On this date 42 years ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired left-handed pitcher Tommy John, along with infielder Steve Huntz, from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for infielder Dick Allen. John was coming off a season in which he was 13-16 with a 3.61 ERA.
The left-hander did well in his time with the Dodgers but became famous for more than his actual pitching. In the 1974 season, in the midst of a 13-3 season, John damaged his ulnar collateral ligament and underwent surgery to repair it. Dr. Frank Jobe performed a procedure that replaced the UCL in his throwing arm with a tendon from his right forearm. He spent the rest of 1974 and all of 1975 trying to recover from the operation and continued to pitch. John came back in 1976 and started 31 games, finishing 10-10 with a 3.09 ERA and was named the 1976 Comeback Player of the Year. The season was deemed a huge success for the fact that he was able to come back and pitch effectively.
John spent two more seasons with the Dodgers and was a Cy Young candidate in those years. In 1977, John went 20-7 with a 2.78 ERA in 220.1 innings. He finished second in Cy Young voting that year and the following year John became an All-Star and went 17-10 with a 3.30 ERA in 213 innings. He would sign with the New York Yankees after the 1978 season and would spend 11 more years in the major leagues.
After the surgery, John went on to win 164 games in his career to end with 288 victories in 26 seasons. In his career, John was a four-time All-Star and was a three-time 20-game winner.
The left-hander had the surgical procedure named after him and Tommy John surgery has changed from a risky move to save a career to a normal operation with a rehab time of 6-12 months. John’s name will live on in baseball history.