Tommy John Surgery: Five Things To Know

September 07, 2018 - 9:34 pm

(WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- The news landed with a thud Friday: White Sox potential ace pitcher Michael Kopech likely will need Tommy John Surgery. 

It's a common enough term in the world of professional baseball, but what does it actually mean?

These five facts should offer some understanding:

--TJS is needed when there is a tear in the ulnar collateral ligament, or UCL, along the inner elbow (Kopech apparently has such a tear, though he will get a second opinion).

--The procedure essentially replaces the damaged ligament with a tendon that is looped through holes drilled in the patient’s ulna and humerus bones. The tendon – from the athlete’s wrist or taken from a cadaver – is laced through the holes and fastened together.

--Pioneering surgeon Frank Jobe did the initial surgery on a pitcher – Tommy John, the name sake of the operation – in September 1974. Jobe years later said he had doubts the technique would be successful, but John returned to pitching in April 1976.

--The next surgery wasn’t done until 1978, but it has become an increasingly common fix for pitchers. MLB says a 2012-13 survey of active players indicated 25 percent of Major League pitchers and 15 percent of Minor League pitchers had undergone Tommy John surgery at some point in their career.

--Tommy John was able to play the long game, career-wise. In 1980, he had a career-high 22 wins with the Yankees. He ended up pitching until 1989.