Friday, September 12, 2008

The legacy of Tommy John

Youth baseball injuries are a favorite (better said, frequent) topic in this space. I wanted to call attention to a new study that underscores the seriousness of the problem.

Tommy John surgery, invented in 1974 as a last resort for saving the career of the great major-leaguer, has become a common operation among amateur pitchers. And this population seemingly gets younger each year. Dr. James Andrews, the orthopedic surgeon to the stars, whose patients include pro athletes in virtually every sport, has witnessed a remarkable spike in the number of his high school patients.

Before 1997, 12 of Dr. Andrews's 97 Tommy John patients were 18 or younger - 12 per cent. In 2005, 62 of 188 were high school students - nearly a third.

The operation is highly successful. Most kids get back to pitching eventually. But before that day comes there are surgical risks, tens of thousands of dollars in medical expenses, casts, slings, physical therapy and the like. Where are we (parents and coaches) when these promising young arms are being worn out?

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