To be honest, I feel a little twinge in my elbow every time I type his name. Almost everyone knows this former Yankees’ pitcher for a surgery in the 1970’s, and with a year replete with torn UCLs, his name appears seemingly more than ever. Sadly, his playing career never gets it’s due.
Tommy John was similar to Mark Buehrle for those who don’t remember his playing days. That should not be too many people, as his career spanned for 26 years with six different teams. John never threw particularly hard, and was never confused with a Nolan Ryan or Tom Seaver-type player. He never struck out more than 138 batters in a season, in 269.1 innings in 1970 (he had 2,245 career K’s, a very solid total). But, Tommy John was no doubt a great workhorse, pitching in 4710.1 innings to 19,692 batters and at least 50,000 or so pitches, if warmup pitches count.
His longevity bloated his record to 288-231. 17 of his seasons were double-digit win years, and three of those years eclipsed the 20-win range. He was an All-Star four times over, with the Chicago White Sox in 1968, the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1978, and the Yanks in 1979 and 1980. John started 700 games, completing 162, allowing zero runs in 46. His career ERA is 3.34. He hit five career home runs, and pitched in three World Series. The accolades stretch on and on.
Of course, his name will forever be linked to scalpels and surgeons, but he had quite a masterful playing career, twelve years before the surgery and fourteen years after. John pitched in the Bronx from 1979-1982 and from 1986 until his retirement in 1989, racking up 91 wins in his eight seasons. A very happy 71st birthday to Tommy John, not only a great player, but a baseball hero.