Glancing Back, and Remembering Tommy John
Tommy John revolutionized baseball in the mid-1970s, with an able assist from his surgeon, Dr. Frank Jobe. The introduction of Tommy John surgery, which replaced a damaged ligament in his elbow, effectively doubled his own career. John’s amazing recovery from that surgery – a recovery that resulted in 164 wins over the next 13 seasons – validated the surgical procedure that bears his name and has extended the pitching careers of dozens of major leaguers.
But Tommy John was also a heck of a pitcher before his famous surgery, as demonstrated by the fact that he had already accumulated 124 major league victories prior to his 1974 operation.
A two-sport star in high school, John was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1961 and made his debut with the Tribe at the close of the 1963 campaign. His rookie season in 1964 produced a 2-9 record with a 3.91 ERA.
With the Cleveland pitching staff already boasting the presence of proven young arms such as Sam McDowell, Luis Tiant and Sonny Siebert, John became expendable, especially in a trade that would bring Rocky Colavito back to Cleveland. So John was traded to the Chicago White Sox with Tommie Agee and John Romano. In Chicago, he earned an immediate place in the White Sox starting rotation, going 14-7 with a 3.09 ERA. He followed that with a 14-11 campaign in 1966, lowering his ERA to 2.62.
In 1967, John’s six shutouts were the highest total in the major leagues, but a low-scoring White Sox offense led to a 10-13 record on the season. The run drought in Chicago continued in 1968, when John went 10-5 on a 1.98 ERA. His 9-11 record in 1969 marked the first of three losing seasons with Chicago. In 1971 he was traded with Steve Huntz to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Dick Allen. In six seasons with the Dodgers, John had a record of 87-62, his best season with the Dodgers coming in 1977 when he went 20-7 with a 2.78 ERA.
John had back-to-back 20-win seasons for the New York Yankees in 1979 and 1980, and went on to pitch for another decade, making stops with the California Angels and Oakland A’s before closing out his career with the Yankees.
In 26 major league seasons, John won 288 games, seventh highest among left-handers in major league history.