ALBANY, N.Y. – Tommy John surgery is a growing epidemic sidelining major league pitchers by the dozens and is also affecting young pitchers in the Capital Region.
Albany Dutchmen pitcher Drew Tolson was a first team all-state selection as a high schooler in Houston. He committed to play college ball at Baylor, but before he could even throw a pitch for the Bears, he suffered a major setback.
“I was pitching and kind of just felt something in my elbow,” he explained. “Went in to the doctor, got an MRI and sure enough my UCL was torn.”
Tolson needed Tommy John surgery, a procedure that repairs a pitcher’s Ulner Collateral Ligament.
It’s a popular procedure among young pitchers. Glens Falls Golden Eagles pitcher Tyler Elhers went under the knife after just ten appearances with his college team.
There are a number of theories as to why pitchers are requiring Tommy John at a younger age. One is that more children are pitching year round and wearing out their arms before they can fully develop.
Another theory is that kids are throwing harder and faster at a younger age. That’s why coaches like Johnston Hobbs of the Golden Eagles now need to manage these arms.
“Summer ball and stuff, so many of these coaches just ride their pitchers cause they are trying to win league championships in the summer,” he said. “I want to send them back to school in good shape, having a good experience, and not running any risk of future injury.”
But now coaches are wondering how to alleviate the issue.
“Maybe we should start putting younger, little league coaches and high school coaches through programs where they understand what goes on with UCL,” Hobbs suggested. “Maybe some sort of certification like that would probably help prevent some of that.”
“I wish I would have played more sports in high school giving me some time off, giving my arm some time off,” Tolson said. “A little less stress on the arm would help out a lot.”
Tommy John is not the end to a pitcher’s career. Both Tolson and Elhers are back on the mound after a 24-month recovery, but only time will tell if the surgery will affect their chances of going pro.