Tommy John is one of the better pitchers in MLB history who is not in the Hall of Fame. But he is far more well known for the surgery named after him and its effect on the game.
Statistically, Tommy John played 26 seasons, was a 4-time All-Star, who finished his career with 288 wins, 2,245 strikeouts, and a 3.34 earned run average.
He was having a great season in 1974 but damaged his ulnar collateral ligament. The injury didn’t recover on its own, and many thought his career was over. However, he allowed the Dodgers’ team doctor, Dr. Frank Jobe, to try a revolutionary surgery. A tendon from his right forearm was used to replace the ligament in his damaged elbow. Tommy John rehabbed and pitched pretty well in 1976 and had his best career season in 1977. That year, he went 20-7 with a 2.78 earned run average.
The real kicker is that he pitched until he was 46 years old, winning 164 of his career 288 career games after the surgery. Tommy John, Dr. Jobe’s technique, and John’s career performance altered the game’s history. The sport and hobby wouldn’t be the same. In 2012, one out of seven Major League pitchers had received the surgery at some point in their careers.
Here are a handful of players whose careers would have been cut short, or never started, and a few of their baseball cards, among the hundreds who have had Tommy John surgery.
Smoltz was the first pitcher to have Tommy John surgery to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He had the surgery in 2000 and rejoined the Braves in 2001. Smoltz is the only pitcher in baseball history with 200 wins and 150 saves (213 and 154 to be exact). Additionally, he struck out 3084 batters over his career.
Hudson has a career WAR of 57.9, finishing his career with 222 wins and a 3.49 earned run average. He had the surgery in 2008 and won 76 games after the surgery.
Carpenter had Tommy John surgery in 2007. He made an all-star game, won a world series after the surgery, finished his career with 144 wins, and had a 3.76 earned run average.
Wainwright missed the 2011 season due to the surgery. After the surgery, he made two all-star games. Ultimately, he finished his career with 167 wins and 1830 strikeouts. Again, with more wins after than before his surgery.
Jacob deGrom had UCL surgery as a minor leaguer and has won two Cy Young awards (2018, 2019) as a pro.
Strasburg was one of the games hottest prospects in 2010 but tore a ligament in his pitching elbow just a few months into his MLB career. He’s since gone on to win a world series and make 3 All-Star games. As of the end of the 2020 season, he has 112 wins, a career 3.19 earned run average, and he’s struck out 1697 batters.
The impact that Dr. Jobe’s technique and Tommy John’s tenacity to return to the game has influenced hundreds of professionals’ livelihoods. Cy Young awards and World Series have been decided because of it as players return to the game with pre-injury levels of performance.
Don’t forget to check out the index for a list of all my post-war articles.