Tommy John celebrated his 75th birthday recently, but the surgery that bears his name is well over 40 years old. In fact, enter a room of pitchers and you’ll find that the sampling of those who’ve had Tommy John surgery is akin to going to a fraternity and trying to find a dude who has ever had a hangover.
Orthopedic surgeon Frank Jobe performed the first procedure — also known as ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction — on the Los Angeles Dodgers lefty back in 1974. Ever since, it has not only become more ubiquitous, but also more proven in terms of players returning their previous form after extensive rehab.
With a room full of pitchers who’ve had the procedure and a seemingly different story of recovery from each one, I thought why not give each pitcher a chance to explain what their triumphs and tribulations were like as they battled to come back from the surgery.
Every pitcher is asked the same questions; every pitcher will almost certainly give different answers.
These are the Tommy John Files:
Player – Right-handed starting pitcher Lance Lynn
The surgery — when/where/who performed it?
“The surgery was on Nov. 10, 2015, performed by Cardinals team doctor Dr. George Paletta Jr. in St. Louis.”
Was the pain/injury instantaneous, or over time?
“Just (the wear and tear of) 28 years of pitching.”
Between the diagnosis and the surgery, what was the pain like?
“It’d hurt to wash my hair, turn a doorknob, pick up my daughter. Years of that.”
Were there peaks and valleys? What were they like?
“The rehab was boring. You can’t play. We’re people that want to compete. That’s all we want to do. You can’t compete at anything. You can’t golf, you can’t do anything. So it’s boring for you. I had the luxury of being close to my daughter, so we had a lot of good times together.
“That was probably the best part about it, which made it easier for me. You have to be patient. You have to be OK with being bored and doing the same thing over and over. If you’re impatient, that’s when you push too hard and things don’t go the way they’re supposed to.”
What was the pain like during rehab?
“During rehab you’ve got to loosen it back up to get range of motion, so some of the feelings are similar.”
Was there temptation to push too hard?
“No. I was always on pace or whatever the throwing program and progressions were. So I didn’t feel like I needed to do anything different to catch back up or anything like that, if that makes sense. I think if I’d have been behind schedule, I would have maybe felt some pressure.
“But I was right on schedule the whole time, and went through the ups and down with it, and everything worked out well.”
How soon did you start throwing again?
“I was throwing again within five months.”
How soon did you throw off a mound?
“I was throwing again off a mound in six months.”
How soon did you throw in a game?
“I got into a minor-league game at nine months.” (Writer’s note: Lynn pitched on Aug. 15, 2016 for the Palm Beach Cardinals)
Did you feel tentative at all?
“No real tentativeness. When you start throwing again, you don’t know where the ball is going. You could throw the first one over the head and spike the second one, that’s usually how it goes because you have no feel.”
When did you feel your stuff came back/started to come back? Was it different for each pitch?
“I’d say I’m still working on it.”
When did you feel 100 percent again?
“Once you know that you have it (prepared), and the ligament is repaired and is structurally sound, there’s no real…100 percent is what you have that day. There’s really no way of knowing.
“I mean I pitched for a couple years with some issues there, and had some good years while I was supposedly hurt. What is 100 percent? It’s whatever you have that day. It doesn’t matter about anything else.”
Was watching your teammates the hardest part of the recovery?
“I was in Florida so I wasn’t at the field every day. So I didn’t have to deal with being at the ballpark and watching them compete.”
Or have to deal with us (the media)?
“That’s right.” *laughs* “Then again, I’m not big on talking, anyway.”