(NEW YORK) — Former MLB pitcher Tommy John is best known for the surgery he underwent that has become a staple in sports and has saved the careers of so many professional athletes.
“I really feel honored and proud that Dr. [Frank] Jobe would name the surgery after me,” he says in an exclusive conversation with ABC News. Rather than pronouncing the expanded medical title, it was simply easier to dub the operation, “Tommy John surgery,” as it is now widely known.
However, John is maddened by the way his name has crept into youth sports: “It’s reprehensible… Kids should be healthy until they get into minor league or major league baseball. Then you hurt your arm. But not a kid.”
John and his son, Dr. Tommy John III, visited ABC to discuss an initiative to prevent adolescent athletes from undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Dr. John III treats athletes of all ages, and within the past decade, has noticed a troubling trend among young athletes: “The degenerative wear and tear that comes in life, I was seeing in these kids at about ten, eleven, twelve-years-old.”
The surgery, performed on the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in an athlete’s elbow, is common among baseball players, but can affect athletes in any sport. There has been concern for years over how many professional pitchers undergo the operation, even though several have resumed their careers successfully.
More recently, teenagers and even pre-teens have considered or actually undergone the operation, and both Tommy John and his son believe the way parents and children train for sports today is part of the reason why.
The former ballplayer believes playing multiple sports as a kid helped create a healthy path for him to make it to the majors: “I played baseball in spring and summer, and when the leagues were over in August, I put the bat and baseball down and played basketball until March.”
Dr. John III once ran and operated a baseball school. Now, he believes training kids for baseball through the offseason months was not always beneficial, and hyper focusing on one sport could actually increase an athlete’s risk of injury.
Dr. John III outlines more tips for healthy performance in his new book, Minimize Injury, Maximize Performance: A Sports Parent’s Survival Guide.
With the book, he hopes parents and athletes will understand that intense training and focus on one sport can actually limit a young child’s athletic potential, as well as the potential for them to succeed in the sport they are so focused on:
“The book is a way to empower people outside of myself, outside of my office, to put themselves the position to be the best at whatever they’re going to perform at in life and be their healthiest option.”Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.