Is Tommy John Surgery in Baseball More Prevalent Now?

Tommy John surgery, known formally as ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction, has become increasingly significant in the world of baseball. Just recently, on September 30, 2023, Félix Bautista, the Baltimore Orioles reliever, was scheduled for this very procedure, putting a halt to his aspirations for participating in the playoffs and marking his absence from the field until at least 2024. Given its relevance, this article offers a comprehensive guide on Tommy John surgery in baseball, highlighting its origins, why it’s commonplace, and its associated risks.

  1. Summary of tommy john surgery baseball
  2. What is Tommy John Surgery?
  3. Why is Tommy John Surgery Common in Baseball?
  4. Félix Bautista’s Tommy John Surgery
  5. The History of Tommy John Surgery
  6. Complications and Risks
  7. Conclusion

Tommy John surgery became synonymous with baseball after it was named for Tommy John, the first baseball player who underwent this surgery back in 1974. Most notable in baseball pitchers, this procedure is not limited to them; it’s also sought by athletes in other throwing sports like tennis and volleyball.

Summary of tommy john surgery baseball

Date Event
2023-09-30 Félix Bautista of Baltimore Orioles schedules Tommy John surgery.
1974 Tommy John becomes the pioneer baseball player to undergo the surgery.
2022 Sang Ho Baek’s demise post Tommy John surgery underscores associated risks.
Current Research emphasizes on PRP injections as promising treatment alternative.

What is Tommy John Surgery?

Ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, colloquially known as Tommy John surgery, focuses on repairing a torn UCL in the elbow. Surgeons typically replace the damaged ligament with a tendon extracted from a different part of the patient’s body. This procedure aims to stabilize the elbow, alleviate pain, and reinstate its range of motion.

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Why is Tommy John Surgery Common in Baseball?

The repeated forceful throws by baseball pitchers make them especially susceptible to UCL injuries. Factors accentuating this risk include poor throwing techniques, muscular imbalances, overexertion, and past elbow injuries. Thus, due to the heightened risk for baseball athletes, the surgery sees frequent demand in both the collegiate and professional levels of the sport.

Félix Bautista’s Tommy John Surgery

The announcement of Félix Bautista’s upcoming Tommy John surgery by the Baltimore general manager, Mike Elias, came as a significant blow to baseball enthusiasts. Bautista’s anticipated return for the playoffs now remains a distant dream, emphasizing the unpredictable nature of sports injuries.

The History of Tommy John Surgery

The surgery draws its name from Tommy John, the first of the baseball fraternity to embrace this procedure in 1974. Initially perceived as a career-ending injury, John made a remarkable comeback post-surgery, continuing to play for an additional 14 seasons, thus setting a precedent for many others.

Complications and Risks

While Tommy John surgery predominantly records successful outcomes, it’s not devoid of potential complications. Risks encompass infections, nerve damage, joint stiffness, persistent pain, and graft failure. A grave reminder of these risks was the tragic passing of college baseball pitcher, Sang Ho Baek, in 2022, following complications after his Tommy John surgery.


Tommy John surgery, over the years, has transformed from being a possible career-ender to a beacon of hope for many baseball players, allowing them to revive their careers post a debilitating injury. With advancing sports medicine, the future promises even better outcomes. However, athletes should remain well-informed and vigilant about the potential risks.


1. What is the Tommy John surgery?
It’s a surgical procedure to repair the torn UCL in the elbow, named after the first baseball player, Tommy John, to undergo it.

2. Why is this surgery common among baseball players?
Baseball players, especially pitchers, are at a heightened risk of UCL injuries due to the nature of their game, which involves forceful and repetitive throws.

3. Who was the first baseball player to have this surgery?
Tommy John was the first baseball player to have this surgery in 1974.

4. Are there risks associated with Tommy John surgery?
Yes, potential complications include infections, nerve damage, joint stiffness, and graft failure. It’s essential to be aware and discuss these with a medical professional.

— by Rohan Saxena