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Operation Becomes a Household Name

September 28, 2003|From Associated Press

Tommy John played 26 seasons, posted 288 victories, was a four-time All-Star and excelled in big games.

He later became a broadcaster for the New York Yankees and is currently a pitching coach in Montreal's system.

But throughout baseball, he's known for something else -- the first player to have the career-saving elbow operation that now carries his name.

"I knew he got the surgery and that the surgery was successful and everything, but I didn't know he was that good of a pitcher," Dodger closer Eric Gagne said.

Gagne learned firsthand what Tommy John surgery could do. He was a minor leaguer in 1997 when Dr. Frank Jobe performed the procedure, and has gone on to become a record-setting reliever.

The operation is often referred to as elbow ligament transplant surgery or reconstructive elbow surgery. There's been confusion over the years about the Tommy John label.

"It isn't trademarked," Jobe said. "A lot of people think it is. It isn't. I made the surgery available to everyone. I talk about it to doctors. I don't think you can trademark a surgery."

Jobe first tried it on Sept. 25, 1974, two months after John hurt his left elbow.

John was sidelined for the 1975 season and returned to the Dodgers' rotation the next year. He pitched until 1989, never missing a start with elbow problems and winning 164 games during that period.

Colorado outfielder Jay Payton had Tommy John surgery in 1995 and again in 1997. He went into the weekend hitting over .300 with power, and had his own idea about what to call the operation.

"I think they should rename it, since I had it twice, the Jay Payton surgery," he said.

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