In the summer of 1968, the Detroit Tigers were on a tear. They were headed for an American League pennant and a heart-stopping three game deficit. World Series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. On August 22 of that season, a young pitcher for the Chicago White Sox named Tommy John decided to brush back the lead off hitter for the Tigers, shortstop Dick McAuliffe. After some discussion as to the intent of his throws, Mr. McAuliffe rearranged Mr. John’s left shoulder ligaments in a basebrawl that sent Mr. John to the disabled list and Mr. McAuliffe to a five game suspension—and a two hundred and fifty dollar fine. As a ten year old Tiger fan, I can recall getting in trouble reenacting the McAuliffe vs. John fight with my younger brothers.
Fast-forward to 1974 and pitcher Tommy John undergoes an experimental surgical reconstruction of his left ulnar collateral ligament that miraculously allows him to pitch for fifteen more years. This pioneering surgery has become a surgical salvation for many a baseball pitcher’s career and has the moniker of “Tommy John Surgery.” As a physical therapist, I have often wondered if the combination of the shoulder ligament scarring, provided by Mr. McAuliffe, and the surgical reconstruction of his left elbow created a mechanically advantageous, super stable, left throwing arm.
Throwing a baseball is a biomechanically amazing activity. Start early enough and it can alter the growth of bones. Imaging tests of hurlers show humerus bones that grow into an externally rotated twist. Why some pitchers can have long careers and others fall victim to injury is the subject of millions of dollars of research. Super agent Scott Boros has negotiated inning limitations for the pitchers he represents in an effort to protect their arms from injury.
If you are a baseball player or fan, you need to read the new book by Jeff Passan, The Arm: Inside the Billion Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports. Mr. Passan is a great storyteller and I, personally, was unaware of the statistics on baseball pitcher injuries. The monumental sums of money teams spend on pitchers has changed the game. A pitcher recently sat out in his team’s playoff run because he was in danger of exceeding his 160 inning contractual obligation.
God Bless Mickey Lolich.
-Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS