When you’re a baseball fan, you hear the words Tommy John surgery thrown around a lot. In some ways, you know how major it is. You know about the sometimes years long recovery time and how the success or failure of it quite literally means the world to a pitcher. You’ve seen how some guys are never the same when they come back while others return better than ever. But rarely do you see one described in this kind of detail. It’s completely riveting and full of insight on how difficult an operation it can be, but seriously, don’t read it while you’re eating. Just don’t.
He didn’t want a piece of the dead guy holding his elbow together. That’s all he asked.
Todd Coffey had resigned himself to spending the next year learning how to throw a baseball again. He had accepted the mind-numbing rehabilitation process after tearing his ulnar collateral ligament, the two-inch elastic band that had prevented the upper and lower bones of his right arm from flying apart when he pitched. He simply couldn’t stomach the new ligament coming from someplace other than his own body. “I think about it as a used car that has 40,000 miles on it,” Coffey said. “You don’t know what the previous 40,000 miles were like. I don’t know what it’s been through.”
He had spent his entire adulthood in baseball. Got married, had kids, fought his way to the major leagues, made his first million and a few more, played the hero and the goat. Now his elbow had popped, and it was fix it or be done. He was used to binary outcomes after spending nearly half his life as a relief pitcher. Ball or strike. Win or loss. Save the game or blow it. He knew nothing else. He didn’t want to know anything else. And here he was, at 31, with that career, that life, at risk, and the doctor wanted to reconstruct his elbow with a dead man’s tissue because Coffey’s own body didn’t have any to spare.