Few franchises get to have an icon of the magnitude of Dodgers pitching legend Sandy Koufax walk around their facilities during Spring Training. Whether it’s dispersing knowledge to young prospects, providing insight to Dodgers management or just entertaining fans with stories from his era, his presence is a delight to have around the team.
In an interview with Jon Weisman of Dodger Insider, the 79-year-old Koufax spoke about the arthritic condition that cut his career short after the 1966 season, and how the now-routine Tommy John surgery could’ve helped him continue pitching:
They just wouldn’t operate on an arthritic elbow in those days. It would be a simple surgery. I had arthritic hooks that would be scratching, and my elbow would blow up, fill up with fluid. Then they’d drain it, send you back out there. Surgery would have been easy, they would have done it when the season was over and be fine in Spring Training.”
Koufax also opined on why he believes today’s pitchers have so many surgeries:
I have a lot of theories (on the epidemic of surgeries),” said Koufax. “Mechanics. I think a lot of people don’t use the lower half of their body as much as people used to. They’re much more straight up and down. Plus, people are doing it prophylactically — before they have a bad elbow, they’re doing Tommy John.”
At just 30 years old, Koufax was essentially forced to retire following the 1966 season, after the Dodgers were swept in the World Series by the Baltimore Orioles. In that season, Koufax, who is considered by many the greatest left-hander in the history of baseball, posted extraordinary numbers while pitching through pain.
Koufax threw 323 innings, went 27-9 and posted a 1.73 ERA that year. While he ranks among the game’s greatest pitchers and had a successful career, it’s not difficult to imagine how much more he could’ve achieved had Tommy John surgeries been commonplace during his playing days.
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