Suing the coach

Kevin Drum points to this LA Times story about a father who is suing his son’s former high school baseball coach over allegations that the coach ruined the kid’s arm and thus his chances to get a college scholarship and/or a shot at the big leagues.

John Emme, the baseball coach at Corona del Mar High in Newport Beach, has been sued twice in two years by Marc Martinez, a physician whose son pitched on the school team.

Martinez alleged in his first suit that Emme harmed his son J.D.’s future as a college pitcher by making him pitch too many innings, damaging his arm. Martinez pulled his son off the team in his senior year and later filed another suit, saying the coach made false statements in a newspaper article, ruining his son’s chance for a college scholarship and, perhaps, a career in the big leagues.

Kevin calls this an example of a frivolous lawsuit. I happen to agree with Kevin, but after reading the LAT article, my agreement has to do with the actual merits of the case rather than any theoretical notion of lawsuit abuse. Let’s start with the allegation that the coach ruined the kid’s chances at playing in college or the pros:

Despite claims by parents such as Martinez, the role of the high school coach in the college recruiting process has generally diminished. These days, scouting services specialize in shopping kids to colleges, complete with videotape packages highlighting a player’s strengths.

“We always say, ‘You can’t hide Babe Ruth,’ ” said Bob Flint, a high school baseball coach for 35 years who has spent the last three seasons at Irvine’s Woodbridge High School. “Even if I wanted to completely bury a kid, I couldn’t do it if you’re good enough, they’ll find you.”

True. Heck, any hardcore fan can tell you who the top prospects are, thanks to resources like Baseball America. We’ve come a long way from the days when a scout could visit a little backwater town and come away with Mickey Mantle.

Of course, we’re assuming that JD Martinez was a prospect in the first place:

Martinez showcased J.D.’s right arm as much as he could during the summer and fall. After his senior year, J.D. played in a tournament in Waco, Texas, before numerous college scouts. Marc Martinez said his son was given a “7” rating out of 10.

“He was throwing 83 to 84 miles an hour,” Martinez said. “He was stronger and better than he had been in high school. The scouts in Texas said he was a prospective Division I college player and a potential lower-round draft pick.”

83 MPH? Please. That’s a batting practice fastball. With some exceptions, real prospects hit 93 or higher on the radar gun. A few years ago I was at a batting cage and accidentally found myself facing the 80 MPH machine. I managed to make contact on a few swings. If I can do that, there’s no way this kid is going anywhere.

How about the amount of alleged damages?

But J.D., who declined to discuss the case, was not recruited by any Division I programs, even though Marc Martinez said his son received about 30 letters of interest from colleges. Martinez, who asked for $25,000 as well as punitive damages in his suit, said Emme told him that he was going to “close the door” on his son’s chances of getting a college scholarship. Emme said he never closed any doors on the young baseball player.

The NCAA mandates a limit of 11.7 scholarships for baseball. Many programs give partial scholarships as a result. It’s also common practice to encourage kids to attend a junior college for two years, as this allows them to develop without tying up scarce scholarship money. $25K is not an outrageous amount to ask for actual damages, but it’s on the high end if the kid was headed for a state school.

Interestingly, Gary Huckabay of the Baseball Prospectus has a Premium article about avoidable injuries and the theoretical possibility that a pitcher may some day sue his team for ruining his career as a result of careless or reckless overuse, citing the current example of AJ Burnett (see here and here for more info) as a case in point. Huckabay lists issues of proximate cause (was it really the manager’s fault, or was this injury the result of many factors over time?), assumed risk and contributory negligence, and standard of practice as things a jury would have to decide.

The latter issue is another place where the Martinez case would likely fall down. There’s certainly evidence that throwing too many pitches per game leads to a higher risk of injury, but there’s no real consensus yet as to the quantifiability of that risk. The idea is still mostly confined to stathead types – many coaches and general managers at all levels of the game are skeptical if not dismissive of the idea. The upshot is that it would not be considered at all unusual or reckless for a high school coach to put a heavy workload on a star pitcher.

So yeah, this is a frivolous suit. It should get tossed pretty quickly.

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3 Responses to Suing the coach

  1. Cliff Kraus says:

    Are there cases where a coach has been successfully sued?

  2. shuttsfab says:

    Hi! Any recent news on the case of young mr. Martinez? I just sat in a jury on the countersuit of the doctor, am now dismissed, but am seriously curious.

  3. Katrina Gaar says:

    hAHAHA THIS IS HILARIOUS! mr. emme is one of my teachers this iss ososososos funny

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