It was once three dirty words for a baseball pitcher: Tommy John surgery.
The namesake of the operation, then a Los Angeles Dodgers star, underwent the innovative but radical procedure in 1974. Dr. Frank Jobe invented the surgery – in which a ligament in the elbow is replaced by a tendon from elsewhere in the body, such as the forearm or hamstring – and he gave John a 10 percent chance of returning to his previous level of competence.
John returned, pitched 15 more seasons and finished with 288 career wins. Other pitchers, especially in the early years of the revolutionary surgery, were never the same following it. Today, Tommy John surgery is no longer a pitcher's death sentence, as Cincinnati Reds right-hander Edinson Volquez has proved over the past month while rehabbing with the Louisville Bats.
After undergoing the procedure Aug. 3, Volquez, who won 17 games in 2008, has returned 11 months later and is set to rejoin the Cincinnati Reds. His fastball consistently reached the mid-to-high 90s. Most pitchers now return to full strength after the operation. Some pitchers come back with better stuff and can throw harder than before the operation.
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