Tommy John Says Injuries Occur Well Before Majors
There has been a significant increase in elbow injuries in pitchers requiring Tommy John surgery, and I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with Tommy John himself over at the Frat House Sports Network about this exact issue.
Listen to the full interview HERE!
Since 2012, there have been 118 Tommy John surgeries throughout the major and minor leagues. The previous seven years before 2012, there were only 86 total surgeries completed.
Many people have an opinion about why this injury has become an epidemic, including the legend John himself. John has gone on record multiple times, including with us over on the Frat House Sports Network, saying, “The injury itself is an overuse injury.”
This almost seems too elementary to be true, but John explains why that is the most likely cause.
“The injury occurs when the player is playing little league,” John told us during the interview, which is not what the public usually thinks. People, including myself, think that it is because they are overworked in the minor leagues and even the major leagues, which is what leads to this terrible injury.
There are little league kids who are playing baseball everyday of the week, all year round because “(Parents) think that little Johnny is going to be the next Cliff Lee, when he can’t even walk and chew gum at the same time,” according to John.
There is also a level of specialization that is occurring at such a young age, which is leading to kids playing 12 months a year.
When discussing this, John said, “Once the baseball season is over, as a pitcher, you’re done. Go play soccer, go play lacrosse, go play football. Just do something else other than throw a baseball.”
This actually makes perfect sense. Your body needs time to rejuvenate itself because throwing a baseball is already one of the most unnatural things you can do. You need sleep when you’re tired, and your arm needs rest when it is tired.
The art of the two-sport athlete is fading, which is potentially one of the sources of this epidemic. Parents are pushing their children to play a specific sport because, as John said, they think that little Timmy will become the next Cliff Lee. John also said, “Parents [think they] know more than the orthopedic surgeons,” because they push their kids so hard to play a specific sport, when doctors are telling them they need to rest because an injury could occur, that it is hurting their child’s potential in the future of that sport.
John established a youth-geared training organization, Tommy John Pitching Academy, where he and his team travel all over the country to help parents and players learn how to prevent an elbow injury. John said that, “Our mantra is, ‘we don’t teach you how to throw 100 MPH, we teach you how to get batters out.’” They teach the players the proper throwing motion that will decrease your chances of having an elbow injury, while teaching them how to pitch to get batters out.
People think that you have to throw hard to get batters out, but that isn’t necessarily true because if you look at some of the greatest pitchers of all time, Tom Glavine, Cliff Lee, and Greg Maddux, they didn’t throw 100 MPH, they fooled batters. Pitching is an art of learning how to fool batters, and John said, “If baseball were to go back to that, you’d have far less injuries, and better pitchers.”
“There are a lot of parents that subscribe to the theory that having Tommy John surgery makes a pitcher throw harder. All it does is correct a defect. Once you get that done, you come back, you work out, you train your arm, and your body. You’re in such good shape, that’s why you throw harder. But parents think that if you have the surgery, their little Johnny will throw harder,” John said.
This is another major issue that they deal with when they run their baseball camp because parents assume this surgery helps a pitcher become better because they see major leaguers return better than they were before. John shatters that theory and educates the parents. He says that players work incredibly hard to return, so they will be in better condition physically than before they had the surgery, which leads to better success on the mound.
Parents and players need to learn that baseball being played all year long is actually a hindrance to the advancement of that particular player. Your body needs time to rest, which is exactly what John preaches toward younger players.