It was no less than Tom Seaver—“Tom Terrific”—who went to extraordinary lengths to protect his right arm, which he astutely realized was nothing more than his livelihood.

Seaver, while traveling as a player, wouldn’t carry any of his luggage with his right appendage. In fact, he tried mightily to do nothing with his right arm other than hurl baseballs at 90+ mph toward enemy hitters.

Seaver was the prototypical power pitcher of the 1970s—strong leg kick, violent arm action. His right knee would often scrape the dirt of the mound as he delivered the baseball to home plate. Seaver got more strength from his legs than any pitcher I’ve ever seen.

But it was his exemplary right arm that earned him his living, and so Seaver treated it as the mythical goose who laid the golden eggs.

Seaver enjoyed a long, storied career. A sure-fire Hall of Famer, Seaver was. You could see it coming in the late-1960s, when he burst onto the scene, and throughout the ’70s Seaver was among the top two or three pitchers in baseball.

Seaver knew rightly that at any moment, it all could have come crashing down, no matter how much care he took of his right arm.

The pitcher’s arm wasn’t cobbled together by God to withstand the whiplash-like tension that throwing baseballs incur on it. There’s nothing natural about the pitcher’s throwing motion. If a pitcher’s arm could talk, it would need a seven-second delay.

The American worker is all too familiar with layoffs and downsizing. Most of the time, the worker has no control over whether he stays or he goes.

In a profession where control is everything, a pitcher ironically has none of it, either—in the truest sense.

Companies and corporations lay off workers. A pitcher’s arm decides such matters.

How many times have we seen it? One last, violent whipping of the arm, and something goes snap, crackle, or pop and that’s the last we ever see of that hurler on a big league mound.

Every pitcher is one throw away from the end of his career. Not trying to be dramatic—it’s the truth.

In Detroit, we may have seen the last of lefty Bobby Seay and right-hander Joel Zumaya. Maybe not, but maybe. Both of them have serious arm/shoulder issues. Seay is scheduled to have surgery soon that may knock him out for all of 2011—after missing all of 2010.

It could also knock him out, period.

Zumaya’s injury-pocked career has been frightfully documented. When last seen, Zumaya was rolling around on the grass at Target Field in Minneapolis, in tears due to a broken elbow—an elbow literally broken by throwing a pitch.

Dave Dravecky’s left arm just about snapped off as he delivered a pitch, leading to the arm eventually being amputated.

Amputated!

The young phenom Stephen Strasburg’s career hangs in the balance today, his golden right arm in disrepair.

Strasburg, the biggest thing to hit a pitcher’s mound in years, is 22 years old and will have to undergo Tommy John surgery. If all goes well, Strasburg has a shot of pitching sometime in 2012.

If it doesn’t…

People often ask: What did they call Tommy John surgery before Tommy John came along?

It’s a trick question.

Unlike Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which had a medical name prior to Gehrig’s diagnosis, Tommy John surgery had no name because Tommy John was the first professional athlete to undergo it.

The surgery works thusly: a ligament in the medial elbow is replaced with a tendon from elsewhere in the body (often from the forearm, hamstring, knee, or foot of the patient).

You can imagine how groundbreaking this was when Dr. Frank Jobe famously performed the operation on the Dodgers’ John in 1974. And you can imagine how amazing it was when John returned to form and was pitching again in the big leagues in 1976. Even more astounding was that John pitched until he was 46 years old.

So there’s certainly hope for Strasburg, and baseball, which needs a kid of his freakish ability on an MLB roster.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a professional pitcher and feeling a “twinge” in my elbow or shoulder, or anywhere on my arm for that matter.

I can see why Tom Seaver went to such great lengths to protect his golden egg-laying goose.

Still, it can all end so quickly, without any warning.

I don’t ever begrudge the big league pitcher his large salary. You could be out of the game in your 20s, just like that.

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