Tommy John, one of baseball’s most durable pitchers, played twenty-six seasons in the majors. Twenty-six seasons! He started his career pitching to Mickey Mantle when Kennedy was president and finished his final season pitching to Mark McGuire with President H.W. Bush in the White House.
When asked how he accomplished such superhuman longevity, he answered with questions. He continually asked himself this set of questions to focus his mind on how he could improve where others weren’t:
Is there a chance?
Do I have a shot?
Is there something I can control?
Is there something I can do about it?
His commitment was to finding a yes, wherever he could. No matter how slight the chance, if it was aligned with where he wanted to go and there was that chance, he was going to take it and make good use of it – determined to give every ounce of effort and energy he had to make it happen.
In the middle of the 1974 season, he blew out his arm, permanently damaging the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. At that time in baseball and sports medicine, when a pitcher blew out his arm that was it. It was called a “dead arm” injury. Game over.
But Tommy wouldn’t accept that at face value. Was there anything that could give him a shot to get back on the mound? It turns out, doctors suggested an experimental surgery in which they would try to replace the ligament in his pitching elbow with a tendon in his other arm. The estimated chances of this procedure working were one in one hundred. Otherwise, no chance.