Prior to Strasburg
The doctor's name in that procedure was Dr. Frank Jobe, his patient, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Thomas Edward John Jr. The names need little more explanation into the encyclopedic-minds of the baseball world, the outcome and success, even less. So it was, in the season of 1976, the first pitcher - who's name is forever associated with the procedure - stepped back to the one dream many have failed to reach: Playing the game, one more time.
Tommy John racked up 288 wins as a pitcher in the MLB over his career - 164 after the surgery - good enough for 26th all-time. However, it is the procedure associated with Tommy John that will remain in baseball talks and water cooler chats forever. Most definitely, the present.
Enter Stephen Strasburg, and countless others who have taken to the mound, shook off the first sign for fun, nodded to the second, and chucked the perfect pitch - a painless delivery?
The debate and media-spectacle following Strasburg has reached the limitations and gone beyond, filtering into the crazy, wordy, opinion-based and often questionable. At the end of the day, 24-hour news resting and the baseball notes tucked back into the briefcase, one question can sum up, and answer, what should be the end to this maniacal topic.
It's the kid's career, what more is there to be said? Nothing!
Putting down the pencils, inning calculators and sports-science reports is in demand and should be followed, finally. The fate of the Nationals season does not rest on the young, spectacular shoulder of Stephen Strasburg - if it did, they would not get far anyway. In times when young pitchers are consistently falling into the path of Tommy John Surgery, it's a credible idea to do what many fan's, and ownership, hate, entirely: Rest for the future.
During times when every little thing about an athlete is poked, prodded and reported, the idea that too many innings on a pitcher's arm can cause injury is often overlooked - and it shouldn't. The study showing this very fact has been out since 2002 and, generally speaking, has been given the ole' blind eye by many.
To the novice, usually retired from baseball at age six, the mechanics of throwing a baseball is poorly taught and poorly taught again, and again. Yes, throwing a slider versus a curve-ball will have different effects on an arm, but it's the times a ball is actually thrown that is the real killer. Just ask Mark Prior.
The perfect-motion Prior possessed coming out of USC was shown by every coach - college, below and above - as what "to do" in terms of pitching philosophy. What was not shown on those tapes, and in his short professional career, was the innings jump he occurred coming out of college; going from the low 100-innings to the 200-plus in 2003, often averaging 130 pitches-per-start with the Cubs. He was simply overworked. And, while his motion was a thing of beauty, the wear-and-tear going on inside Prior's right arm was ugly. The once, "guaranteed money-maker," - as a pitching coach I knew once said - wound up an injury-plagued, wash-up for his MLB career - he ended up making around 12 million for his troubles. Not bad, but definitely not what anyone expected. Especially, Prior.
So, back to Strasburg.
The upside for him will stretch long beyond this season, if he is handled correctly. Learn from Mark Prior; one, keeping the innings down is what keeps a young pitcher from suffering constant injury; and two, keeping a young pitcher that has already had Tommy John Surgery, such as Strasburg, healthy. Not for the short-term, but for the long-haul.
Yes, the chances to be in a Pennant Race and World Series run are not always guaranteed, but neither is getting a chance to fulfill a dream many wish they could have - pitching in the Major Leagues.
Fan's of the game, you are understood. Front office brass is understood too, sometimes. Now, it's time to zip the verbal and scribbled chatter and listen to what is best for a bright future - for the Nationals and Strasburg.
Sit him, and be done with it.