For the future of USA men’s fastpitch, it’s all about pitching

Written by Bob on January 18th, 2017

ALAN COLGLAZIER pitched Aurora, IL, Home Savings to the ISC World Tournament championship in 1980. He is but one of four USA born pitchers to win an ISC World Tournament Championship game between 1980 and 1991. Photo By BOB OTTO

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.

MICHAEL WHITE was the last New Zealander to pitch a team to an ISC World Tournament championship, when he did so in 2002 for Frontier Casino Players of St. Joseph, MO. He is seen here pitching for the Decatur, IL, Pride. Photo By BOB OTTO

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).

FIVE-TIME ISC TOP PITCHER – Adam Folkard has won five ISC Most Outstanding Pitcher awards, and has led Australia to titles in the ISF and WBSC World Championships. In 2016, he pitched the Hill United Chiefs of Ontario, Canada to runner-up in the ISC World Tournament and was named an All-World pitcher for a eighth time. His 4-1 record gives him 39 wins all-time in ISC World Tournament play. Photo By BOB OTTO

    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.

DOUG MIDDLETON has pitched for the USA National Team, but in 1991 he was the last U.S. born pitcher to pitch in and win an ISC World Tournament championship game for Sioux City, IA, Penn Corp. Photo By BOB OTTO

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.

MATT PALAZZO (Des Moines, Iowa) is a USA National Team player and a fixture in the ISC World Tournament. Photo By BOB OTTO

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?”

8 Comments so far ↓

  1. Tom williamson says:

    The great American pitchers has grown old and the good sponsers have cut off the money. They to have grown older. The good leagues like in Springfield Mo and Cedar Rapids have folded because of the sponsorship to buy the best pitchers. There is not as much interest with the young players anymore because the men’s game isn’t promoted much anymore that’s why there isn’t any young pitchers. Also the women’s fastpitch has taken over since they can play in school. We need an out cry to get fastpitch in our schools for boys. Then and only then will it come back.

  2. Gary Baughman says:

    You are spot on.

  3. Lumar Goss says:

    With having a family member and some friends that played and are currently playing in New Zealand I have asked them all what is it we lack aside from the kiwis and they all say development programs. The closest thing to a development system most young pitchers who are trying to learn and master the art of pitching is playing in weeknight and travel leagues which all teams who play in them want to win now, about 95 percent of the teams wanted pitchers who have them the best shot at winning there for they over look the young determined beginner pitcher. My solution would be to start a farm system something where young inexperienced throwers can get good quality work.

  4. Bob says:

    I think the Kiwis have more of a commitment to the male side of fastpitch. I seems as if their national teams (mens’ and Jr. Men) get together more often and travel to play more games to prepare for the WSBC than the the USA national team is able to do. At one time, San Bernardino had a C city league where a few young pitchers were able to get the much needed experience in games without getting clobbered by higher class hitters. We had Mike Aparicio, who we brought along that way and he developed into the team’s top pitcher (and very good hitter) within three years. No leagues means no teams means no developing pitchers means the decline or worse yet evaporation of the game.

  5. Aaron says:

    The growth and popularity of slow pitch softball in the US has also played a factor

  6. Mike Smith says:

    Amen, Outstanding article Bobby Otto, this, coming from a former pitcher who had the best change-up I have ever seen. You’re a true credit to the game. Your coverage of “Men’s Fastpitch” over the years has been fantastic!

  7. Bob says:

    Thank you Mike, much appreciated!

  8. Nate Smith says:

    Great article. We are trying to build Springfield, MO fastpitch currently. The past year we were able to run two nights with 5-6 teams. We also run a fall developmental league to bring in new players and develop new pitchers.

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