The Boys of Summer and Bad Elbows

Chip Greene By Chip Greene, 22nd Mar 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Sports>Fitness

The UCL injury in baseball. It's causes and how to avoid this career ending injury.


The boys of summer are at Spring Training. April 6th is opening day for the regular-season MLB schedule. Injury reports are numerous and a necessary evil. Along with the usual pulled muscles, bruises, and strawberries there is the dreaded UCL injury. That stands for ulnar collateral ligament. It makes a man unable to play baseball. It affects the elbow and is very painful. The remedy is what has been come to be known as, "Tommy John Surgery." It was first performed on Tommy John of the Los Angeles Dodgers by orthopedic surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe. The operation was a success and John went on to a successful post surgery career. His 288 career victories ranks him seventh among left-handed pitchers. Today the injury seems to be rampant. Lots of surgeries and lots of successes.


What is causing this injury? It seems to affect pitchers more than any other position player in baseball. It is exclusively in the elbow of the player's throwing arm. It's cause has been blamed upon excessive throwing, not enough throwing or an unusual style of throwing. These may all be just contributing factors. Through experience I believe that the root cause of this injury is allowing young pitchers to throw a curveball. I'm talking about little leaguers 10 to 12 years old. At that age their young arms are still developing. Throwing a curveball puts too much stress on their elbows. The damage is cumulative causing elbow problems later.

The curve ball

You can demonstrate this for yourself: Hold your throwing arm straight out in front of you. Move your hand up and down at the wrist with a snap. Pretty benign isn't it! That's the motion used to throw a fastball.
Now do the same thing except turn your wrist as if you were turning a doorknob clockwise. Do this with a snap also. Feel the pressure in your elbow? That's the motion used to throw a curveball.
Do that often enough at a young age and eventually you're looking at UCL. I pitched a lot from age 10 to 21, Little League through college. I never had a pain in my elbow or a sore arm. I didn't start throwing a curveball until I was 14. I could throw all day every day.

Run, run, run

Kids, you don't have to throw a curveball to be cool or a good pitcher. You know what major-league pitching scouts are looking for in a pitching prospect? They're looking for a pitcher who throws with a lot of velocity and has control. The scouts will tell you that's all they're looking for. The rest can be taught! The pitchers main advantage doesn't come from velocity or control however. It comes from the strength in his legs. When a pitcher gets tired in the late innings and his velocity and control are falling off it's not because his arm is getting tired. It's because his legs are getting tired. So kids, stick with the fastball you can throw for a strike. It's all you need. And, run, run, run!
Oh, what's a strawberry you ask?! It's the painful welt that develops on your rump from sliding into a base. Not career threatening, just a pain in the…!

Reference links and photo credits

Reference link

Tommy John Surgery

Photo credits

Tommy John

Tommy John Surgery




Baseball, Curve Balls, Surgery, Tommy John, Training, Ucl

Meet the author

author avatar Chip Greene
I am a retired police officer, baseball enthusiast, political junkie, and published writer.
My articles will focus on crime, politics, and baseball.

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