NEW ZEALAND – New Zealand is the mecca of men’s fasptich softball. To argue otherwise is just plain nonsense. The results prove the Kiwi’s dominance in fastpitch worldwide.
The Black Sox, the country’s national team, leads the International Softball Federation (now the World Baseball Softball Confederation) world championships with 12 gold, silver and bronze medals since the event started in 1966.
And in the past six championships (1996 to 2015) the Black Sox have taken four-of-six golds and two silvers.
Canada comes a close second with 11 total medals, and did claim the latest world championship in 2015, by pounding the Kiwi’s, 10-5, in the final.
THIRD NOT GOOD ENOUGH
Bringing up the third spot with nine medals is the United States. Nine sounds like a respectable number, right?
But further scrutiny finds that America’s last gold medal came way back in 1988 with a 4-0 victory over New Zealand. Since then, the United States has only finished as high as third in 1992 and 2000.
What precipitated the United States’ freefall from fastpitch softball’s top-tier with the likes of Canada, Australia and New Zealand? Pitching. It’s all about pitching.
BIRTHERS DOMINATE ISC
Now let’s turn our attention to the International Softball Congress World Tournament.
From 1980 to 2016, the “birth country” of the championship game’s winning pitcher has no less than 12 New Zealanders. It started with Kevin Herlihy leading the Lancaster, Calif. Chameleons to the championship in 1983. And finishes in 2002 with Michael White hurling Frontier Casino Players of St. Joseph, MO to the title.
There’s been somewhat of a Kiwi drought since White’s expoits. But seizing the mantle is our neighbor to the north.
Canada muscled in and took command with nine “birth country” pitchers leading their teams to titles – including Sean Cleary, who delivered the 2016 championship to the Toronto Gators.
Australia’s Andrew Kirkpatrick and Adam Folkard also led U.S. and Canadian teams to championships five times; twice for Kirkpatrick (2005, 2006) and three times for Folkard (2013-2015).
USA TEAMS IN A SLIDE
With primarily foreign-born pitchers, American teams such as Aurora, IL, Home Savings; the Camarillo, CA, Kings; St. Louis Budweiser Kings; Decatur, IL, ADM; Seattle Pay ‘N’ Pak; Cedar Rapids, IA, Teleconnect…and the Madison, WI, Farm Tavern have won a combined 26 world tournament championships.
From 1980 to 1992, United States teams won 13 titles; nearly matching that with 12 titles from 1996 to 2007. Sounds great, right? Well, don’t get too excited.
Because after the Farm Tavern won its third championship in 2007, United States’ teams have failed to win an ISC title. (By the way, the Farm Tavern won all three titles with foreign pitchers; Paul Algar of New Zealand twice, and Canada’s Korrey Gareau.)
Since 2008, Canada has won nine straight, with five Canadian pitchers and one Aussie (Adam Folkard) hurling the championship games.
AFTER MIDDLETON NOTHING
How have United States pitchers faired in championship play? Bluntly, “it’s not possible to win an ISC World Championship with an American in the circle.”
Here’s the proof: The last American pitcher to win an ISC title game goes way back to 1991 when Doug Middleton hurled Sioux City’s Penn Corp to the championship. Before Middleton, only Jimmy Moore (1985, 1986, 1990), Peter Sandman (1989) and Alan Colglazier (1980) have led teams to ISC titles.
So, in 37 years an American born pitcher has won an ISC World Tournament title game just six times. Which can only lead to one conclusion:
American-born pitching at the elite level is in woeful shape and has been for years.
At best, United States’ pitching falls into a mid-level rating. American hurlers like Team USA’s Tony Mancha can hold their own in SOME big games, but they’ve proven they can’t consistently beat the Kiwi’s, Canadian’s or the Aussie’s.
ISC BECOMES MORE DIVERSIFIED
The United States certainly produces some of the world’s best position players and hitters – USA national team’s Matt Palazzo, Kevin Castillo and Derrick Zechman, but a few.
However, if not for foreign-born pitchers, America’s elite clubs would abruptly disappear. (Why would big-time sponsors shell out big-time money to underwrite mediocre teams?)
ISC leadership will argue – and with merit – that because of the influx of foreign players, the world tournament has evolved into just that: a true world tournament. For the organization has players from Europe, South America and Oceania joining in what was once an event dominated by Americans and Canadians.
This change has brought diversity to the ISC. After all, what true fastpitch fan doesn’t want to see great pitchers and players from countries such as Mexico, Argentina, Czech Republic and Venezuela showcasing their skill sets?
All well and good. But that doesn’t negate the overriding problem for the men’s game in the United States. The elite teams have been steadily declining over the past three decades – along with the lower division teams.
The cause of this decline is no mystery: it’s all about pitching.
Facing the facts, we can only ask ourselves two questions: How do we entice gifted athletes to become the next American generation of elite pitchers capable of returning the United States to gold-medal standards?
More importantly though, “do we have the leadership, willpower and ingenuity to solve the first question?”