The doctors call it a UCLR (ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction). Baseball players and fans call it Tommy John surgery—named after the pitcher who was the first to have the surgery in 1974. Fans of the Cardinals call it the surgery that saved former left-handed reliever Ken Dayley’s career, and also gave him spotlight from the way he recovered from it. Dayley recovered in an astonishing seven months where most pitchers take up to 14 months recovering from the operation. 

Ken Dayley was a left-handed reliever who used a snappy curve and fastball to become the Cardinals’ top left-handed reliever during his tenure with the team. He recovered from Tommy John surgery in 1986 to win a personal-best nine games in ’87.

In 1989, he set career highs with 71 appearances and 12 saves. He was particularly effective in the postseason, tossing 10 scoreless innings in two League Championship Series and allowing just one run in 10 2/3 World Series innings, including a relief win in Game 2 of the 1985 Fall Classic.

In short, Dayley was key cog in the Cardinals’ bullpen during his stint with the team.

Dayley is also the only known player to recover so quickly from the operation, but he shares the secret to his success in this article. 

As Dayley puts it in a New York Times article from 1989, “Dr. Frank Jobe told me to do what my arm would allow me to do, and I was proceeding at that pace (in reference to a 12-month recovery).

“But then on Dec. 19, 1986, the Cardinals told me they weren’t going to offer me a contract. Probably out of personal pride, which I shouldn’t have let get in the way, I said I’m going to do what I have to do.

“Without a contract, I was free to do what I wanted to do. I had been playing racquetball right-handed and I started playing left-handed. I started throwing before I was supposed to. If I was going to get a contract from somebody, I had to show I could pitch again.”

Former Cardinals reliever Rick Horton stated in a recent Cardinals telecast, “He was incredible. He came back in seven months and threw harder with more control, which is almost unheard of after seven months. Usually pitchers take close to two years to regain solid control of their pitches, but Dayley had better break and control after a short time, which is almost unheard of.”

Dayley’s speedy recovery has provoked major league ball players to question if they can return in such a short time, but doctors have advised not to rush the process. 

Rick Horton added, “The doctors made him sound as if he were a medical miracle.”

It would be something to marvel at if players such as Chris Carpenter, Billy Wagner, A.J. Burnett, Brian Wilson, and others to had comeback from their injuries in such a short time like Daly, but due to their situations they did not.

Perhaps Dayley is the medical miracle that he was made out to be, and he is an interesting story to revisit during a new era of products of the Tommy John surgery.

Maybe in the future a player will recover quickly like Dayley out of the same necessity, but until then, Ken Dayley is still the only Tommy John-produced medical miracle.  

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