Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend

SPORTS MEMORIES

Always confident Aaron McGarity forced to prepare for arduous recovery from elbow surgery

- BY JERRY LINDQUIST mbl749@comcast.net

Once again the memory man takes the easy way out with a bunch of short-term recall short takes. Hang on because he goes all over the place including more “readers write” designed to entertain, possibly mystify, with their logic. This is Volume 52: “I Only Fooled Myself.”

Aaron McGarity, meet Tommy John.

No, not the left-hander who pitched 26 years in the major leagues but will be instantly recognized only for the elbow reconstruc­tion that bears his name because he was the first to undergo it, that Tommy John.

McGarity, a 26-year-old Mills Godwin High and Virginia Tech alumnus, a relief pitcher with exceptiona­l promise in the New York Yankees’ system, underwent Tommy John surgery on April 28 in Englewood, N.J., across the Hudson River from NYC. Yankees’ team physician Dr. Christophe­r Ahmad did the surgery that has become almost routine; it has been performed literally thousands of times since John started it all Sept. 25, 1974.

Of course, this wasn’t what McGarity had in mind when, earlier this spring, he was preparing to resume his pro career, interrupte­d by the pandemic that put minor league baseball on hold in 2020. Maybe you remember the slender 6-3, 195 pounder from a piece on these pages March? Yeah, that A. McGarity, who rejected a $400,000 bonus offer from the Yankees in 2016 and wound up accepting $125,000 from them a year later. The same McGarity for whom lack of confidence never has been an issue.

“My mindset is … if I can stay healthy, I’m the most capable pitcher I know,” he said then. “I think I’m as gifted as anyone in the major leagues.”

His fastball topped out at 93 mph, complement­ed by a sharp slider and equally effective changeup. He had a standout summer in the wooden-bat Cape Cod league (2015), then did likewise in the Arizona fall league (2019). With no baseball last year, he worked at Goochland’s Sycamore Creek Golf Course.

When the minor leaguers were told to report April 1 for spring training, “and be ready to rock and roll,” McGarity was ready. “I threw a light mound work session then two bullpens then two games against hitters. My fastball was 93-to-94 [mph]. The coaching staff was very pleased with my progress,” McGarity said. “Then I had my third outing. I felt my forearm tighten up. I threw my last pitch, a slider … and it was like a rubber band unraveling … If you let go at one end, it snaps at the other. That’s what it felt like in my elbow. It didn’t feel pleasant. I tried to fool the hitter ... and I only fooled myself.”

(By the way, John, the pitcher, threw a sinking fastball to Montreal’s — and former Richmond Brave — Hal Breeden when his ulnar collateral ligament snapped, crackled and popped July 17, 1974. John described the sensation … “as if my body continued to go forward — and my left arm had just flown out to right field.” At that point in the season, he was 13-3 (2.59 ERA) in 22 starts for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Believe it or not, John actually tossed one more ball towards home plate before assuming his career was over.

But, after recommendi­ng ice treatments that didn’t work, Dodgers’ orthopedic surgeon

Dr. Frank Jobe put John under the knife and ad-libbed his way into medical history. Finding the UCL not repairable, he replaced it with a tendon taken from the patient’s right wrist. John missed the 1975 campaign then returned apparently stronger than before the injury. Now 77, he finally retired in 1989 with 288 wins, second most among those who haven’t been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.)

No wonder McGarity was sounding so chipper, all things considered. You could tell immediatel­y he already was wellversed about Tommy John or, to be medically correct, “UCL reconstruc­tion.” Listen.

“It runs along inside your elbow, and, if I wasn’t throwing, I wouldn’t need it,” McGarity explained long distance the day before surgery. “It’s otherwise useless. You can go your whole life without needing one … unless you’re in my business. Then, it’s very important.”

Who knows, maybe his elbow was ready to go. Previously, he had bone chips surgically removed and, later, had blood inserted for inflammati­on of the same body part. Dr. Jobe originally referred to UCL damage as “Over-use Syndrome,” but that is one of many reasons since welldocume­nted by orthopedis­ts including Dr. Ahmad, who was mentored by Dr. Jobe. On his website Dr. Ahmad is described as “one of the world’s preeminent Tommy John surgeons.”

In other words, McGarity was in good hands for the procedure that lasted exactly 41 minutes, whereas the original took four hours. “Usually they take a tendon from your wrist … but I’m among the 20% who don’t have one there … so he took one from my hamstring,” McGarity said.

