The Pitcher Dilemma: What M.L.B. Can Learn From the N.F.L.
By Paul Houlemarde
What will we remember most about the 2014 Major League Baseball season? Well, so far it doesn’t have anything to do with on-field performance. If the pattern continues, 2014 will notoriously be known as Year of the Tommy John Surgery. So far 18 players on major league rosters have undergone Tommy John surgery, or ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction. The procedure involves replacing muscles in the elbow with a tendon from elsewhere in the body, and comes with a rehabilitation time of anywhere from 6 to 18 months.
The trend is alarming as it affects baseball on a multidimensional level. On one obvious level the league is quickly losing some of its top talent to injury – not just its veterans, but young superstars such as 21-year old Jose Fernandez. Then there’s the financial level. With teams dishing out multi-million dollar deals to players, it pays to keep your talent on the field. But the biggest reason the MLB should be concerned is how all this affects its image. You don’t want to be known as the game that ruins athlete’s arms. You don’t want parents to shy away from the sport and pitching because their kid might get hurt. You don’t want to be known as an unsafe sport.
Many people have viewed football as unsafe sport, especially so in 2012 when concussions became a hot topic. The NFL took a stance and made it known they were doing all they could to improve prevention, treatment, and diagnosis of concussions. In 2013, the NFL donated $30 million to the National Institutes of Health. They even made changes to the rulebook, citing safety as its priority.
These actions taken by the NFL can serve as a model for the MLB. Why not announce a new program aimed at preventing and treating arm injuries? What can research teach us? Hopefully we can protect the next generation of players from Tommy John surgery.