Over a career that spanned three decades (1963-1989), pitcher Tommy John won a total of 288 games, pitched 162 complete games and struck out a total of 2,245 batters. And while his 288 wins places him 26th among all-time career wins leaders (7th among left handers), Tommy John is most well known for being the first baseball player to undergo ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction surgery - better known as Tommy John Surgery.
In 1974, in his 12th season in the majors, Tommy John was helping the Los Angeles Dodgers to an NL pennant with a 13-3 pitching record before he permanently injured the ulnar collateral ligament in his arm. Typically, this type of injury meant the end of a pitchers career - including the likes of Sandy Koufax.
However, Dodgers team doctor, Dr. Frank Jobe devised a solution to reconstruct the UCL by taking a tendon from John’s right arm and replacing the torn UCL in his pitching elbow. Given a 1 in 100 chance, the pioneering surgery was a success and allowed Tommy John to come back from his injury and pitch for 14 additional seasons after surgery - in fact, he won more games after the surgery (164 wins vs. his 124 wins prior).
While Dr. Jobe waited two years after Tommy John’s procedure before performing another surgery, so to ensure it’s lasting benefits, Tommy John surgery has become commonplace in the world of baseball. In fact, a 2013 study found that one-third of the 124 active pitchers in the league at the time had undergone Tommy John surgery at some point in their career.
Pitchers to have gone through Tommy John surgery include: A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Chris Carpenter, Joe Nathan, Brian Wilson, Billy Wagner, Stephen Strasburg, David Wells, Tim Hudson, John Smoltz, and Matt Harvey.
Tommy John surgery numbers among MLB players (1974-present):
Here is a complete look at the number of Tommy John surgeries each year in the MLB (and minors):
*Data source: Disabled List Data (as of May 14, 2014)