug up the holes. Miron is 5’10”, 265 pounds. That’s got to be a record for a goalie in any professional sport. It’s like having Shaq on your team, it’s unfair.

Let’s see, there’s a 30 second shot clock, 10 seconds to advance the ball cross midfield – basketball. There’s tackling – football. You can go behind the goal and change players on the fly – hockey. Pick and roll seems to be popular. Uh oh, a fight already and it’s only 12 minutes in – definitely hockey, or is that basketball?

The referee assesses a double penalty and the two offending players get in some extra shoving on the way to their respective penalty boxes. The announcers state that “Spontaneous fighting is tolerated,” in the NLL. I wonder how they distinguish spontaneous from non-spontaneous. Do they read minds?

One player failed to get a shot off because he was well defended by two opposing players. His response: shove both player in the back with his stick. Arizona player Jonas Derks gets a five minute penalty for a cheap shot. If a player is turning into you, you can hit him in the back. If he’s running away from you, you can’t hit him in the back. What a relief.

The penalty puts Arizona down by two players but then Toronto gets a penalty when a player wraps his stick around his opponent’s neck and knocks his helmet off. It’s only a penalty because he grabbed the player with his free arm.

In a previous game, one player shot a ball that bent another player’s face mask into his eye and damaged his retina. Luckily it didn’t put his eye out. I’m not surprised. My only previous experience with the game consists of rolling on a hard rubber lacrosse ball to inflict deep tissue massage on my leg muscles. That ball is solid. Naturally, the injured player went on the finish the game.

Arizona starts out very quickly and scores the first two goals but Toronto catches up with some good defense then pulls away with three quick scores. A Sting player stops a Toronto player on a breakaway by chopping down the shooter’s stick from behind but that is an exception. Arizona gets only 5 shots on goal in the second quarter and gives up 6 of the last 7 goals.

And the end of the first half, Toronto is up 10-6. Don’t drop out yet, though, Arizona has come back more than once in the playoffs. They were down 8-3 in one game and came back to win.

Nine minutes into the third quarter Toronto’s lead is only 11-9 and the speed of the game is picking up. Players are weaving in and out and there are more long outlet passes. With six minutes left in the quarter, Chris Seller scores to cut Toronto’s lead to one goal. The home crowd is suddenly very quiet. Toronto gets one more goal to and is up 13-11 at the end of the third quarter. A two goal lead is nothing in lacrosse. This is getting exciting!

Toronto scores the first goal in the fourth quarter on a left handed shot by right handed Blaine Manning. That gets the crowd back up. Colin Doyle gets another goal and now Toronto is up 15-11 and there are 11 minutes left.

Sandy Chapman scores the third straight Toronto goal. By this time Toronto goalie Bob Watson has not been scored on in 12 minutes. Peter Lough gets a breakaway for Arizona but he’s checked from behind by Noah Talbert. A few plays later Toronto does it again before the player even gets the shot off and Blaine Manning gets their 4th goal in the period to go up by 6 goals.

With 2:50 left Arizona gets a fast break (do they call it that?) and gets a close-in shot on goal followed by another attempt off the rebound but Watson still holds them off.

Arizona pulls their goalie with 2:21 left on the clock. A soon as Toronto goes on the offensive, goalie Miron runs all 265 pounds back into the goal and gets there just in time to stop a shot on goal. Arizona retrieves the ball, gets back down the field and finally scores a goal to get back to 17-12. Wait, wait, that’s the backup goalie sprinting back and forth, not Miron. Thank heavens, I was getting concerned. I guess we don’t see this kind of thing in hockey because it would be hard to beat a puck sliding along the ice back to the goal once you’d left the goal unmanned.

Arizona is down by 5 goals with two minutes to go. Can Arizona pull it off? Can they get 5 goals in two minutes? At 1:39 they score again as Pat Madalena gets back to back goals, down by 4. Even more exciting.

