The year was 1975 and Tommy John a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers was throwing a baseball over and over against a wall. This was a drill that was part of his rehabilitation treatment. Each day without variation he took five baseballs out and threw them one by one as hard as he could over and over again. Each day he felt discouraged as the velocity of his throws wasn’t improving. It was during 1974 the year before that John was having his best pitching season. Just before the all star break he was leading the league in wins with 13 against only 3 losses. His career had been resurrected since he joined the Dodgers in 1972. He started putting together winning seasons and 1974 was his best yet. Then when least expected as he was at an all time professional high, his pitching world suddenly seemed to come to an end. On July 17, 1974 John was pitching against the Montreal Expos. With two runners on and one out he hoped to throw his sinker in such a spot to get an inning ending double play. As he threw the pitch his arm went limp and the ball floated softly outside. Tommy could tell something was horribly wrong. He attempted another pitch with the same results and motioned for the manager to come out. “You better get someone else in here”, he said as he conveyed that he couldn’t go on.
Dr. Jobe, the teams physician advised Tommy to rest his arm and ice it down daily. This seemed to be the perfect remedy. Three or four times in the past Tommy had hurt his arm or shoulder and rest helped his body perform the healing. He was not in favor of an operation if he could avoid it. After a month of rest and his team thick in the pennant race they were anxious for John to return to the mound to give them the boost they needed. His arm felt so good that he attempted to throw batting practice. When he threw the first pitch his arms strength was noticeably missing as the ball bounced in front of the plate. The trainer taped his elbow for support and that improved his throwing but the velocity was way down and his ball movement was lost. He told his manager that he was done for the season and called Dr. Jobe. “I want you to operate on my arm”, he pleaded. It was a decision that Tommy had thought long and hard about. Knowing that rest was not helping it seemed like the only logical option available.
When Tommy woke up from his operation he noticed that not only was his left elbow bandaged but his right wrist was too. Dr. Jobe explained the unusual procedure he had administered. The tendon for his left elbow was so worn down that there was nothing left to work with. A replacement was needed and he came up with the procedure of using the tendon in Tommy’s right wrist. Dr. Jobe had transferred tendons before but not from wrists to elbows. This was an experimental operation that would help Tommy live an everyday life but it was unknown if his arm could ever throw a baseball the way he once did. The rehabilitation process would be a bunch of strengthening exercises that included the wall exercise. As Tommy was throwing against the wall every day he repeated a Bible verse that he loved over and over. Luke 1:37 “For with God nothing is impossible.” He stated how it was almost a symbolic thing he faced every day. The wall represented the physical wall he was trying to break through. The wall was physically in front of him symbolizing his obstacle, and yet he needed the wall there to get to where he wanted to go.
Tommy took all of the 1975 season to rehabilitate his arm. Working every day on strengthening his grip and his elbow with special exercises. Over and over throwing baseballs against the wall until he tired and couldn’t continue. It was hard but gradually strength came to his arm and elbow. Clinging to his faith that with God nothing is impossible, he gained strength with the slightest improvement. Throughout 1975 he kept the faith believing that truly nothing is impossible. Every little improvement made him work all the harder. When setbacks occurred he clung to his faith that the next time things would be better.
Amazingly in 1976 Tommy John pitched 207 innings! His comeback was hailed all around baseball as a miracle. During the next five years he won 20 or more games three times! His professional success had taken a turn much like a falling rocket suddenly finding it’s thrust and reversing it’s course and speeding upward! It was at this monumental time in his life that he was hit with a blow that literally brought him back to his knees. It was a day that Tommy John would remember for the rest of his life.
On August 13, 1981 Tommy received a phone call while in the bullpen. “Tell them I’ll call them later”, was his response. It was disclosed to him that it was his wife Sally and she said it was an emergency. Tommy learned that one of his three children the youngest named Travis had been seriously hurt. Playing by the window of their vacation home three stories up Travis age 2 had fallen out of the window and hit the bumper of a parked car. Sally hearing the news from one of the other siblings rushed to rescue Travis thinking that maybe he broke his arm, then realizing that it was a three story fall. Travis was rushed to the emergency room as he was unconscious and in dire straits. Tommy hurriedly dropped everything and rushed to get to his family.
Day after day Tommy sat in the hospital room with his son. Because of his baseball status people from all over the country sent him letters of encouragement. He did not go on the road with the team but took a break from the hospital room to pitch home games when his turn came around. Most of the time he sat there hoping for a miracle for his son. As the letters poured in he started reading them to his comatose son. It was like that wall was in front of him again. He had heard that his son could possibly hear him but couldn’t respond. Carefully he removed letters from their envelopes and read to Travis. This letter is from Mrs. Mary Fletcher of Dallas Texas he might have said. She has been a long time Dodger fan and is praying for Travis. Over and over he read letters sitting in that hospital room. He found comfort in knowing that people cared enough to reach out. It was unknown if Travis would make it. Three weeks after the original accident Tommy John’s miracle happened. Travis opened his eyes! Joyfully each day got better and one day it was time for Travis to go home! Miraculously he had no long term effects from his fall and has lived a normal healthy life since!
Tommy John pitched in the major leagues until he was 46 years old! Amazingly at an age when his peers had long since retired Tommy was able to keep getting major league hitters out. Today thousands of people have had the surgery that he had. In fact they have named the procedure “Tommy John Surgery.” People throughout the world know his name through this even if they don’t know who he was. His surgery is responsible for useless pitching arms becoming useful again!
Like Tommy John you may have a wall in front of you. Not all walls fall down so that we can walk through similar to the red sea parting. Sometimes the wall remains and we have to go over or through them. God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want them answered. He loves us and works everything for our good if we truly trust him. Just as Tommy John put his faith and pitching future in the hands of a doctor and an operation, God is operating on us too. He is equipping us with new strength as he transplants his loving spirit to fill our needs. The wall that Tommy John was throwing the baseball against was necessary. It was a way for him to gain strength. God allows walls in our lives to strengthen us too. When a wall is in front of you rejoice knowing that good will come out of it! Remember that nothing is impossible with God!