“It’s usually a 12-to-14 months-before-you-can-returnto-play program. I started physical therapy Monday … and start throwing a baseball lightly in four or five months. From there it’s a slow, meticulous buildup.”

Before his arm went south, McGarity had reason to believe he would be sent to Somerset, N,Y., where the Yankees moved their Double-A affiliate in the same league with the Richmond Flying Squirrels. He remains, as always, optimistic.

“They’ve gotten so proficient with Tommy John … a high percentage of guys return as good as they were or, sometimes, even better. [See Mets’ two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom.] I’m not going to worry something will go wrong, That’s not me,” McGarity said.

“I have the same attitude I had during the COVID-19 break: There’s nothing you can do but put one foot ahead of the other and move forward.”

How low can you go? Better yet, how wrong (dumb?) can you be? I only wish I had caught the name of the national sports radio expert who, in a discussion about Title IX, said, “At least football doesn’t count because women don’t play football … and that’s only fair.”

Let’s see: It’s been almost a halfcentur­y since the federal law assuring women of equal treatment — among other things — in college sports was born. In putting it together, the framers assumed (big mistake) football would be excluded automatica­lly, so didn’t bother to put it in writing. Result: When it comes to balancing scholarshi­ps between men and women, football DOES COUNT — and has since all appeals failed roughly 40-plus years ago.

Jim Nantz didn’t get “Tony Romo Money,” which was his reported goal in negotiatio­ns for a contract extension with CBS. His NFL telecast partner gets $18 million — annually — which is obscene but neverthele­ss what the network paid to keep the former Dallas Cowboys quarterbac­k from signing with ESPN. Sorry about that, Jim. You’ll just have to settle for $11M a year.

Joe Buck, Fox network’s man for all seasons, will audition for permanent host of “Jeopardy!” as the popular syndicated answer-and-question show continues its quest to replace the late Alex Trebek. Buck is scheduled to take his two-week turn later this summer. Green Bay Packers’ QB Aaron Rodgers got good reviews for his appearance. What about Dan Patrick, former ESPN blabber, who was host of the short-lived “Sports Jeopardy” that was lost in the internet wilderness and seldom seen?

Readers Write I: From Ron Hudson, who among several things, wrote … “NBC is making a big mistake if NBCSN goes away 12/31. It beats ESPN like a drum. I have despised ESPN for years. I like hockey and English soccer. I have Peacock because I have Comcast. Still no ACC Network. Thank you, Comcast.”

Sorry, Ron … the news didn’t get any better last week for hockey lovers, either. Under the new seven-year, $4.9 billion deal with the NHL, NBC is out, ABC/ ESPN and TNT in. Naturally, it is all about the money, enabling the league to more than double its previous 10-season arrangemen­t with NBC.

As it has been since cable entered the broadcast field in the mid-to-late 1970s, the consumer will be asked to pay extra for it. Disney plans to use premium ESPN-plus to carry some hockey. HBO Max is expected to offer a subscripti­on service, too.

Meanwhile, NBC continues to use premium Peacock more and more for its coverage of the English Premier League. For now Comcast is giving Peacock free to subscriber­s. How much longer before that ends, too? Dec. 31, 2021, when the NBC Sports Network dies officially, seems reasonable, eh?

The EPL, a staple on NBCSN since 2013, continues to have serious problems with VAR, the replay system that originally was used only to determine whether the ball crossed the goal line in its entirety. That worked so well that arguably the world’s best soccer circuit began using it for assorted other things including offsides that proved so controvers­ial that we shouldn’t be surprised if VAR has much-welcomed limited use next season. For one thing, too many goals have been disallowed by offsides barely detectable in slo-motion.

A red card was issued the other day despite what the game commentato­rs and studio analysts agreed was a natural result of play. After a long VAR delay, the game referee took a quick replay peek himself and immediatel­y sent the offending player to the dressing room. “I couldn’t be more frustrated. It was a shocker,” said Robbie Mustoe. Added studio mate Tim Howard, “As bad a decision as I’ve seen in a long time.”

A shameless shout out to Jim Frye, who shot his age (81) at Sycamore Creek recently. Aside from him being a friend to all, Frye’s achievemen­t was even more heart warming because of his ongoing albeit winning battle with cancer. Neither radiation nor chemothera­py could keep the resident of Henrico County from his appointed round with destiny over the par-70 course.

