clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Brian Anderson and Tommy John Surgery

Hey, as this is my first post on DRB I thought I'd take a moment to introduce myself.  My name is Joshua (friends call me Josh or JD), and I've been a Rays fan since about 2001 when I started getting into baseball. Aside from baseball I love playing video games, football, photography, poker (sup Wade Townsend), movies, reading, and seafood.  Also, I'd just like to say quickly thanks to Jake for taking a chance on me, and thanks to R.J. for not letting me give up on writing. You might have seen me around here before, I made the logo and have done a few other small things. Anyway, enough about me, enjoy the article.

During July of the 2005 season, while rehabbing an elbow inflammation at Triple-A Omaha Brian Anderson felt consistent pain from his first start there, beginning with minor soreness and escalating far enough to cause him to end his season. "It's tough. It's really hard to swallow. It's a terrible, terrible feeling to know that the one thing that you want to do, you can't do," Anderson said at the time.

Nine days later he paid a visit to Dr. Timothy Kremchek, who told him if during exploratory surgery he found a problem with the ulnar collateral ligament (or UCL) he would replace it. As it turns out, Brian's elbow was essentially FUBAR, with exceptionally large bone chips that had to be broken up before they were removed, as well as a tear in his flexor tendon. "After going into your elbow and seeing the damage, I have no idea how you were able to pitch. No idea at all," said Dr. Kremchek.

On top of the bone chips and flexor tendon tear, Dr. Kremchek discovered the damaged UCL, the cause of Brian's pain and inability to pitch effectively. Dr. Kremchek replaced it with a ligament from his left wrist, and when Anderson awoke after the extensive repairs he had practically a whole new elbow.

The procedure was a success, and after rehab and signing with the Rangers in the offseason he made his way back into the game -- perhaps too soon. After experiencing elbow pain in an extended spring game it was found he had re-torn his new UCL and had to undergo a second Tommy John surgery.

He spent the 2007 year beginning his career as a broadcaster, but never let a return to baseball out of his sight. "I feel there's a lot more left in the tank," Anderson said in an interview as seen here. In late January 2008 he returned to the mound to throw a 60 pitch session for Rockies, Indians, Phillies and Rays scouts, and following that the Rays decided to take a shot, giving him a minor league deal and an invitation to Spring Training.

He figures to start the season in Triple-A Durham, but could end up on the major league club to fill out the back of the rotation or shore up the bullpen. This isn't the first time the Rays have signed a pitcher with multiple Tommy John surgeries under his belt. Al Reyes underwent two during his career and has been a useful veteran addition to the Rays `pen.

A note on Tommy John surgery:

Dr. Frank Jobe performed the first successful surgery on Tommy John in 1974 and turned the sports medicine world on its head as well as increasing the shelf life on pitchers. Up until that time the unknown injury was referred to as "dead arm," it did not always present pain but took away the control and velocity of the pitcher as the arm shifted uncontrollably during the throwing motion.

During that first procedure Dr. Jobe put Tommy John's chances at 1 in 100 for a complete recovery. Today the surgery has around a 90 percent success rate, becoming a common practice with dozens of pitchers and even position players going under the knife and returning after extensive rehab, sometimes to throw even harder than previous to the operation.

Dr. Jobe credits this to the player having increased conditioning from the long rehabilitation, as well as the fresh ligament in the elbow restoring some velocity that was lost as the old UCL became broken down with age and use.

Quotes from Confessions of a Left-Hander,
Photos credit