In the next edition of our Pro Tips series, I sat down with former all-star pitcher Tommy John to discuss all things baseball.
Tommy John, known for the surgery that’s become his namesake, revealed just how slim the chances were that the surgery (Tommy John surgery) would work in the first place.
“The doctor explained that I would never pitch again unless I had the surgery,” said John. “There was only a one or two percent chance the surgery would work. I wanted to keep pitching so I decided to go for it.”
John overcame the surgery and became one of baseball’s most consistent pitchers. He offered advice for youth players recovering from injuries saying that they apart of the game and that players need to accept the circumstances and “allow nature to take it’s course.” John referenced how he spoke to Mets’ pitcher Matt Harvey after his Tommy John surgery. Harvey said that he was ahead of schedule, which left John to say there is no schedule. Every player is different and you can’t rush yourself through injuries.
John was a three-time 20-game winner (1977 with the Dodgers, 1979-1980 with the Yankees) and played 26 years in the Major Leagues. A 26-year veteran of any profession is bound to have some favorite moments. John spoke of two moments, the first of which being his Major League debut in September of 1963. He pitched one inning, giving up one unearned run in relief as a member of the Cleveland Indians. The second batter he faced in the big leagues was former Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer. Zimmer hit a single down the left field line against John that day.
The second moment John spoke of came more than ten years after his Major League debut.
“Pitching for the Dodgers in the clinching game of the 1977 NLCS was an amazing moment,” John said with a smile. “It was Tommy Lasorda’s first full year as manager and I pitched the best game of my career, beating Steve Carlton.”
John also revealed one of the stranger moments of his career, which happened in 1988 while with the Yankees. The Yankees had a rule where players couldn’t golf on road trips. John loved playing golf and would put his golf clubs in a cardboard box marked “fishing poles.” One day , Yankees manager Billy Martin confronted John upon discovering his ruse.
“I asked Billy what was worse, going out drinking every night and coming to work drunk or playing a few rounds of golf and getting lunch before the game,” laughed John. Martin didn’t have an answer for John and the issue never escalated beyond that moment.
John also offered a view into his pitching style. He, like most pitchers, pitched differently depending on the batter.
“I would pitch right handed hitters away and force them to hit the other way,” John stated. “I would try to throw left handed batters low pitches they had to reach for.”
John also said he pitched depending on the ballpark, saying he wouldn’t throw right handed batters outside pitches at Fenway Park because of the short distance to the Green Monster in left field. There were also two batters John said he had fits with, batters fans wouldn’t immediately think of giving pitchers fits.
“Ned Yost was something like 12-14 lifetime against me. I don’t even remember his hits against me. I just know they happened,” said John. “Ken Griffey Sr. also hit well against me, something around .450 or .460. Many people don’t realize that Griffey Sr. was the table setter to the Reds’ championship teams of the 1970′s. He could hit the ball to left, right, play defense. He did everything!”
Tommy John did everything too, retiring with 288 wins and a lifetime 3.34 ERA in 4710.1 innings. He was an amazing pitcher and deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Long Island Baseball Magazine thanks Mr. John for his time and effort. To learn more about Tommy John, check out his website at http://www.tommyjohn25.com/