Million Dollar Arm

Singh and Patel came to the United States six months ago after being the top finishers in an Indian reality TV show called the "Million Dollar Arm" that drew about 30,000 contestants. The show sought to find athletes who could throw strikes at 85 miles per hour or faster….The contest was sponsored by a California sports management company that believed it could locate major league-worthy arms in a country of more than 1 billion…

They were just signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Here is more and thanks to Michael Tofias for the pointer.  Here is the web site for the show.  Here is information on the initial announcement of the prize contest.


What's next, basketball players from China?

They are taking jobs away from Americans!

Ok, I went and watched the video of the two guys pitching. Not impressive from a baseball standpoint. This is basically a PR stunt. A really cool one, though. The prize was cash ($100k US), plus 6 months training in the US, plus a try-out. The show producers likely paid the Pirates to "sign" the players. It's good PR for the next season.

I still like it. But I also like shameless PR stunts. Early baseball had some classic ones -- like hiring midgets with tiny strike zones who got walked at every at bat. I wish pro sports had more crazy PR stunts.

India is arguably the worst sporting culture on the planet -- amazingly few elite athletes in almost any sport given the population size. Except cricket, and there's clearly a skills overlap with baseball, so who knows. It's worth a shot.

The Atlanta Braves gave the three time gold medalist javelin thrower Jan Zelezny the Czech Republic a tryout in 1996 after the Olympics. He wasn't very impressive pitching a baseball.

And they set the minimum speed in India at 85 mph? Realistically, for somebody with no baseball sense to have a shot at the big leagues, he'd have to throw more like 95 mph.

green apron monkey,

Yes, 85 mph is reasonable, if they have other pitches. If the only thing they can do is throw the ball hard, they need to hit the high 90s. Keep in mind, Jamie Moyer's fastball tops out at 83 (Source: Wikipedia) and he's an old finesse pitcher. Someone with an 85 fastball and not much else may as well pitch batting practice.

Topping out at 90 and developing a second pitch is good for AA, tops.

If all you can do is throw the ball hard, even throwing in the high 90's won't make you a good pitcher. Plenty of relievers have enjoyed reasonable success with two pitches and a fastball hovering around 90. Tim Worrell springs immediately to mind, but there are plenty of examples from current bullpens. Succeeding with only 85 mph is much harder (it requires both a multitude of pitches, left handedness and pinpoint control), but it isn't unusual for amateurs to add velocity after utilizing mlb quality conditioning and mechanical coaching.

Average fastball velocity for all major leaguers is tracked here:

Have their been any examples of major league pitchers who never played baseball before, say, age 18? There have been a few good professional golfers who picked up golf in their early 20s (Larry Nelson and Calvin Peete), but golf has an older peak age than baseball, giving latecomers more time to learn the game. I can't think of any people from non-baseball cultures who have made the majors just because they could throw 95 mph, the way Manute Bol made the NBA just for being over 7 and a half feet tall? The most exotic country that regularly produces a few major leaguers is Australia, and they do have youth league baseball there.

Steve - a lot of that could potentially be explained by the large increase in European pro soccer salaries (at all leagues and levels, but especially at the highest level considering endorsement deals) since the 1970s-80s. NFL placekicker salaries have gone up as well but there are only dozens of NFL kickers vs. thousands of roster spots on European soccer squads. The fact that European soccer players tend to stay there and play soccer doesn't necessarily mean that Americans improved massively vs. Europeans.

Mo, above, mentions Jamie Moyer. As a Seattle Mariner fan, who watched Mr. Moyer pitch for a lot of years, let me tell you: Jamie Moyer is historically unique. No pitcher with his repertoire should be able to hold a major league job, much less manage success into his forties. Most "finesse" pitchers are done before they're thirty, and their fastball comes in at 88-90.

Jamie Moyer makes his living with fantastic control, excellent velocity change on his changeup, and a healthy dose of working the umpire. (See The Cheater's Guide to Baseball for an excellent description.)

Also: They may find the guys with the million dollar arms, but what about the five cent head?

Soccer kickers -- there are plenty of non-Americans around the world who are good at kicking soccer style but are too slow to make high paying European soccer leagues. They'd be perfect for NFL placeckicker. They used to dominate the ranks of NFL placeckickers, but now they don't anymore. Why not? Because Americans learned how to kick soccer style and work really, really hard at it.

Dutch pitchers -- It would make more sense to look for 95 mph arms in the northern European belt of tallness, which centers on the Netherlands.

Still, has anybody made the transfer from cricket bowling to the much higher paid world of pitching baseball? I've never heard of it.

Pitching speed -- The reason I harp on this is that you can't expect a young man with a 90 mph fastball who has no idea how to play baseball to be as good as a young man with a 90mph fastball who has been playing baseball since he was 8. Consider African or Asian NBA players who come out of unsophisticated basketball backgrounds -- has there ever been one who is below the NBA average of 6-7 in height? If you don't have the cultural background, you need a freak of nature, like a guy who can throw 98 mph.

Consider golfer Vijay Singh from Fiji. He played growing up, but in an isolated place away from rest of the world. It took him a long time to reach his peak, but he has become a superstar after he hit 40, winning more tournaments after 40 than Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer combined. You can do that in golf, but in baseball the only player with a hall of fame career wholly after 30 was Dazzy Vance, a fireballer in the 20s.

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