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. Well over half of John's career wins came after his surgery.
John was an outstanding basketball player at Gerstmeyer High School in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he held the city single game scoring record. Choosing baseball when he realized he would not go on to play professional basketball, John signed with the Cleveland Indians and made his major league debut at twenty years-old in 1963. Following two partial seasons with the Indians, John showed occasional excellence during seven respectable years as a starting pitcher with the Chicago White Sox. However, it was a trade before the 1972 season to the Los Angeles Dodgers for mercurial slugger Dick Allen that began a skein of John's most famous years, first with the Dodgers and subsequently with the New York Yankees, where he posted a pair of 20-win seasons and was twice an All-Star. John was also named an All-Star in 1968 with the White Sox and 1978 with LA. He played in all three Yankees vs. Dodgers World Series of his era (1977, 1978 and 1981), having switched over to the Yankees by the time the Dodgers won the Series in 1981.
John was a soft throwing sinkerball pitcher whose technique resulted in batters hitting numerous ground balls and induced double plays. In the middle of an excellent 1974 season, 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 it seemed unlikely he would ever be able to pitch again, as he spent the entire 1975 season in recovery. John would work with teammate and major league pitcher Mike Marshall (who had a Ph.D. in kinesiology) and 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.
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, in his 15th and final year of eligibility for election into the Baseball Hall of Fame John received only 31.7% of the vote. He needed at least 75% in order to be elected. He could still enter the Hall if he were selected by the Veterans Committee. On the June 22, 2012 edition of The Dan Patrick Show, Patrick and longtime baseball commentator Bob Costas discussed the impact the Tommy John surgery has had on the game, "You could make a case for" John being awarded the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award.
John did commentary on select games during WPIX's final year of broadcasting Yankee baseball in 1998. In the June 24, 1985 edition of ABC's Monday Night Baseball, John served as color commentator alongside Tim McCarver for a game between the Chicago White Sox and Oakland Athletics. He also guest-hosted the Mike and MikeESPN Radio program on June 26, 2008. It is unknown if he will continue any similar work for the network in the future. On December 17, 2006, John was named manager of the Bridgeport Bluefish in the Atlantic League, an independent minor league in the Northeast. Tommy John resigned as manager of the Bridgeport Bluefish on July 8, 2009, to pursue a "non-baseball position" with Sportable Scoreboards. In two-and-a-half years of managing, he compiled a 159–176 won-lost record with Bridgeport.
In 2012, he was the spokesman for Tommy John's Go-Flex, a joint cream for older athletes and doing a national radio tour to promote this product as well as talk about life as a minor league coach, his years in the Major Leagues and to educate younger pitchers on the importance to take care of their arms. In 2013 the initial Tommy John Surgery, John's subsequent return to pitching success, and his relationship with orthopedic surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe, who developed the procedure, was the subject of an ESPN 30 for 30 Shorts documentary.
Tommy married the former Sally Simmons on July 13, 1970. They are parents of four children—Tamara, Tommy III, Travis, and Taylor. In 1981, when Travis was two years old, he fell 37 feet from a third-floor window in his family's New Jersey vacation house, bounced off the fender of a car and then lay in a coma for 17 days. He later made a full recovery. On March 9, 2010, Taylor John, age 28, died as the result of a seizure and heart failure because of an overdose of prescription drugs. As a 10-year-old in 1992, Taylor’s singing and acting talents had landed him a role in Les Misérables on Broadway. He made news by taking time off from the stage, however, to play baseball at Federal Little League in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. In 1998, Tamara John married Chicago Bears long snapper Patrick Mannelly. His oldest son, Tommy John III, was an All-Southern Conference designated hitter for the Furman University Paladins in 1999; he later spent two seasons in the independent minor leagues as a pitcher for the Tyler Roughnecks and Schaumburg Flyers. Tommy III was a 4-year letterman for the Paladins, leading the team in complete games a pitcher in 1997 (3 games), in home runs (9) in 1999 and is one of 3 Furman players in 113 years of varsity baseball to hit for the cycle, doing so on April 1st, 2000 vs the Appalachian State Mountaineers.