The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link on the right side bar.
The Arm by Jeff Passan, a lead writer for Yahoo Sports, is a must read for baseball fans, those interested in learning about pitchers, the Tommy John injury and surgery, as well as youth baseball coaches and parents. He explains how a tiny ligament in the elbow, the UCL, can snap, sending Little Leaguers and Major Leaguers to undergo surgery. In traveling the world he was able to interview with Sandy Koufax, Japanese pitchers, and Tommy John, the All-Star pitcher who underwent the surgery forty years ago to save his career. But the true heart of the book resides in the interwoven stories of Daniel Hudson and Todd Coffey, Major Leaguers whom Passan follows through UCL surgery and rehab.
Passan explains how in 1974 Dr. Frank Jobe rebuilt the left elbow of John, the Dodgers pitcher, in a revolutionary surgery that continues to give pitchers a second chance. He essentially made John a new ligament by taking a tendon from the wrist, drilling holes into the elbow. Readers will learn that about a quarter of pitchers at any given time on major league rosters have had Tommy John surgery. But a more frightening statistic is that more than half of Tommy John surgeries now occur with teenagers. He writes about a youth baseball tournament, where star 10-year-olds have their arms taxed in the name of victory, and in Japan where overuse of young pitchers also seems to be a chronic practice.
He told blackfive.net the book is a warning “for parents and coaches out there who don't quite understand that the amount of pitching you do as a child could significantly damage you for years to come. We should be stressing how to throw the ball properly, know how to place it, and to learn the mental side of pitching. Growth plates in children’s elbows don’t close until they are 15/16 years old. When they do reach this age they can take on more wear and tear. Dr. Jobe said not to throw a curve ball until you can shave. Remember when Dr. Frank Jobe did the surgery it was on a thirty year old pitcher to save his career. I cannot imagine he thought it would become the domain of children instead of adults. It is frightening how many parents push their children. I hope there is enough people out there that can shame these other parents and coaches. A parent’s job is to be realistic. A Japanese study that came out after the book was published said that 43% of 9 to 12 year olds had damage to their UCL and of those more than 60% were pitchers.”
But to humanize the story Passan followed two pitchers, Todd Coffey and Daniel Hudson. He spent time with them and their families as they went through the surgery, rehab, and their attempts to pitch again in the Major Leagues. It's a very good insight into the parts of baseball most people don't see, the personal lives of the players and how they cope with various setbacks in the course of their careers.
He commented to blackfive.net, “Todd Coffey, while a relief pitcher for the Dodgers in 2012, had a recurring elbow injury and underwent his second Tommy John surgery. He threw with a velocity about 95 to 96 mph. In 2015 he tried to play for the Mexican League and is currently in the Atlantic League. Because he was a reliever and does not throw now at 95 it became difficult to latch on with a team. They are afraid he would get hurt again and they would then be stuck with the medical expenses. Plus, they think it makes sense to go with a guy who has been in their own organization.”
Regarding Daniel Hudson, “He had Tommy John surgery in 2012 and another surgery in 2013. He is still pitching for the Diamondbacks and so far is having a great year. If he stays healthy he is setting himself up for a big payday. He looks good and says his arm feels great. I think Daniel is an inspirational story. I hope with him and Coffey readers will see what it is really like, that it is not easy and not fun with a lot of trials and tribulations.”
The Arm is a must read for all fans of baseball and parents who have children playing the sport. In tackling a massive and complicated subject, Passan finds ways to educate and warn about the UCL injury.