Tommy John belongs in the Hall of Fame; his name is synonymous with comebacks

27 08 2010

You simply can’t make a compelling argument, or even a reasonable one, that Tommy John doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame.

Here’s the bottom-line: He has a career-saving surgery named after him. Before Tommy John, a torn ulnar collateral ligament meant the end of a pitcher’s career. Period. When he had the surgery, he was given a 1 in 100 chance of success. But he went on to win another 14 seasons, including his best seasons. And his name came up again today because Washington Nationals rookie sensation Stephen Strasburg will have to undergo Tommy John surgery.

This is seen as a setback, but not a career-ender because of Tommy John. He was having a great year for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1974, 13-3 with a 2.59 ERA and three shutouts in only 22 games when the torn ligament ended his season and threatened his career. But by 1976, John was back and better than ever. Before the injury, he was a good but not great pitcher, leading the National League in winning percentage in 1973 and ’74 and leading the American League in shutouts in 1966 and ’67, but never winning more than 16 games.

After the surgery, John won 20 games once for the Dodgers and twice for the Yankees, each time with a winning percentage of .700 or higher. Damn few Hall of Fame pitchers can boast of three seasons with 20 or more wins and fewer than 10 losses. He won 288 games, falling just short of the 300-win plateau that resulted in automatic selection for some lesser pitchers. He has the most wins of any pitcher who didn’t reach 300 (and thus, every eligible pitcher with more wins is in the Hall of Fame). Twelve wins short, a number John easily would have reached if he had pitched in 1975.

Here’s a quick comparison between Tommy John and Don Sutton, contemporaries whose long careers overlapped nearly exactly. John pitched from 1963 to 1989, Sutton from 1966 to 1988. Both pitched in both leagues. They were Dodger teammates for six years, not counting the year John spent recovering from surgery. John was clearly better in 1977 and ’78. Sutton was clearly better in 1972. They were pretty close in 1973 (Sutton 18-10, John 16-7, leading the league in ERA). Both had great years in 1974 (John’s year abbreviated by the injury). Sutton also was better in 1976, John’s first year back from injury. Sutton had more pretty good seasons (13 wins or more, with a winning record): 15 to 9. But all three of John’s 20-win seasons were better than Sutton’s only one. Neither was the dominant pitcher of the ERA, but John was more often one of the best: second in Cy Young voting twice; while Sutton’s best finish was third. John led the league in shutouts three times, Sutton once. John led the league in winning percentage twice, Sutton once in ERA. John was a little better in the post-season, 6-3 with a 2.65 ERA to 6-4, 3.68, and a lot better in the World Series, 2-1, 2.67, to 2-3, 5.26. Their ERAs and career winning percentages are nearly identical, though Sutton had a lot more strikeouts. If Sutton had ended up at 288 wins instead of 324, no one would suggest he was a better pitcher than John.

Since John inspired baseball players and fans with his comeback, some 180 baseball pitchers have undergone the surgery, including Cy Young winners (after the surgery) John Smoltz and Cris Carpenter.

I saw his last major league win, pitching for the Yankees in 1989 in Royals Stadium. He looked good that night, but ended the season 2-7 and finally retired. It’s ridiculous that he’s not in the Hall of Fame. I haven’t seen Strasburg pitch yet, my one regret of this very busy summer in Washington. Maybe next year. Thanks to Tommy John surgery.



24 responses

5 01 2011
Bert Blyleven belongs in the Hall of Fame, but not before Ron Guidry « Hated Yankees

[…] from 1977 to 1985, only Carlton was Guidry’s equal. Dennis Leonard and Tommy John (who also belongs in the Hall of Fame ahead of Blyleven) also had three 20-win seasons, but still don’t match Guidry’s performance during that […]


5 02 2011
Andy Pettitte: a borderline Hall of Fame candidate (so he won’t get in) « Hated Yankees

[…] Yankee, and Hall of Fame voters consistently vote against borderline Yankees (see Graig Nettles and Tommy John). And he used performance-enhancing drugs. We don’t have much history of how the drug scandals of […]


19 10 2011
Jorge Posada has been better than most Hall of Fame catchers « Hated Yankees

[…] to Cooperstown have stronger cases than Posada: Roger Maris, Don Mattingly, Ron Guidry, and Tommy John. Graig Nettles has a similar case (Allie Reynolds, too, though I haven’t written about him […]


10 06 2012
My companion brings a dark cloud to Yankee games | 2 Roads Diverged

[…] Stadium in our Kansas City days (they weren’t yet calling it Kauffman Stadium then). I saw Tommy John‘s last major-league win. I saw the Yankees win a playoff game in Royals Stadium in 1977 […]


29 10 2012
Don Mattingly outperformed most Hall of Famers of his era « Hated Yankees

[…] there. World championships and post-season heroics have not helped Munson, Ron Guidry, Roger Maris, Tommy John or Graig Nettles into the Hall of Fame. Because of the anti-Yankee bias, championships matter less […]


11 12 2012
I cross the streams, discussing Hated Yankees and journalism « Hated Yankees

[…] they are interested in reading about Mattingly (or Roger Maris or Ron Guidry or Thurman Munson or Tommy John or …). Ten of my 12 blog posts that have been viewed more often than that Mattingly post have […]


