Thevisiting¬†manager's office at Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium inNewark is an insult to visiting manager's offices everywhere. There is no door.A stray jockstrap lies on the floor. Ashlee Simpson blares on the speakersoverhead. Unfazed by his surroundings, the first-year Bridgeport Bluefishmanager fills out his lineup card and lets out a whew! Five games into theseason, he's relieved just to have remembered his players' names. "Nowcomes the hard part--their numbers," he says.
Such is life inthe Atlantic League, an eight-team independent outfit full of former majorleague players and coaches dreaming of one more shot at the bigs. Bridgeport'smanager isn't among them. He's already had his second chance--and made hisname.
Depending on yourage and sense of baseball history, Tommy John is either the lefty who in 26seasons won 288 games with six teams or shorthand for one of the best-knownsurgical procedures in sports. On Sept.¬†25, 1974, the 31-year-old Johnbecame the first person to undergo an ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction.In the procedure, developed by Dr.¬†Frank Jobe, a tendon in John's rightforearm was removed and used to replace the torn ligament in his left elbow.Jobe rated John's chances of resuming his career at "1 in 100," butafter rehabbing throughout '75, John went 90-45 with the Dodgers and theYankees over the next five years and made three All-Star teams. Moreremarkably, from his return in '76 until retirement in '89, John never missed ascheduled start due to arm problems.
After a string ofcoaching and broadcasting jobs,¬†John joined the Bluefish in December 2006.His legacy will always be a tug-of-war between the landmark surgery (hundredsof big leaguers, including Mariano Rivera and John Smoltz, have had it) and anear Hall of Fame career (excluding active players, he's the winningest pitcherwithout a plaque in Cooperstown). John says he's happy these days to be knownmore for his elbow than for his W's. Sporting an eight-inch scar on the insideof his left arm, he still throws batting practice before every game,painlessly. "He should," says his wife, Sally. "His arm is just 32years old."
John, 64, made 382 starts after his groundbreaking operation in1974.