By Ken Reed
Tommy John was a great Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher, primarily for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He won 288 major league games and was an All-Star multiple times.
However, he is famous today not primarily for his pitching career but because of a unique surgical procedure he had done on his elbow. He was the first person to have a new ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction procedure done by Dr. Frank Jobe. Jobe and others started calling the new procedure “Tommy John surgery” and it has stuck.
“It doesn’t bother me to watch my legacy being upstaged by an operation that saved plenty of ballplayers’ careers. What does bother me is that my name is now attached to something that affects more children than pro athletes.”
Here are some scary facts: More than 57 percent of all Tommy John surgeries today are performed on teenagers between 15 and 19 years old. One in seven of those will never fully recover. Moreover, the rate of ACL tears in kids has been increasing 2.3 percent per year for a couple decades.
John, and his son, also named Tommy John (Tommy John III), have dedicated themselves to reversing this sad trend in young baseball players, particularly pitchers. Moreover, Tommy John, the younger, has taken it a step further and is working hard to bring sanity to our youth sports culture that results in numerous overuse injuries like torn ulnar collateral ligaments.
“My calling was to get to the source of these problems,” says John. “That’s how I’ve come to where I’m at right now.”
John quit his career as a baseball and personal trainer, thinking he was part of the problem. He went back to school and became a chiropractor to not only help athletes heal, but also to teach parents how to protect their children from what he calls a youth sports injury epidemic.
“It’s hard seeing so many kids being pushed the way they are today, and getting hurt as a result,” says John the elder, the former MLB star.
John hopes his work, and that of his son, will result in fewer youth sports injuries in general, and fewer UCL reconstruction surgeries in particular.
As John says, that would be a legacy far greater than that of being a former baseball star.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of FansPrint
- League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.