26 07 2013
Tommy John belongs in the Hall of Fame as a member, not a special guest with his surgeon | Hated Yankees

[…] certainly Jobe deserves to be honored by the Hall of Fame. But, as I’ve noted here before, Tommy John deserves to be a full-fledged Hall of Famer based on his pitching career but especially based on his role as the trailblazer who showed about […]


22 10 2014
Decades of Royals (Kauffman) Stadium memories | Hated Yankees

[…] saw Tommy John‘s last major league win against the Royals on April 27, 1989. He was 46 and held the Royals […]


24 01 2015
Remembering Ernie Banks and why he’s in the Hall of Fame | Hated Yankees

[…] play, Bernie soars past Billy). Jenkins had a comparable career to Tommy John, except for that surgery thing that made John far more famous than […]


24 07 2015
Tommy John paved the way to Cooperstown for John Smoltz | Hated Yankees

[…] I noted in another earlier post, if your name means comeback for dozens of pitchers who have suffered injuries that formerly would have ended their […]


22 09 2015
Yankee starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame: Ford, Gomez, Ruffing, Pennock, Hoyt, Chesbro | Hated Yankees

[…] be outraged if Pennock hadn’t made the Hall of Fame. Among retired Yankee pitchers, Tommy John, Ron Guidry and Allie Reynolds certainly have stronger cases to be in Cooperstown, maybe Andy […]


25 09 2015
Catfish Hunter and other Yankee pitchers who made the Hall of Fame primarily for other teams | Hated Yankees

[…] Tommy John has as strong a Hall of Fame case, even if you don’t give any credit for his comeback from the surgery that bears his name. […]


28 09 2015
Yankee starting pitchers who belong in the Hall of Fame: Reynolds, John and Guidry | Hated Yankees

[…] Tommy John belongs in the Hall of Fame; his name is synonymous with comebacks […]


30 09 2015
Yankee pitchers who are nearly Hall of Famers: Mussina, Pettitte, Cone, Tiant, Kaat | Hated Yankees

[…] I don’t argue strenuously for borderline candidates. At least three Yankee starters — Tommy John, Ron Guidry and Allie Reynolds — were notably greater pitchers than Mussina and belong […]


1 10 2015
Yankee pitchers win more championships than Cy Young Awards | Hated Yankees

[…] Flanagan and Tommy John were 1-2 in 1979 with closely comparable records. As always happens, when the non-Yankee’s […]


2 10 2015
Yankee starters with 200 wins but no shot at the Hall of Fame | Hated Yankees

[…] that someday players who used performance-enhancing drugs will get in): Roger Clemens, Ron Guidry, Tommy John, Allie Reynolds, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, David Cone, Luis Tiant and Jim Kaat. And Wells and CC […]


13 10 2015
Yankees who succeeded as starters and relievers | Hated Yankees

[…] Dick Howser used him adeptly to supplement a strong starting rotation that included Ron Guidry and Tommy John, both having excellent years; Tom Underwood, having his best year at 13-9; and Luis Tiant, fading […]


19 10 2015
The Yankees’ 50 best starting pitchers | Hated Yankees

[…] Tommy John […]


20 10 2015
Comparing Yankees to other teams in starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame | Hated Yankees

[…] Yankees, but pitched primarily somewhere else, also have stronger Hall of Fame cases than Friend (Tommy John, Mike Mussina and David Cone). And that doesn’t count […]


9 01 2016
Tim Raines and Lee Smith: One more shot on writers’ Hall of Fame ballot | Hated Yankees

[…] and Latino players in major-league history. But it also affects white players such as Roger Maris, Tommy John and Steve Garvey, whose achievements certainly would have won them Hall of Fame election if they […]


10 01 2016
Yankees have more borderline Hall of Fame contenders than any other team | Hated Yankees

[…] those Yankees teams of the 1960s and ’70s, Maris, Elston Howard, Ron Guidry, Munson, Tommy John, Sparky Lyle and Graig Nettles were either comparable or clearly better Hall of Fame candidates […]


25 07 2016
Baseball Hall of Fame changes its absurd (and racist) ‘Era Committees’ | Hated Yankees

[…] Guidry, Don Mattingly, Thurman Munson, Tommy John and Graig Nettles are bound to be on some Modern Baseball ballots. I think John is the most likely […]


27 10 2016
A wonderful gift from the widow of Roger Maris | The Buttry Diary

[…] Tommy John was the first pitcher to undergo the surgery that allows pitchers to return to the mound after an injury that used to ruin careers. He won nearly 300 games, more than any pitcher not in the Hall of Fame (and not stained by a drug scandal) and more than a dozen-plus pitchers voted in by the writers. But he was a Yankee, so he’s not in the Hall of Fame. […]


27 10 2016
A wonderful gift from the widow of Roger Maris | Hated Yankees

[…] Tommy John was the first pitcher to undergo the surgery that allows pitchers to return to the mound after an injury that used to ruin careers. He won nearly 300 games, more than any pitcher not in the Hall of Fame (and not stained by a drug scandal) and more than a dozen-plus pitchers voted in by the writers. But he was a Yankee, so he’s not in the Hall of Fame. […]


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