Former big league pitcher Jason Isringhausen was on MLB Network radio today and said that, in the minors if he and his teammates didn’t pitch nine innings, they “got a talking to.” He added that they didn’t watch pitch counts as much as they do today.
I haven’t heard the audio of it yet — that bit was tweeted out by the radio people — so I’m going to assume that it was a matter-of-fact statement rather than the cliched, judgmental “back in my day we were tougher” thing for which ex-ballplayers are notorious. I mean, we have to assume it was simply a statement of fact and, if anything, he was lamenting the way things were back in his day, right? Because if there is one single thing that defines Isringhausen’s experience coming up as a young pitcher it was devastating arm injuries to him and his Generation K brothers, Bill Pulsipher and Paul Wilson, who presumably had to go nine as well.
Pulsipher pitched 200 innings as a 21-year-old minor leaguer in 1994 and over 200 innings between the minors and the bigs in 1995. Then he tore his elbow ligaments to pieces. Paul Wilson pitched 186 in his last full year in the minors and then quickly succumbed to injuries. Isringhausen likewise had heavy usage in his last two years in the minors and broke down not too long after his big league debut. Unlike the other two he managed to have fairly lengthy big league career, but he ended up having two or three Tommy John surgeries too and his promise, like his fellow members of Generation K, was unfulfilled due to physical damage which may very well have been a product of overwork.
Bill James’s Historical Abstract had a running feature called “Old Ballplayers Never Die” in which he chronicled how, going all the way back to the 19th century, retired players lamented how the new generation was comprised of a bunch of coddled weaklings. It’s been 15 years since he updated it, but if he wanted to do I presume he’ll still have a lot of material with which to work.