By Pete Dougherty
Had the timing been different, pitchers today would be undergoing Sandy Koufax surgery. Same procedure, different name.
Instead, the reconstruction of the ulnar collateral ligament — replacing it with a tendon graft from the opposite wrist — is known as Tommy John surgery and is as common in baseball these days as hamstring pulls.
Koufax, a Hall of Fame left-hander for the Los Angeles Dodgers, retired in 1966 at age 30 with what was thought to be arthritis. It wasn’t until 1974 that John, at the time an above-average 31-year-old left-hander, agreed to have Dr. Frank Jobe perform the unprecedented operation.
“Dr. Jobe is a very astute, well-known orthopedic surgeon, but he’s probably one of the most humble people you’ve ever met in your life,” said John, who was in town Thursday as the celebrity guest for a Center for Disability Services fundraiser. “He said, ‘As I look back on it now, Sandy Koufax needed Tommy John surgery, but I didn’t know enough about the body and the physiology of the body to know what he needed. We just assumed it was arthritis.’ ”
John, 124-106 before the surgery, was 164-125 in 14 seasons following the procedure, pitching until he was 46.