From Little Leaguers to professional baseball players, there’s hope after injuring an elbow. Increasingly and at a younger age, ball players are turning to a surgical procedure first performed in 1974. What physicians refer to as ulnar collateral ligament—or UCL—reconstruction is better known as Tommy John surgery. The namesake of the career-saving procedure is an Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer. Born in Terre Haute in 1943, Thomas Edward John, Jr. rose to local fame as a star basketball player, capturing the city’s record for most points scored in a single game.
Graduating from Gerstmeyer High School as class valedictorian, John turned down a basketball scholarship to pursue baseball. Playing first for the Cleveland Indians, and subsequently for the Chicago White Sox, the LA Dodgers, and the New York Yankees, the 6-foot-3 Hoosier put in more than 26 seasons in the major leagues. Having enjoyed 288 career victories, he is ranked 6 th most winning left-handed ball player in major league history. He is best known, however, for the innovative surgery that he underwent after rupturing a ligament in his left elbow pitching against the Montreal Expos in 1974. Dr. Frank Jobe performed the maverick technique of replacing the ruined ligament with a tendon from John’s right forearm. Sitting out the 1975 season to heal, John exceeded the wildest expectations for his recovery by returning to the Dodgers in 1976 for a 10-10 season. John logged 164 career wins after surgery, retiring in 1989.
These days, Tommy John is Field Manager for the Bridgeport Bluefish Professional Baseball club, a Connecticut minor league team. Recent figures suggest that one out of every nine pitchers in the major leagues has undergone Tommy John surgery, many of whom report improved throws after full recovery.
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