His regular weekly crew includes Tom Buchanan who, not to be outdone, hit a two-bounce hole-in-one on the short par-3 No. 15 a week later. Try to ask him about his second-in-a-lifetime shot, and Buchanan defers to a big bass — that keeps getting bigger with the telling — he caught from one of the ponds next to the 18th tee box THE SAME DAY.

Readers Write II: It was guaranteed to happen, cracking back at yours truly for making light of the Yankees’ Bad Bombers routine so far this season in Volume 51 that detailed Tom “Red” Booker’s … ahh … problems as a Yankee farm hand in the 1960s.

“As a life-long Yankees fan, I like to read about local connection­s to my team, despite your opening hate speech about them,” e-mailed Carolyn Bunda. “While I’m not really bothered by talk of this kind, I do wonder if it’s a bit dated.”

Thanks to my local “Go Tide!” friends (I think) acquired during Alabama’s run to the national championsh­ip a season ago, my e-mail account has become regular home to “updates@tidemail.alabamaath­letics.com.” For the most part, it’s pretty much informatio­n about your favorite ‘Bama’ sport but it hasn’t all been a monument to the mundane.

Most recently, we learned from “BYRNE NOTICE, with athletics director Greg Byrne,” that they planned to honor Cameron Luke Ratliff, “better known to many of us as ‘Fluff.’ Those plans include creation of the Luke ‘Fluffopota­mus’ Ratliff Memorial Gift Fund, a plaid jacket for future Crimson Chaos presidents to wear at game and a plaque on the seat he used to sit in at Coleman Coliseum.”

GO FLUFFOPOTA­MUS!! Has a certain ring to it, eh?

So Virginia Tech raises $400 million to keep up with North Carolina. Then Carolina raises $500M to stay ahead of Tech, which means the Hokies must raise … you get the idea. Back in 1997 the Tar Heels were showing off the latest in football facilities’ excess to the touring ACC sportswrit­ers and sportscast­ers. “The Taj Mahal,” someone called it. “Probably cost more,” a cynic countered.

Mack Brown, in his first tour as coach in Chapel Hill (198897), was the driving force behind the Kenan Football Center. Since his return two seasons ago, there have been three renovation­s, the most recent to the tune of $5 million. You don’t think Brown will stop there, do you? As long as he keeps winning, the Rams Club will keep spending.

With athletes already moving en masse from one school to another, thereby negating whatever loyalty they might have had, eventually even the deepest of deep-pocket donors will wake up and figure there are better things to do with their big bucks. Better conference­s give it the old college try and attempt to set a limit on spending. Naive? Maybe so, but sooner is better than later when some members, unable to keep up, decide to bail.

Lovers of predetermi­ned sports entertainm­ent should have noticed the striking contrast between Wrestleman­ia Uno, available on Peacock since the WWE Channel took a threecount last month, and the latest extravagan­za (No. 37). The first, held at New York’s Madison Square Garden (March 31, 1985), featured a bunch of showbusine­ss sports celebritie­s and the old formula, routine presentati­on of matches.

Liberace was guest timer, the New York Yankees’ Billy Martin guest announcer. They both smiled a lot. Muhammad Ali, given “the very important job of outside-the-ring referee,” according to Gorilla Monsoon, didn’t smile … until chasing mainevent bad guys Roddy Piper, Paul Orndorff and Bob Orton.

Monsoon was co-anchor of the telecast with Jesse “The Body” Ventura, practicing to become governor of Minnesota (19992003) representi­ng the Reform Party. Pat Patterson was the inring referee. Of course, the good guys — Hulk Hogan, Jimmy Snuka and actor Mr. T — prevailed.

Terry Eugene Bollea (Hogan), 67; Lawrence Tureaud (Mr. T), 68; James George Janos (Ventura), 69; “Cowboy Bob” (Orton), 70; and “Mr. Wonderful” (Orndorff), 71, are still with us. The rest are long gone … well, other than Patterson who died Dec. 2, 2020 at age 79.

Until next time ...

 ?? DAVE KNACHEL/VIRGINIA TECH ?? Right-handed pitcher Aaron McGarity starred at Mills Godwin and Virginia Tech before being drafted by the Yankees in 2017. The 26-year-old minor leaguer had Tommy John surgery on April 28.
DAVE KNACHEL/VIRGINIA TECH Right-handed pitcher Aaron McGarity starred at Mills Godwin and Virginia Tech before being drafted by the Yankees in 2017. The 26-year-old minor leaguer had Tommy John surgery on April 28.

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