Former MLB pitcher John Smoltz used some time during his Hall of Fame acceptance speech at Cooperstown on Sunday to warn of the "epidemic" of Tommy John surgeries, particularly among young baseball players.
"It’s an epidemic. It’s something that is affecting our game," Smoltz said during the speech.
Smoltz, who had a 21-year career in the MLB from 1988 to 2009, noted that he is currently the only player in the Hall who underwent Tommy John surgery -- a procedure that cost him the 2000 season. While he thanked his own doctors for the impact it had on continuing his own career, he added their skills have also led the operation to "be almost a false-read, like a band-aid you put on your arm."
The pitcher, lamenting the growing number of MLB pitchers undergoing Tommy John, then made a plea to the parents of young baseball players:
I want to encourage the families and parents that are out there to understand that this is not normal to have a surgery at 14 and 15 years old. That you have time, that baseball is not a year-round sport. That you have an opportunity to be athletic and play other sports. Don’t let the institutions that are out there running before you guaranteeing scholarship dollars and signing bonuses that this is the way. We have such great, dynamic arms in our game that it's a shame we're having one and two and three Tommy John recipients.
So I want to encourage you, if nothing else, know that your children’s passion and desire to play baseball is something that they can do without a competitive pitch. Every throw a kid makes today is a competitive pitch. They don’t go outside, they don’t have fun, they don’t throw enough — but they’re competing and maxing out too hard, too early, and that’s why we’re having these problems. So please, take care of those great future arms.
He's not wrong about the numbers. According to research presented just earlier this month at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine's (AOSSM) Annual Meeting, Tommy John surgery is occurring at higher rates among youth than previously believed. From 2007 to 2011, the study reported that 15 to 19 year olds accounted for over half of Tommy John surgeries, increasing at a 10 percent rate each year.
It's also not just baseball that's seeing over-use from specialization. Numerous studies and reports have warned against the growing number of young athletes specializing in just one sport, which is happening at younger and younger ages.
Other athletes are echoing Smoltz's sentiment that young men and women should not train so hard in just one sport early on. Most recently and notably, the players of the World Cup-winning U.S. Women's National Team have said that soccer was just a part of their multi-sport rotation to becoming world-class athletes.
"Having that variety is an awesome thing and I would encourage any young athlete or parent not to restrict themselves," Lauren Holiday told USA Today recently. "Doing different things develops different parts of your body. It can help prevent injuries and definitely help prevent burnout."
Not only does it prevent burnout or overuse, as Smoltz warned, but studies show playing more than one sport can actually make for a better athlete, picking up different skills and muscle strength from each discipline.
Smoltz's words are worth the listen. You can watch his remarks on Tommy John surgery here: