The surgery has repaired damaged arms and has enabled many, many players to extend their playing careers. The surgery is performed when there is damage to Ulnar Collateral ligament in the elbow, and it has to be replaced. At one time, players may have had to end their careers because of that type of elbow injury.
Delta State University head baseball coach as Mike Kinnison, who has had players that have had the surgery, said the advancement in modern medicine has been a real asset.
“It used to be if you had a player that had to undergo that surgery, you almost felt like it would be career ending,” Kinnison said. “The technology and the science of that have advanced some much now, it’s a whole different thing. Position players can often come back from that surgery and play in nine or ten months. Pitchers, it’s usually more like a year and a half to twelve months sometimes if you’re lucky. “Different people recover at different times, but at least from a coaching perspective now you do have anticipation on being able to get a guy back that has had Tommy John Surgery.”
Former DSU pitchers Brent Leach (DSU 2005) and Garrett Pickens (DSU 2011-13) underwent Tommy John surgery during their time on the team and made successful returns as they are now pitching on the professional level. Another former DSU pitcher John Polles (2001-05), who had the Tommy John surgery in 2003, was able to come back and be one of the main pitchers for the Statesmen in 2004 when they won the national championship.
According to Kinnison, guys that have made the successful transition have had to improve their work ethic.
“To recover from Tommy John surgery, there has to be a diligent, disciplined, daily approach to rehab,” Kinnison said. “If it’s not done right, the success from the surgery is negated. What we’ve seen with so many guys because of their commitment to the rehab, they return with their arm structure more sound than it was before.”
Kinnison said once a player on the team recovers from the surgery, he urges him to maintain his work ethic.
“What we recommend is when guys go through that process and come back that they never quit the rehab,” Kinnison said. “They don’t ever feel like they reach a point where they say ‘Okay, I’m good. I don’t have to do the rehab anymore.’ We want them to stay on it and continue what has been good to them.”
Cleveland High School head coach Steve Wies had his shares of experiences in working with a player that has had the procedure. Kyle Buescher, who was one of the Wildcats’ top pitchers in 2004 and played college ball at Belhaven, had the surgery in 2003.
Wies said Buescher progressed gradually each day after his surgery.
“We just kept him on the specified regiment for rehab that the doctor prescribed for him,” Wies said. “I don’t remember all the specifics, but I know there was an ease that which you bring him back. There’s a part in the rehab that helps to strengthen, not only the area of the surgery, but everything around it. I guess it all gets back working together. Some of the muscles and ligaments and things that weren’t damaged still need to work in a coordinated effort with the reconstructed part.”
Wies said he emphasizes to his players proper techniques of throwing and warming up to help protect their arms.
“We try to stress every time they pick a ball up, they need to throw it with a purpose,” Wies said. “They need to think about what they’re doing as far as making a throw, even short distance. They need to warm-up daily and do a long toss routine, stuff like that. They need to do it correctly.”
The only downside lately with the surgery is how often more and more players are having it. Many college and professional players have to sit out seasons to have the surgery performed. Nationwide many pitchers on the youth league and high school levels have had to undergo the surgery. These days, there are city leagues and travel ball leagues with some kids playing both a young ages. Another thing that can put stress on a player is the fact that when he’s not pitching, he has to play another position later that day or the start of the next day. Proper mechanics and good warm-up techniques are and always have been essential to protecting arms.
Rodney Martin, who was the head baseball coach at Bayou Academy from 2004-11 and has coached youth teams in city league and travel ball, said young players are more active through out the year when it comes to playing baseball, which can make them more susceptible to injury.
“Kids do a lot of throwing now that I don’t think they even when I was coming through,” Martin said. “We played summer ball, but I think the increased number of games kids are playing and the increased numbers of pitches and innings that kids are having to throw as a lot to do with it.”
According to the American Sports Medicine Institute, 23 percent of the pitchers that received Tommy John Surgery were playing on the youth league and high school level. Although the percentage is still high, it’s the lowest it’s been since 2004 when it was 20 percent.
Many high school and youth leagues in the country have innings or pitch count rules.
The Mississippi High School Activities Association as a rule in baseball that says a pitcher can’t throw more than 17 innings in a calendar week (Monday-Saturday).
Dixie Youth has an innings rule during tournaments, as a pitcher can’t pitch more than 13 innings in a tournament, unless the tournament is a 12-team or 16-team event and then the pitcher can pitch up to 15 innings.
During tournaments in Dixie Boys and Dixie Majors baseball, pitchers are under a pitch count rule. In the Official Dixie Baseball rulebook, a pitcher in the Dixie Boys League can’t throw more than 95 pitches in the same game or same day, while a pitcher in Dixie Majors League can’t throw more than 105 pitches in the same game or day. If a pitcher has thrown at least 45 pitches, he must have at least 30 hours of rest. If he has thrown at least 75 pitches, he must at least 40 hours of rest.
The United States Specialty Sports Association has innings limits. According to the USSSA by laws, pitchers ages 7-12 can’t throw more than six innings in a day, while pitchers ages 13-14 can’t pitch more than seven innings in a day. Pitchers ages 7-14 can pitch up to eight innings in three consecutive days as long as he doesn’t go over three innings on any day. A pitcher that has thrown at least 3 1/3 innings in a game must have a least one-day of rest.
Little League Baseball has specific pitch count rules for pitchers in each age group and the amount of rest that’s required for a certain amount of pitches thrown by the pitcher.
Martin said he has always monitored the amount of pitches his pitchers throw.
“I’m a real strong advocate against throwing too many pitches,” Martin said. “I keep a pitch count on every kid that throws. I don’t care if he’s 10-year-old or one of my high school kids; I always kept a pitch count. I just have a little chart that I go by that tells me how many pitches a kid is supposed to pitch at his age.
“I know kids that are 15-year-olds that have thrown more pitches than guys that are 20-years-olds. Your body can only handle but so much. That’s the way I feel,” Martin added.