Toronto gets the ball of the faceoff and gets a goal to go back up by 5 then Arizona makes a bad pass and another ball goes into the empty net and it’s over. Time to get the party started. Toronto wins the championship, 19-13.

I was surprised at the level of, let’s say, physical play in professional lacrosse but I shouldn’t have been. We are essentially watching hockey played with lacrosse sticks. Field lacrosse is less physical because there is so much more open space and crosschecking is not allowed.

I can see why youth sports is turning to lacrosse. You don’t stop for every play like football, there is more scoring than soccer, it’s too hard to get the ball in the hole in basketball and ice can be hard to find. Let’s not even talk about tennis. First of all it’s not a team sport and it takes time, coaching and money to learn to consistently hit a ball over the net.

But I’m disappointed. I was looking forward to seeing a new sport and it looks like an old sport but with a different stick. I’ll try field lacrosse next and see how that goes.

why can’t I do as well in competition as I do in practice?

1. explain how Alexander Technique works
2. explain David Gorman’s take
3. discuss the violinist’s case and explain what happens in competition
4. this is what people mean when they talk about working too hard (send article to Lanny Basshan) and trusting your game.
5. practice serve while keeping score. This helps you get used to competition. Credit for this idea. One thing you can learn from this exercise is to go for big serves even if you are down 15-40. This is what Pete Sampras did so well and Federer does today. They aren’t so much raising their game as they are maintaining their game level under a lot of pressure.

Federer and Gasquet again

Looking ahed to the final Federer said, “I am definitely looking forward to a second chance to get him. I have more ideas now how to approach the match.”

Let’s see what his ideas are. He is, after all, probably the smartest guy on the tour. He doesn’t have a fulltime coach and he considers a match as an opportunity to test his tennis skills – not just his strokes but his ability to devise and carry out a strategy. That is unique on the tour. Every other player in the top tier travels with a coach and helps the player develop strategy for their next opponent.

magic pill for tennis elbow

What is a magic pill? First of all it’s magic. Second, it makes something simple that otherwise would be very difficult.

Dr. Allan Mishra has tested a new treatment for tennis elbow that consists of injecting tennis elbow sufferers with platelet-rich plasma. After eight weeks, patients experienced 60% less pain. Those who did not receive the treatment experienced 16% less pain.

I have had a few bouts with tennis elbow, you can read about them here. The first time I had to stop playing tennis for ten months. A year and a half later I had to stop again for five months.

I am the queen of quick fixes. I injured my back in 1996 and went from chiropractor to chiropractor, each one promising to fix me up as good as new. I finally realized that you can go to a million chiropractors but if you walk out the door with the same movement habits you walked in with, your spine just goes back to its old pattern and you are in pain all over again. If I wanted to be free of pain, I had to change the way I moved.

For instance, if you bend at the waist instead of at the hips, there is no hinge at the waist by the way, you will eventually get lower back pain. You can take all the pain pills in the world but if you keep doing the same thing you’ll get the same pain.

If you hit the ball in a way that hurts your elbow and you don’t change the way you hit the ball, tennis elbow will only recur and recur and recur.

Tennis elbow is not as bad as a severely injured back but you probably will have to change your tennis stroke. Not only that, but if you have tennis elbow you usually have scar tissue. If the scar tissue is not directly treated, it will not improve so resting your elbow usually doesn’t help.

After wasting a few months resting my elbow, I finally went to the UCLA Sports Medicine Center who sent me to physical therapist, Andy Choi. He treated the scar tissue with ultrasound and gave me stretching and strengthening exercises. Just as importantly, he turned out to be the best swing coach I’ve ever had.

He changed my grip and my swing and told me to strengthen my forearm.

No doubt individuals have different levels of joint health. A platelet-rich injection might be sufficient to allow some tennis elbow sufferers to get back on the court. But for most people there is no magic pill. If you hit the ball in a way that hurts your elbow and you don’t change the way you hit the ball, tennis elbow will only recur and recur and recur.