COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- As John Smoltz delivered his Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech on Sunday afternoon, he took advantage of an opportunity to express his belief that year-round youth baseball programs have influenced the recent rise in young pitchers needing Tommy John surgery.
"I've been given an opportunity as the only player right now to be inducted to the Hall of Fame after undergoing Tommy John surgery," Smoltz said. "It's an epidemic. It's something that is affecting our game. It's something that I thought would cost me my career. But thanks to Dr. James Andrews and all those doctors before him, performing the surgery with such precision has caused it to be almost a false read, like a Band-Aid you put on your arm."
Smoltz will forever be thankful that he was able to pitch nine more seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2000, at 34 years old. But he is afraid that the increased success rate of this surgery at the professional level has led parents and youth baseball instructors to lose sight that it is a major surgical procedure with no guarantees during the recovery process, especially for teenagers, whose bodies are still developing.
Even if a pitcher is fortunate to not be among the growing number of teenagers undergoing the procedure, which replaces an elbow's torn ulnar collateral ligament, the wear and tear at a young age could be influencing the recent increase in Major Leaguers needing the surgery.
"I want to encourage the families and parents that are out there to understand this is not normal to have a surgery at 14 or 15 years old," Smoltz said. "[I want them to know] you have time and that baseball is not a year-round sport, that you have an opportunity to be athletic and play other sports."
Smoltz is among those who have recognized the pitfalls that have been created by travel ball and other practices in the baseball world that put arms at risk from year-round schedules.
"If nothing else, know that your children's passion and desire to play baseball is something that they can do without throwing a competitive pitch," Smoltz said. "Every throw a kid makes today is a competitive pitch. They don't go outside. They don't have fun. They don't throw enough. But they are competing too hard and too early and that is why we are having these problems. So please take care of those great future arms."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.