If Major League Baseball owners and players can iron out their differences, spring training could resume as early as next month amid the coronavirus pandemic.
And when the game does return, ballplayers will have their work cut out for them. So says Dr. Chris Ahmad, the New York Yankees’ team physician.
“The freshman 15 pounds, it’s now the COVID 15 pounds,” said Ahmad to the Boston Globe. “There’s something about being socially isolated that makes it harder to stay in shape, be in shape, and prepare.”
This isn’t Ahmad’s first warning about looming health concerns for MLB, which halted spring training and postponed Opening Day almost 11 weeks ago.
Earlier this month, Dr. Ahmad wrote on Medium.com that he often sees a spike in Tommy John injuries in the spring as players return to the mound after having months off citing “the sudden start of play, rapid competition intensity, lack of early season physical conditioning, lower preparation coming from offseason, not yet fully optimized throwing mechanics, and playing with elbow pain.”
The coronavirus pandemic may greatly compound and exaggerate the risk factors associated with the spring Tommy John surgery spike. The enthusiasm to get back to baseball right now is simply enormous. Players and their families have been understandably craving baseball for months at this point and are growing impatient. In addition, athletes are pressured to showcase their talent for a starting position or to provoke interest from college or professional scouts. That translates to maximum effort throwing. But the current conditioning of players is likely suboptimal as they have not been able to work out in a standard & diligent fashion during the lockdown. In addition, some players are still working on optimizing their throwing mechanics and were unable to correct flaws often observed in early spring. ... Even worse, some players will be returning from a prior elbow injury and will be vulnerable to re-injury. The compounding nature of COVID on all the springtime related risks above may well be enough to predict a spike in UCL injury and Tommy John surgery when baseball resumes.
The ethics of Tommy John surgery during the pandemic took center stage in March when New York Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard and Boston Red Sox left-hander Chris Sale went under the knife to repair their UCLs at a time when the coronavirus was crushing first responders on the front lines. Ahmad is begging pitchers to take it slow so more players don’t need surgery:
“Going fast with a return to baseball is like tail-gaiting the car in front of you at high speed. ... The coronavirus pandemic may very well indirectly cause a spike in Tommy John surgery because of intense enthusiasm, lack of ideal conditioning, poor mechanics, faster than usual ramp up, and avoidance of symptom communication. Everyone who is involved in baseball and is willing to recognize this threat can improve these modifiable risks and help their players avoid Tommy John surgery.”