Saturday, July 29, 2006

Featured Player: Tommy John

Thomas Edward John Jr. (born May 22, 1943 in Terre Haute, Indiana) is a former left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball whose 288 career victories rank as the 5th highest total among lefthanders in major league history. He is also notable for the revolutionary surgery, now named for him, which was performed on a damaged ligament in his pitching arm.

Playing career
An outstanding basketball player at Gerstmeyer High School in Terre Haute, where he held the city single game scoring record, Tommy John was originally signed by the Cleveland Indians, getting his major league start in 1963. Of his 26-year major league career, he is best remembered for his seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1970s. He made appearances in the All-Star Game in 1968, 1978, 1979, and 1980. He played in all three Yankees vs. Dodgers World Series of his era (1977, 1978 and 1981), but was on the losing end of all three and never did win a championship.

In the middle of the 1974 season, John was cruising along with a 13-3 record as the Dodgers were en route to their first National League pennant in eight years, before he permanently damaged the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm, leading to a revolutionary surgical operation. This operation, now known as Tommy John surgery, replaced the ligament in the elbow of his pitching arm with a tendon from his right forearm. The surgery was performed by Dr. Frank Jobe on September 25, 1974, and although it seemed unlikely he would ever be able to pitch again, he spent the entire 1975 season in recovery and returned to the Dodgers in 1976. His 10-10 record that year was considered "miraculous" but John went on to pitch until 1989, winning 164 games after his surgery—one fewer game than all-time great Sandy Koufax won in his entire career. How many games John would have won had he been healthy in 1974 and 1975 is speculative but it is likely he easily would have surpassed 300. After Phil Niekro's retirement, John spent 1988 and 1989 as the oldest player in the major leagues. Today, many pitchers have Tommy John surgery during their careers.

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