Cast From First Tommy John Surgery Donated to Smithsonian
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tommy John tore his ligament while pitching in a game in July 1974. Such an injury at that time virtually guaranteed that a pitcher would never return to the mound; it was believed to be career ending. One month later, renowned sports orthopedic surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe performed surgery on John’s arm at Centinela Hospital in Los Angeles and he returned to pitch for another 13 years.
The cast John wore was signed by John, Jobe and many L.A. Dodgers players and will be donated to the Smithsonian June 3. It will become part of the entertainment and sports history collections at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Today, more than 500 Major League Baseball players have had the surgery and continue their careers. In John’s case, he returned to pitching about one-and-a-half years later and continued for another 13 years, winning 164 games of his 288 total wins after the surgery.
Ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) replacement surgery, commonly known as Tommy John surgery, is performed when the UCL on the inner side of the elbow is torn and can no longer stabilize the elbow. The reconstructive surgery done by Jobe involved removing a tendon from another part of the body and attaching it to the bone so it would act as a new ligament. The injury is common among pitchers because of the motion required to pitch and the number of times a player repeats that motion.
The surgery is done today for the same reasons it was first done in 1974: to stabilize the elbow, eliminate pain and restore stability and range of motion. Recovery takes nine months to a year and sometimes longer for professional athletes.
John played for several teams during his 26-year career, including the New York Yankees, California Angels and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He and his wife Cheryl will donate the cast to the National Museum of American History. There are currently no plans to display the cast.
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