Tommy John Surgery History and Yankees Pitchers to Get It

Yankee StadiumThe landmark day in the history of baseball surgical repair came on September 25th 1974. On that day Dr. Frank Jobe, then the Los Angeles Dodgers orthopedic surgeon, accomplished an innovative procedure that would carry the name of his first subject. Jobe operated on Tommy John and such the future of arm injuries in baseball changed. The procedure re-attached the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in the elbow. Welcome to Tommy John surgery and a change in the future of many baseball careers.

Tommy John surgery is a surgical procedure in which a healthy tendon extracted from an arm (or sometimes a leg) is used to replace an arm’s torn ligament. The healthy tendon is threaded, usually in a figure eight fashion, through holes drilled into the bone above and below the elbow. This improved stability in the elbow and return many subjects to normal, if not better, conditions.

Prior to Tommy John surgery, a pitcher with substantial ligament damage would often go incorrectly diagnosed and their careers in essence would come to an abrupt conclusion. However, since 1974 hundreds of players have undergone Tommy John surgery and a great percentage of those players were able to carry on their playing careers. It was a perfect storm of success due to the fact that the surgery was successful and there was a high profile career to point that success at.

Tommy John had amassed 124 wins from 1963 to 1974, the years preceding the surgery. After the operation, he won another 164 games. His ability to comeback from this once career threatening condition and perform at a high level is what made this procedure as famous as it has become over the years.

Due to the success rate of the surgery, it often becomes the front line choice to solve issues with pitchers of all ages. Full rehabilitation usually takes one to one and a half years. Players are allowed to begin throwing again a few months after Tommy John surgery has taken place. A short list of players that have returned to exceptional performance post Tommy John surgery include John Smoltz, Stephen Strasburg, A.J Burnett, and Billy Wagner.

With that being said, some players have gone under for a second operation later in their careers or when something just did not take correctly the first time around. The percent of players to be successful after a second procedures is dramatically smaller. Doctor Andrews has placed the success rate around 20 percent for pitchers to return to pre-surgery form after a second Tommy John surgery. Overall this is not overly shocking as multiple operations in the same area can cause concern along with the fact that each person’s ability to recover is unique and undefinable until the procedure has occurred.

The Yankees have not completely escaped from Tommy John surgery. In fact one of the current crop of Yankees pitching prospects is getting the procedure, James Kaprielian. While successful recovery has gone up it is never a guarantee. Below is a list of notables (or sort of notables) that have donned pinstripes and had the procedure. Just sit back and think of what they were before and after the procedure to try and expound on what the future holds for young James Kaprielian. Feel free to add a comment with other names I might have missed when building the historical list.

James Kaprielian2017
Nathan Eovaldi2016
Chase Whitley2015
Ivan Nova2014
Manny Banuelos2012
Michael Pineda2012
Honorable mention for torn labrum, arthroscopic surgery
Joba Chamberlain2011
Andrew Brackman2007
Christian Garcia2006
Jorge DePaula2004
Brandon Claussen2002
Sean Henn2001
Mike Witt1991
Brad Arnsberg1988
David Wells1985
Played with NYY after surgery

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