Full Title: The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports
As a (relatively) casual fan of the game, and as an avid fantasy baseball player, the words “Tommy John” and “arm issues” were rather impersonal to me. They meant “look for another pitcher on the waiver wire” and “never draft this guy again.” I never thought about the player himself, the cause of his injury, the harsh reality that he faced, the probability of his full, healthy recovery, or anything else. Now that I’ve read Jeff Passan’s The Arm, I will never again see the game in the same impersonal, heartless light.
Passan’s masterpiece leans heavily on the narratives of two very likable protagonists – Daniel Hudson (Arizona Diamondbacks) and Todd Coffey (Cincinnati Reds among others). Both of these men faced long, hard roads to recovery. Both had unique circumstances that made their stories tragic beyond the injury. Both endured major setbacks that required second surgeries. Both worked extremely hard to make it back to the game they loved. Only one succeeded.
The book interweaves the progressions (and regressions) that these two men make with a wealth of information about the history of elbow injuries in baseball – all the wacky ways the injury has been treated in the past, all the attempts at innovation in the present, the doctors (and player) that made the current surgery successful and popular, and even what kind of injuries players halfway around the world (for them – but pretty much my backyard) are experiencing. It is interesting that Passan presents various theories on why elbow injuries have proliferated in recent decades, and then shows cases where that particular theory does not apply. Then when it comes to Japan, overwork seems to be his foregone conclusion. I’m not saying he’s wrong or that the Japanese way of training pitchers is medically sound. I suppose the angle he was taking was that Japan has mostly stuck to old traditions instead of exploring the new reality that more and more of its prodigies are facing the prospect of surgery before they even finish high school. It is great to hear that some parents and players are protecting themselves where coaches will not accept anything less than what the past generations have done.
Jeff Passan has come a long way as a sports journalist. Surely he still has his share of hecklers and naysayers trolling the comment sections of his articles on Yahoo! MLB pages, but his knowledge of the game has deepened to the point where I can trust his integrity as a journalist and writer. If he ever comes out with a sequel or even another unrelated baseball book, I will be sure to get a copy and glean as much from it as I can.