Behind The Scenes

The Magazine: Berra on Strasburg, Tommy John surgery articles

It's been 18 months since Stephen Strasburg underwent Tommy John surgery.

How will Stephen Strasburg fare this spring after missing the bulk of the 2011 season recovering from Tommy John surgery?

Lindsay Berra

We’ll have to wait for the 2012 Major League Baseball season to unfold before the Washington Nationals star hurler can provide those answers.

But in the MLB Preview issue of ESPN The Magazine, on newsstands now, senior writer Lindsay Berra explores Tommy John surgery — a procedure that about 1 in 7 current pitchers has endured.

According to the article, in the past five years MLB pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery have missed more than 14,000 regular-season days. Teams have spent more than $193 million on those pitchers’ salaries during the often year-long recoveries.

Berra’s comprehensive story about the ruptures of the ulnar collateral ligaments of pitchers’ elbows, which Tommy John surgery addresses, also was published on ESPN.com. It ranks among the “most sent” stories on the site.

Her accompanying article comparing the pitching styles of Strasburg and former star hurler Greg Maddux also is engrossing.

Front Row asked Berra for background on the features and the reaction to them.

What inspired your interest in writing about Tommy John surgery: Was Stephen Strasburg’s recovery just one aspect?
I’ve heard so many stories about overzealous parents who push their kids to pitch all year long on too many teams, and there are a lot of arm injuries as a result. Last season, when so many big-name pitchers had Tommy John surgery — Adam Wainwright, Joba Chamberlain, then Strasburg — I thought, wow, no one in the big leagues seems to know any better than the guys coaching Little League. And that got the wheels turning.

ESPN The Magazine cover

How difficult was it to represent so many different takes on the subject?
It was extremely difficult. I interviewed dozens of pitchers, pitching coaches and biomechanists and they all have a different opinion about pitching mechanics. But after a while, common themes emerged and it all started to make sense in my head. Thanks to some very patient interviewees, I now understand the science of pitching pretty well.

What’s the response been like since publication?
Response has been great, especially among fans who see the foolishness of paying pitchers to sit on the disabled list, and with parents who have sons who pitch and just didn’t know anything about pitching mechanics. I’m hoping my story makes parents and Little League coaches more aware of how harmful poor mechanics can be, especially when combined with overuse.

How was Greg Maddux selected as the ideal comparison to Stephen Strasburg’s pitching motion?
Nearly every pitching coach I interviewed cited Maddux’s delivery as one of the most fundamentally sound in recent history. His kinematic sequence is in order, he is always in line with home plate, and his hips and shoulders fully rotate so his arm isn’t doing any extra work or bearing any extra stress. He did everything right and was very efficient, and his numbers prove it. In 23 big-league seasons, Maddux was only on the disabled list once, in 2002, for a back injury.

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