Tuesday, May 19, 2015
WE CAN REBUILD HIM: JOURNEY OF THE 6 MILLION DOLLAR PITCHER
Matt Harvey. Dark Knight. Real Deal. Comeback Kid. Mets Ace. Tommy John. Yep, that's the guy from the other New York team who has a 2.13 ERA and 5-1 record. And with modern medicine, he is still pitching, straight to the top of the leaders' board. If not for the infamous UCL surgery, Harvey would have been a 2nd year starter who caught arm fatigue and was washed up by age 26. There are plenty of these guys on the list of dead arms by age 30. Guys like Dizzy Dean, Jon Matlack, Brandon Webb, Gary Nolan- one hit wonders who won a number accolades only to fall victim to career ending arm injuries. Had these guys been born decades later, like in the case of Harvey, Ivan Nova, and Stephen Strasburg, their stories in the big leagues would have ended much differently.
On Sunday, I ran the Brooklyn Half Marathon. When I run, I think. I think about beating the runners around me, I listen to the sounds of runners panting and fans screaming and I read the signs made by spectators who have an incredible sense of humor. The one sign that made me laugh out loud despite the pouring down ran soaking my Dri-fit Yankee cap was the one with Bartolo Colon's picture captioned with "If I can still pitch, you can run a half marathon." Absolutely priceless! But, then, I thought to myself, did Bartolo just inspire me to run faster? He has battled a number of injuries and even had experimental stem cell surgery to preserve his arm. And with a record of 6-2, despite his age, Colon is still doing it. Rebuilt, revitalized and yes, still pitching.
With Chase Whitley the latest Yankee pitcher to fall prey to season ending elbow surgery, there has been speculation that more pitchers are getting hurt today than ever before. That what we are seeing is a "Tommy John" epidemic. But a comprehensive ESPN report by David Schoenfield denies that claim. After doing research as far back as the 1970s, there is almost an equal amount of pitchers injured back then as there are today. "Pitchers have always gotten hurt, and they always will get hurt. Of course, you can argue that an increase in elbow injuries and resulting Tommy John surgeries cancels out improvements made in other areas in keeping pitchers healthy, and that if baseball finds a way to limit the elbow injuries, more pitchers will remain healthy and productive,"states the report. "One reason we arguably had as many injuries in the 1970s as now even though pitchers didn't throw as hard is probably related to the less polished mechanics (in general) of the era."
So, if you throw hard and fast, will you eventually need to be rebuilt in order to have longevity? I don't know but I do know this...as long as baseball continues to pay big for fast arms, guys will be forever addicted to the hot readings of radar guns. Tommy John surgery is just a way of life and I guess we better get used to it because as long as modern medicine and health insurance are there to support pitchers in their drive to throw harder and faster than the next guy in, the Steve Austin-like six million dollar pitcher will prevail. Ironically, another product of the 1970s.
--Suzie Pinstripe, BYB Senior Staff Writer
BYB Hot Stove Columnist
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