There isn’t a former player whose name gets more mileage every year than Mr. Tommy John. The recipient of a radical surgery during his playing days, the procedure has since become a common remedy for the arms of ailing ballplayers. Given that John was the first player who underwent the procedure, the surgery now has his name.
Tommy made his debut as a 20 year-old with the 1963 Cleveland Indians. The southpaw struggled his first two seasons at the Major League level before enjoying a breakout campaign in 1965. That season, John went 14-7 with a 3.08 ERA. He had his breakout season after a mammoth three-team trade that sent him to the White Sox in which slugger Rocky Colavito was the centerpiece.
John had another 14 win season in 1966 while tying for the lead in shutouts in the American League. He achieved the same feat in 1967 when his six shutouts tied for the league lead. Tommy was beginning to establish himself as a fine young pitcher by the late 1960s. Then in 1968, he showed flashes of brilliance with a 1.98 ERA but he missed time with an injury.
Like many fine pitchers John was saddled to a rather poor team during his heyday. The White Sox finished in the cellar in 1970 but Tommy was in fine shape – tossing 269 innings and posting a 3.27 ERA. After the 1971 season Tommy was sent to the Dodgers for disgruntled slugger Richie Allen. In his second season in the senior circuit, John led the league with a .696 winning percentage. On fire in 1974, John carried a 13-3 record with a 2.59 ERA when his arm gave out.
With a career threatening injury, John looked as if he had thrown his last pitch but he agreed to be the guinea pig for a radical new surgery. Tommy went under the knife and missed the entire 1975 season to rehab. All eyes were on him in 1976 when he made his return from surgery and went 10-10 for the Dodgers while showing that his reconstructed arm could handle a 200 inning workload. In his second full season after the surgery John became a 20-game winner for the first time in his career. His fine pitching led the Dodgers to postseason play and Tommy looked sharp in his initial October outing, posting a 0.65 ERA in the NLCS and fanning 7 Yankees in six World Series innings.
John won 17 games for LA in 1978 and guided the Dodgers to another round of postseason action. Tommy tossed a complete game shutout in Game 2 of the NLCS. His Dodgers made a return trip to the World Series and suffered the same fate: losing to the Yankees. In the Fall Classic, John won Game 1 and collected a no decision in Game 4.
Witnessing Tommy throw in the last two World Series as an opponent, the Yankees went out and acquired his services for the 1979 season via free agency. In his first year in pinstripes, John won 21 games and then won another 22 games in 1980 when he led the league in shutouts. The Yankees went to the ALCS in 1980 and Tommy’s lead was blown by Hall of Famer Goose Gossage in Game 3. The Kansas City Royals would end up sweeping the Yankees that season.
The Yankees traded Tommy to California for young southpaw Dennis Rasmussen (a transaction that was opposite to most of the Yankees moves during the time) and he began to show the signs of age – reconstructed arm or not. After a couple ineffective years on the West Coast, John returned to the Yankees in 1986 and resurrected his career. At the age of 43, John posted a nifty 2.93 ERA for the Bronx Bombers. He finished second on the Yankees staff with 13 wins in 1987. After pitching the 1989 season at the age of 46, Tommy decided he was done and announced his retirement, more than a dozen years after the radical procedure that saved his career.
W 288/L 231/PCT .555/G 760/CG 162/IP 4,710/H 4,783/BB 1,259/SO 2,245/SHO 46/ERA 3.34