MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Tommy John surgery didn't foil Smoltz's Hall bid

Braves legend the first pitcher to enter Cooperstown after procedure

Tommy John surgery didn't foil Smoltz's Hall bid

John Smoltz pitched his way into the Hall of Fame, excelling as both a starter and a reliever.

But there is more.

The only pitcher to reach both the 200-win and 150-save plateaus, Smoltz was also the first pitcher who underwent Tommy John surgery to be elected to the Hall of Fame. He will share the stage with Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez for the July ceremony.

Paul Molitor, inducted in 2004 as a third baseman, is the only other Hall of Famer who underwent Tommy John surgery.

Smoltz, who had 213 wins and 154 saves in his career, was 32 at the time of his March 1, 2000, surgery, and returned to the Braves' active roster on May 17, 2001, making the conversion to a reliever. In his next four seasons, Smoltz compiled a 2.65 ERA to go with the 154 saves, including a National League-leading 55 in '02.

Smoltz returned to the rotation in 2005, and in the next three seasons he was 44-24 with a 3.22 ERA. He then finished his career by splitting the '08 season between the Braves and Red Sox before appearing in seven games for the Cardinals in '09, when he turned 42.

Smoltz also was the only player on the Braves' Major League roster for each of their 14 consecutive division titles, although he did spend the 2000 season on the disabled list while recovering from the Tommy John surgery.

Procedure ore common
There are 879 confirmed instances of a professional baseball player undergoing Tommy John surgery, according to the Hardball Times, including a record 93 in 2014.

All of that makes it interesting that, in an effort to spruce up offense and speed up games, one recommendation being considered is lowering the pitcher's mound from 10 inches to eight inches. There are veterans of the game, including Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, who feel that the growing number of elbow and shoulder problems in baseball are due, at least in part, to the fact that the mound was lowered from 15 inches to 10 inches for the 1969 season. The lower mound creates less of a slope, and their contention is that it does not allow a pitcher's lower body to absorb as much of the impact of throwing the ball, and as a result adds to the strain on elbows and shoulders.

Ryan pitches sixth career no-no

While the medical world tries to refine surgeries that will allow players to bounce back from injuries, it would be interesting to see if a change in playing conditions can reduce the initial injuries.

Ryan, by the way, pitched seven seasons after declining to have Tommy John surgery -- striking out 200 or more five times in those seven years and leading each league in strikeouts twice. He threw two of his record seven no-hitters, led the NL in ERA at 2.76 in 1987, and worked more than 200 innings in four of his final seven seasons.

Not a lot of success past 40
There have been 31 pitchers who have undergone Tommy John surgery at t 35 or older. Twenty-three of the 31 have returned to pitch, and three others underwent the surgery a year ago and are working on comebacks -- Rafael Betancourt with the Rockies, Bronson Arroyo with the D-backs and Peter Moylan, who signed a Minor League deal this offseason with the Astros.

Only three pitchers 40 or older have undergone the surgery, and it hasn't gone well. Jamie Moyer was 48 when he had the surgery on Dec. 1, 2010, and he made the Rockies' roster in 2012. However, he was released after going 2-5 with a 5.70 ERA in 10 starts, ending his career at 49.

John Franco was 41 at the time of his surgery on May 15, 2002. He pitched for three seasons after a year of recovery, but he was only 2-11 with a 4.63 ERA in 95 1/3 innings after his return. Jose Contreras was 40 when he had the surgery on June 20, 2012. He tried to come back the following May with the Pirates, but he appeared in only seven games, pitching five innings and allowing five runs

Did you know?

• 802 pitchers and 77 positions players are listed as having undergone the surgery, including 32 outfielders, 22 catchers, 11 shortstops, five first basemen, four third baseman, two second basemen and a utility infielder.

• 57 players are listed as having undergone the surgery twice.

• There are 685 players listed from the United States, and 483 of the players listed were signed out of college.

• Atlanta has had a Major League-leading 44 Tommy John surgeries, one more than the Dodgers and Rangers. At the other extreme, the Astros have had 20, one fewer than the Rockies and Giants.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.