It appears that Jose Fernandez – arguably the best young pitcher in baseball – will need Tommy John surgery. If so, he will become the 18th big-league player – and the 34th player in baseball – to need this surgery since February.
What exactly is causing this epidemic?
For Tommy John, it’s not rocket science.
“The injury itself is an overuse injury,” John said on The MoJo Show. “It’s not so much overuse of what they’re doing now; it’s (from) what (they did) when they were 8. And I think you’ll find, if you do a study of the guys of the last five years that have had the surgery and ask them 15 or 20 questions – When did you start pitching? How long did you pitch? Did you pitch year-round? – I think you will find a preponderance of evidence (that shows) that most of these kids pitched 12 months a year.”
Virtually every doctor – if not literally every doctor – will tell you that is a big, big mistake.
“They will tell you vehemently, ‘Do not pitch year-round baseball as a youngster. Your arm is not made to pitch year-round,’” John explained. “But you’ve got parents that are looking at it and saying, ‘This guy just signed for $200 million, and my son’s got a chance to pitch on this select team or this travel team, and coach XYZ has got a workout facility and he’s going to be able to work with him during the winter.’
“The parents are the root cause of all the surgeries.”
John, 70, spent almost two years in the agent business. He would often ask overzealous parents who the best pitchers in the world are.
Big-leaguers, they’d say.
Right, so if they don’t pitch year round, why should your 12-year-old son pitch year-round?
Well, they’ll get better, parents would say.
“No he won’t,” John said. “Pitching year-round won’t make you better. It’ll get you closer to having Tommy John surgery – and to me, that is what’s happening to all these guys. They’ve been pitching year-round since they were youngsters, and it’s finally caught up with them.”
John underwent the surgery named in his honor on Sept. 25, 1974. He missed the entire 1975 season but returned in 1976 and went 10-10. He wound up playing 26 years in the majors – then a record – and won 164 games after his surgery.
And do you want to hear the most astonishing thing of all?
“This is going to strike you as very, very, very strange,” John said. “There’s not a (single) ballplayer that’s called me that has had the surgery to ask what to expect.”
Not a one.
John actually called Frank Viola when the three-time All-Star and World Series champion underwent the surgery – just because he thought Viola was such a nice guy. He gave Viola a little advice.
“When you get back, you’re going to have a hard time hitting (your) spots because you haven’t pitched in a year-and-a-half or so, and you just don’t pick up where you left off.”
While John didn’t have the surgery until 1974, he had arm issues as far back as the early 1960s – but he never said anything.
“Back in that day and age, you never told anybody that you had a sore arm,” he said. “Because if you did, there were 15 guys waiting to take your job.”