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As Tommy John surgery turns 50, procedure has many success stories. The Rockies are hoping to add a few more to that list.

Patrick Saunders, The Denver Post on

Published in Baseball

German Marquez flexed his right arm as he pointed to the small zipper scar near his elbow.

“I have a brand new arm,” Marquez said. “I’m ready for 10 more years.”

It’s all systems go for the Rockies’ 2021 All-Star pitcher who underwent Tommy John surgery last May. What seemed like a crushing blow for Marquez at the time now looks like a bump in the road. At least, that’s how Marquez sees it.

He’s on track to return to the rotation after the All-Star break and has begun throwing bullpen sessions during spring training, although he’s currently limited to a fastball-only program.

Who knows? Might Marquez, who turned 29 on Feb. 22, still be pitching as he nears 40?

“My arm has never felt this good,” Marquez said with a smile. “My elbow feels good and my shoulder is stronger from all the rehab work.”

 

Such is the miracle of modern sports medicine and Tommy John surgery, which made its debut 50 years ago. According to a study by the Cleveland Clinic, professional baseball players have a return-to-play rate of 80% to 95%, depending on age, the level they pitch and their rehabilitation regimen.

“Some guys come back even stronger because of all of the work they have done during their rehab,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “That’s the thing that I have noticed over the last three or four decades.”

Dr. Frank Jobe, who saved the career of Dodgers pitcher Tommy John, certainly never envisioned the success rate that first elbow surgery would eventually lead to. In that landmark procedure in September 1974, Jobe took a tendon from John’s wrist, drilled holes into John’s ulna and humerus bones and grafted the tendon in a basic figure-eight design, held in place by anchors. Jobe famously gave the procedure about a 1 in 100 chance of working at the time.

But before baseball gets too ho-hum about the magical elbow fix, it should be remembered that there are still major downsides to blowing out an elbow. First of all, a full recovery usually takes about 18 months. That’s a major chunk of time for any professional pitcher, but especially young pitchers who can see their careers derailed by an elbow injury and never get back on track.

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