Tommy John surgery turns 35 years old

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Pete Grathoff of the Kansas City Star wrote a great article celebrating the 35th anniversary of Tommy John surgery, including how the whole thing got started:

When John’s left elbow gave out 35 years ago, he asked orthopedic surgeon Frank Jobe to help salvage his career. Jobe took on the challenge, but it was no easy task. “I was nervous because we didn’t know what we were doing,” Jobe recalled in a phone interview.

Of course, Jobe was basically inventing the surgery, so he couldn’t guarantee that it would be successful. “John talked it over with his wife and his father,” Jobe said, “and came back and said, ‘Let’s do it.'” He said, ‘This is what I want to do because I don’t want to quit pitching. I can’t earn this much money in Terre Haute, Ind.'”

Three decades later Tommy John surgery has become commonplace, with an average of 2-3 pitchers on every team having undergone the procedure, and no one is surprised when a pitcher comes back stronger than ever. However, back then no one knew what to expect and it was considered a mini-miracle that following the surgery John pitched another 13 seasons in the majors and won another 164 games while three times finishing among the top five in Cy Young balloting.
Now the list of pitchers who’ve had the surgery looks like an All-Star team (or more accurarely several All-Star teams), with Chris Carpenter providing the most recent success story following his 2008 surgery. Of course, there are also plenty of unsuccessful examples, including most recently Francisco Liriano going from the league’s best pitcher as a rookie in 2006 to a mop-up man two years after going under the knife.
In terms of overall impact Tommy John surgery is arguably one of the most important discoveries in the history of sports, and Grathoff does a nice job describing the actual surgery, laying out the rehabilitation timetable, talking to pitchers who’ve had the operation, and examining the growing number of teenagers having the procedure done. Definitely worth a read.

David Phelps to undergo Tommy John surgery

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Pitcher David Phelps has a torn UCL and will undergo Tommy John surgery, ending his 2018 season, the Mariners announced on Wednesday. Phelps was making brief one-inning stints in the Cactus League as he worked his way back from a procedure to remove a bone spur from his elbow last September. He said he felt the ligament tear on his final pitch against the Angels in his March 17 appearance.

Phelps, 31, was expected to set up for closer Edwin Diaz. The right-hander, between the Marlins and Mariners last season, posted a 3.40 ERA with a 62/26 K/BB ratio in 55 2/3 innings. He and the Mariners avoided arbitration in January, agreeing on a $5.55 million salary for the 2018 campaign. Phelps will become eligible to become a free agent at the end of the season.

As the Mariners noted in their statement, the expected recovery period for Tommy John surgery is 12-15 months, so this very likely cuts into Phelps’ 2019 season as well.