Maybe now the sportswriters who decide who deserves to be enshrined in baseball's Hall of Fame will give Tommy John his due.
The shameful injustice to John was highlighted by the death Thursday of Dr. Frank Jobe, the 88-year-old orthopedist who performed the elbow surgery that resurrected John's career and changed baseball forever.
As the New York Times obituary noted, Dr. Jobe's pioneering operation, which won him renown as the father of Tommy John surgery, "was a landmark in sports medicine that has been duplicated thousands of times and has saved the careers of numerous athletes, most of them pitchers."
John was pitching for the Dodgers in 1974 when he ruptured the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm. Shortly afterwards, Dr. Jobe replaced the damaged ligament with a tendon from his right forearm, and after sitting out the 1975 season, John won 10 games for the Dodgers in 1976 and was named National League Comeback Player of the Year.
He had won 124 games in the majors before his arm injury, and went on to win 164 more games before retiring l4 seasons later. That gave him a total of 288 wins -- along with 231 losses -- over a 26-year major league career with the Cleveland Indians and three other clubs, the last the New York Yankees, while posting a career earned run average of 3.34.
I have been conducting a so-far fruitless campaign to get John elected to the Hall of Fame because he deserves it and because he was my teammate in the Cleveland Indians' farm team in Charleston, W.Va., in 1962 -- Luis Tiant and Sonny Siebert were also teammates.
In a HuffPost piece in 2010, I pointed out that Robin Roberts, the Philadelphia Phillies pitcher who died that year, had just been elected to the Hall of Fame after winning 286 games (and losing 245) for the Phillies and three other clubs over 19 seasons while posting a career earned run average of 3.41, both statistics that are eclipsed by John.
In fact, John won more games than 39 of the 59 pitchers enshrined in Cooperstown, including such greats as Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Catfish Hunter, Fergie Jenkins, Juan Marichal, Jim Palmer, Jim Bunning and Don Drysdale. He appeared in more games than all but five of the Hall of Fame pitchers with 700 starts and 60 relief appearances, and won 164 games after his 1974 surgery, only one fewer than Koufax won in his entire career.
John was the oldest player in the major leagues when he retired in 1989 after his second stint with the Yankees. He said he decided it was time to hang up his spikes when Mark McGuire, the son of his dentist, got two hits off him. "When your dentist's kid starts hitting you, it's time to retire," he said.
John failed to get enough votes from the baseball writers for induction into the Hall of Fame on his 15th appearance on the ballot in 2009 with only 31.7 percent of the required 75 percent. It was his last year of eligibility, but he could still be selected by the Veterans Committee, composed of Hall of Fame members..
Apparently, the knock against John was that he fell short of the magic number of 300 wins and never played on a world championship team -- he was with the Dodgers when they lost to the Yankees in the 1977 and 1978 Series, and with the Yankees when they lost to the Dodgers in 1981. But he made four appearances in the All-Star Game and pitched 4,710 innings, and struck out 2,245 -- more than those of baseball immortals Grover Alexander, Dizzy Dean, Lefty Gomez and Hal Newhouser.
I emailed John after seeing a photo of him with Dr. Joba in the New York Times obituary and told him it reminded me of why he should be in the Hall of Fame. He emailed back, and told me he had been in Washington this week lobbying with a group of athletes and would have taken me to lunch had they not keep him so busy.
Anyway, as I wrote in 2010, if Tommy John doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame, I don't know who does.
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