Thomas Edward John Jr. (born May 22, 1943) is a former pitcher in Major League Baseball whose 288 career victories rank as the seventh highest total among left-handers in major league history. He is also known for the revolutionary surgery, now named after him, which was performed on a damaged ligament in his pitching arm. John was a soft throwing sinkerball pitcher whose technique resulted in batters hitting numerous ground balls and induced double plays.
John had a 13-3 record as the Dodgers were en route to their first National League pennant in eight years, before he permanently damaged the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm, leading to a revolutionary surgical operation. This operation, now known as Tommy John surgery, replaced the ligament in the elbow of his pitching arm with a tendon from his right forearm. The surgery was performed by Dr. Frank Jobe on September 25, 1974, and although it seemed unlikely he would ever be able to pitch again, he spent the entire 1975 season in recovery. John would work with teammate and major league pitcher Mike Marshall who was said to know how to help pitchers recover from injuries and taught John a completely different way to pitch where he would not turn his leg and go straight to the plate which eliminated the chance of him hurting his knee and arm, and he returned to the Dodgers in 1976. His 10-10 record that year was considered “miraculous” but John went on to pitch until 1989, winning 164 games after his surgery—forty more than before and one fewer than all-time great Sandy Koufax won in his entire career. After Phil Niekro’s retirement, John spent 1988 and 1989 as the oldest player in the major leagues. In 1989, John matched Deacon McGuire’s record for most seasons played in a Major League Baseball career with 26 seasons played, later broken by Nolan Ryan. Today, many pitchers have Tommy John surgery during their careers. John decided it was time to retire in 1989, when Mark McGwire got two hits off him. McGwire’s father was John’s dentist. John said of his decision, “When your dentist’s kid starts hitting you, it’s time to retire!” In 2009, John failed to get enough votes to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his last year of eligibility with only 31.7% of the vote.