2017-04-21 / Sports

MLB all-star Tommy John stops by Elmira

By Coy Gobble

Tommy John, the four-time MLB all-star pitcher for the Indians, White Sox, Dodgers and Yankees, stopped by Elmira for the Pioneers Hot Stove Dinner on Thursday.

John is perhaps best known for the radical arm surgery that repairs the ulnar collateral ligament with a ligament from another part of the patient's body. John received the first surgery of this kind in 1974 by Dr. Frank Jobe, who put his odds of returning to baseball at 1 in 100. After spending the 1975 season recovering, John returned to baseball in 1976 and won another 164 games before retiring in 1989. The surgery is now commonly known as "Tommy John".

John pitched in Elmira in the beginning of his career and played with the famously hotheaded manager Earl Weaver.

"I pitched in Elmira in '62 and '63," John remarked. "I remember playing in Elmira and because of the way the field was set, we had to take a break from playing while the sun was setting because it was directly in the batter's eye. One game Earl Weaver got into an argument with the umpire and he got kicked out of the game. These were the days when the bases were strapped down, and Weaver unstrapped third base, walked into the clubhouse and locked the door behind him. We couldn't play until he came back out with the base. That was fifty some years ago and Earl was up to his tricks then."

An estimated one fourth of all MLB pitchers have had Tommy John surgery. Many have speculated that the cause of the UCL failure is overuse as an adolescent, including John.

"Kids are trying to throw too hard too soon." John said. "They're doing this because of radar guns and travel teams. They don't care about getting batters out, they care about throwing and their bodies- Why does a player or anyone have an injury? One part of your body is not strong enough to absorb the force that you're putting one it. So, what do you do? Kids that are 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 shouldn't be pitching year-round baseball because even Clayton Kershaw doesn't throw year-round baseball."

"Kids should be outside after school climbing trees, digging up foxholes and getting their body strong. Dr. (James) Andrews says kids should be throwing six months on and six months off. I'll say seven and five, but if an orthopedic surgeon says that, do it. New York state added a pitch count this year, which is fine, but if you're still pitching year-round ball, what's that going to do?"

After the surgery, John planned to learn a knuckleball pitch in case he couldn't throw as hard as he could before.

"I was going to work on the knuckleball if my elbow didn't come back," John stated. "I was going to go down to Florida and learn under Hoyt Wilhelm and have him teach me a knuckleball. I'm serious, I wanted to come back and pitch again!"

John's dentist in the late eighties was Mark McGwire's father. John said, "When you're dentist's son starts hitting homers against you, it's time to quit."

The Elmira Pioneers' first home game is Friday, June 2nd.

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