The 71-year-old lefty who underwent the first ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery with the palmaris longus tendon in 1974 has become synonymous with an operation that at least 18 major leaguers have had this year.
DAN PATRICK:What was Tommy John surgery called before it was Tommy John surgery?
TOMMY JOHN: It was never done before Tommy John. Tommy John was the Pilgrim coming over on the Mayflower.
DP:Did you trademark the name?
TJ: No. We looked into it. I don't know.... There was some legalese. If you can trademark three-peat, why couldn't you trademark Tommy John surgery?
DP:Did you know the surgery was going to work?
TJ: No, I just trusted Dr. [Frank] Jobe when he told me, "If you don't have it, you'll never play major league baseball again." I said, "What if I had the surgery?" He said, "If I would say 50-50, I'd be lying to you." I said, "O.K., if I don't have the surgery, I'll never pitch. If I do have it, I might."
DP:How old were you at the time?
TJ: Thirty-one. I had some accomplishments, but the one that I'm most proud of is that after surgery I did not miss a start. I don't think anybody can say that in this day and age. These guys will miss a start with a postnasal drip.
DP:Why do so many pitchers get the surgery now?
TJ: It's like a tonsillectomy. They aren't afraid of it anymore. The surgery has become so refined. High school sports have become year-round, and kids at a young age have to pick one sport.... Your kid goes in every Saturday and works on pitching. I tell parents this: If the best pitchers in the world don't pitch year-round, why should your kid?
DP:Do you feel bad for the second person to have it, Brent Strom?
TJ: Not at all.... It's like [Dodgers manager Tommy] Lasorda said, "Thank God it wasn't [infielder] Billy Grabarkewitz who had it first. Who would want to say that?"
DP:What was the difference between playing for Lasorda and Billy Martin?
TJ: Billy was not a nice person. I felt Billy was a bigot. He didn't like Reggie [Jackson].... But he was a good manager. [And] Tommy would get crazy with [game management] stuff, but he was the best motivator of people I have ever seen in my life. He made you want to come to the ballpark every day and play baseball. Billy, you would come to the ballpark and say, "Oh, God, what's going to happen today?"
DP:Would you consider donating your arm to the Hall of Fame?
TJ: No, I have the original cast, and we talked about donating that. My agent is talking to the Smithsonian.
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