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This Day In Sports…May 22, 1943:
The birthday of a major league pitcher who’d become better known for a medical procedure than his solid performances on the mound. Tommy John played for six teams over 26 seasons and won 288 games, the sixth-most among left-handers in big league history. John established himself as a solid big league starter in stints with the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox. In 1974, he was pitching for the L.A. Dodgers, his third team, and was in his 12th major league season. Then, in a July game against the Montreal Expos, John tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his left arm.
Such an injury had ended a lot of careers. But Dodgers team doctor Frank Jobe performed a revolutionary surgery, replacing the damaged ligament in his pitching arm with a tendon from his right forearm. It became known as “Tommy John surgery” and is now a common operation in multiple sports. John missed the 1975 season after undergoing the surgery, and there was no guarantee he’d ever return. But he was back with the Dodgers in 1976, and the following year he recorded his first 20-win season.
John became a free agent after the 1978 season and signed with the New York Yankees, and he reached the 20-win plateau again in 1979 and 1980. And on he went. John pitched for the California Angels from 1982-85 and had a brief stay with the Oakland A’s. He was back with the Yankees in 1986 and lasted all the way through 1989, when he became the oldest player in baseball at 46—and tied the big league record for most seasons pitched with 26 (since broken by Nolan Ryan).
In a podcast interview Friday with Damon Amendolara, the DA Show host asked John why he’s not in the Hall of Fame. In the modern era, John has the second-most wins of any non-Hall of Famer behind Roger Clemens. “A lot of guys think I didn’t throw hard enough, or I didn’t strike enough guys out,” said John. “But here’s the kicker: I had 188 no-decisions. That tells you right there. You get a quarter of those, and I’ve got 310 wins, or whatever.” The other kicker is John’s theory that an old opponent was bad-mouthing him to Cooperstown voters for years…and he joked that now he’d send his mafia pal to visit the guy if he was still alive. Tommy John…80 years old today.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)
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