Tommy John looks back on the surgery that bears his name

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SARASOTA - Former Major League pitcher Tommy John pitched more seasons in the majors than everyone but Nolan Ryan. Yet he is known to players young and old for another reason. ABC 7 talked to John about his long pitching career.

In 26 seasons, Tommy John won 288 games in the majors, mostly for the Dodgers and the Yankees. 164 of those wins came after 1974.

"Most proud of the 26 years and the 13 years of pitching with no lost starts," says John.

1974 is the year that pitching -- and arm surgery -- were revolutionized. That happened because Dr. Frank Jobe talked John into having a ground-breaking operation on his pitching elbow. “He said ‘you do not need the surgery and you'll be fine. But you'll never pitch Major League Baseball again’. In 13 years I pitched (after the surgery), I didn’t miss a start…so obviously whatever Dr. Jobe did was good."

Now, what used to be a career-ending injury, or surgery, can now be the beginning of a successful career. "You rehab your elbow, you get in better shape, you throw more…you do all the things that you should do. The surgery will only let you throw as hard as God intended you to throw."

1 in 9 Major League pitchers have the Tommy John surgery, and of the nearly 600 Tommy John procedures that acclaimed orthopedist Dr. James Andrews did over a recent 3-year period, nearly a quarter of them were high school or youth players.

"Major League players don’t pitch all the time, so why should kids 9, 10, 11, and 12 year olds do it?"

Tommy John surgery has prolonged thousands of careers, including Tommy John's, all because Dr. Jobe convinced John that his career was over without the surgery, but might not be if they took the chance. "He said ‘you probably won't pitch Major League Baseball again. I don't know, it’s never been done. Your chances are probably less than 5 in 100’."