In 1974, an orthopedic surgeon for the LA Dodgers performed an ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction procedure on a 31-year-old starting pitcher named Tommy John, and the world of baseball was forever changed. Since then, many players have undergone what is now known as Tommy John Surgery, including 9 already this season.
What to Expect From Chris Sale
Chris Sale makes his debut tonight for the Red Sox after having Tommy John surgery in 2020. Sale then came back and suffered a rib injury on top. Sale has been making rehab starts the past few weeks for the Red Sox AAA affiliated WooSox. The most notable of Sale’s starts came on July 7th when he was caught destroying a dugout television after a poor outing.
Let’s look into the past at some notable pitchers and how they played after reconstruction of the elbow.
Verlander is in Cy Young contention and is a major contributor on a strong Astros team. Justin had Tommy John in late 2020 and returned to the mound to start the 2022 season. In his first game back, he took a loss despite only allowing 1 run.
Verlander has had a great 2022 season and will be playing in the All-Star game next week. I think we can call it a successful rebound.
Buehler signed with the Dodgers in July of 2015 out of Vanderbilt and a month later he underwent his surgery. He returned to the Dodgers organization exactly a year later. In that return, he pitched two innings in the Arizona League where he retired all 6 batters faced. Buehler debuted for the LADs in September 2017 and the following season was a starter, where he threw six innings in a team-combined no-hitter. He finished third that season in Rookie of the Year voting and ninth the next season for Cy Young.
At one time, Ryan was the highest paid reliever in all of baseball (even more than Mariano Rivera). In 2006, he finished the season with 38 saves and an ERA of 1.37. Ryan also pitched in the All-Star game that year. At the beginning of the next season he would undergo his Tommy John surgery. Ryan returned 11 months later and in that 2008 season saved 30+ games but that was it for his career.
He was released the following season with little to speak of in-between and never pitched in the MLB again.
Smoltz was one third of one of the strongest pitching rotations in the 1990s, with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. That trio won the World Series in 1995. From ‘96 – ‘99 he won 67 games despite being on-and-off the disabled list for a few years. In 2000 he underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the entire season. Upon returning, he spent more time in the bullpen, posting 144 saves from ’02-’04. Smoltz went on to start 100 games combined from ‘05-‘07, posting a record of 44-24 and an ERA just above 3.00.
Smoltz played in 4 All-Star games after his surgery and was in the Cy Young running 3 times, playing 9 seasons total after returning.
Wood holds one strong distinction in Major League Baseball. He’s tied with Max Scherzer and Roger Clemmons a record 20 strikeouts in one 9-inning game. Wood did this in 1998, it was a one-hit bid in just his 5th career start. That season he went 13-6 and won NL Rookie of the Year. The next season Wood missed the entire year after his Tommy John surgery. Though he did return to pitch three more solid years. In 2001 he had another one-hit game where he struck out 14 and finished that season 12-6, with 217 strikeouts.
Starting in 2004, Wood was never the same pitcher and spent the next 8 seasons as an injured reliever at best.
Bonus: Christian Vazquez
Vasquez is not a pitcher, but the catcher that will be catching for Sale tonight. Vasquez also underwent Tommy John in 2015. Christian has been a staple for the Red Sox since his surgery, both behind the plate and swinging the bat.
He has definitely had a good career post surgery, and we all hope the same for Chris Sale.