Not too many athletes get any sort of medical issue named after them. Let’s see, there is Lou Gehrig’s disease and oh yes, a seemingly daily surgery named after a pitcher who tried a major experimental surgery in an attempt to save his career. The first part of this player’s career was fairly normal for a good major league pitcher who strung together many good years until his ulnar collateral ligament gave out on his during what was looking to be his best major league season.
In an attempt to save his career, the experimental surgery went well and this pitcher came back to be a star for more than another decades in the major leagues and pitched for several more playoff teams before retiring at age 46 during the 1989 season. Yes, Tommy John’s career was broken into two distinct parts. To some people, John may be the best pitcher not in the Hall of Fame, forever joined with the likes of Jim Kaat and Luis Tiant among others.
Today, that surgery is done on about 30 percent of all pitchers at some point during their career and Tommy John is more famous now that he was when he was pitching because it pops up in the lexicon of baseball virtually every day.
This year, it seems more common than usual. The latest, of course, is Jose Fernandez. The words ‘Dr. James Andrews’ and ‘sore arm’ usually mean 18 months before your next pitch will be thrown in a major league game.
But way back in 1964, Tommy John was coming off his first major league experience and although he did not win a game the previous year, Topps did think enough to place him on a two-player rookie card along with Bob Chance. Who would know that John would still be pitching long enough to be featured in the 1989 Upper Deck debut set? His rookie card was just another card back then but will this card gain even more popularity if John takes the final stretch and is selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Even if not, he has already reserved a spot in baseball history.
You can own a very nice rookie card of TJ for around $30-40; much less if you’re not fussy about condition. If you’re building a collection of guys who were important to the game in one way or another without necessarily being in the Hall of Fame, he’s got to be on your list.
I forgot to ask if you had a good ‘mom threw away my baseball card story’. The Sports Collectors Daily Facebook page was home to a few after my post last week. When John Broggi, co-promoter of the National saw my post he mentioned when he co-hosted a hobby radio talk show back in the day, they used to give away prizes for the best sob story about your cards and dear old mom. No prizes but we’ll use the best story in an upcoming column.
Speaking of best story, a card collector who I have known for years mentioned to me via LinkedIn that Beckett does not have ‘Readers Write’ or ‘Letters to the Editor’ in their magazines any more. While the world has changed, feedback is always appreciated. Please keep them coming to the email address below.