18-Year-Old Hurls 18-Inning Shutout as Coach Blamed for Abuse
Jeonju High School's Jang Woo-ram threw 214 pitches in his 18-inning shutout. / Korea Times
By Kang Seung-woo
Performance-oriented South Korean high school baseball has made young prospects overwork.
Despite one high school player's outstanding 18-inning shutout, high school sports are being knocked for their constant abuse of young athletes.
Right-hander Jang Woo-ram of Jeonju High School delivered 18 scoreless innings including a 14 1/3 inning no-hitter Sunday in the first round match against Sangwon High School at Bonghwang baseball championship in the two-day event.
The game was initially held Saturday but the two teams could not decide the winner through 12 innings and was delayed until the following day.
The 18-year-old hurler, who completed the suspended game, took to the mound again and continued his no-hitter bid before allowing a hit in the 15th inning.
Even after forgoing his shot at a no-hitter, he lasted until the 18th inning when his team scored the winning run on a wild pitch.
His 14 1/3 outing is the unofficial longest no-hitter according to the Korea Baseball Association (KBA) because the amateur baseball body cannot recognize whether it is official or not due to its mismanaging records.
However, along with the pitcher's blistering performance, criticisms for overusing promising young players are arising.
In the United States, teams do not usually allow their pitchers to throw more than 70 pitches.
As elbows and shoulder muscles grow at that time, overthrowing can damage the bones and muscles.
After entering colleges, the young athletes are allowed to throw up to 100 pitches.
Unlike the U.S., 200 pitches are not rare in Korean high school games where the final score is the most important result.
In April, 2006, right-handed Chung Young-il of Jinheung High School, who joined the Los Angeles Angels of the U.S. Major Leagues last year, lasted 13 2/3 innings, throwing 242 pitches and Ansan Technical High School southpaw Kim Kwang-hyun also threw 226 over 15 innings.
``I think it will be tough for a manager to take out a pitcher who is throwing a no-hitter,'' Koo Kyung-baik, director of public relations in KBA, said in a media interview.
``But it is inevitable in the system that players who advance to the quarterfinals of national competitions are recruited by colleges.''
``I could not substitute Jang because he was on track to a no-hitter although I worried about him,'' Jang's manager Park Sung-ki said.
To prevent the exploitation, Rep. Roh Hoe-chan of Democratic Labor Party requested the National Human Rights Commission to look into the abuses last year but ran into opposition that reaching the quarterfinals guarantees college recruitment.
From this year, pitchers in elementary school games and little leagues have a limited pitch count according to their age.
Former LG Twins manager Lee Kwang-hwan, now nurturing youth players in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), put this rule in operation.
In addition, Lee, 59, prohibited breaking balls in youth baseball because curveballs can hurt the elbows and shoulders of young pitchers.
``The rules are made on a scientific basis. Young players are the future of Korean baseball. For those to pitch without shoulder problems later, we need to manage them thoroughly,'' Lee said in a media interview.
``I was a pitcher in elementary school but over-pitching hurt my shoulder and I moved to a fielder position. Among active hurlers in the KBO, is there anyone who did not have surgery?''