'Tommy John' Success Stories

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Elbow ligament-replacement (better known as "Tommy John") surgery is one of the most common procedures for pitchers, with some reportedly returning as better pitchers than they were before the operation. While not everyone recovers so easily or productively (just ask Francisco Liriano or Mark Wohlers), there are plenty of uplifting examples -- which should comfort Nationals rookie Jordan Zimmermann, whose season was ended by the surgery last week.

5.Mariano Rivera. The future Hall of Fame closer had the procedure as a 22-year-old prospect in 1992 -- possibly keeping him from being taken by the Marlins or Rockies in the MLB expansion draft that year -- and was in the majors less than three years later.

4.John Smoltz. After missing all of 2000 and part of 2001 following his surgery, Smoltz was reinvented as a closer, enjoying a three-year run as one of the best in the game. Then, after returning to the rotation, he posted three straight 14-win, sub-3.50 ERA seasons in his late 30s.

3.David Wells. He won 239 big league games following his procedure, believed to be an all-time post-TJ record. He had plenty of back and knee problems the rest of his career, but his elbow never gave him serious trouble again.

2.Eric Gagné. He had the surgery in 1997, and by 2003 he was putting together arguably the greatest season by a closer in history. Of course, it was suspected he had some additional, pharmaceutical help -- and he hasn't been the same since a second TJ surgery in 2005.

1.Tommy John. The man who started it all, he went under the knife of Frank Jobe on Sept. 25, 1974 -- for what was considered, at the time, a revolutionary procedure -- unsure if he'd ever pitch again. But he did, of course, returning in 1976 and winning 164 more games before hanging it up in 1989.

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