Friday, June 6, 2014

Tommy John (#72)

At long last, Tommy John gets his day on this blog. This is my first-ever Tommy John card, from the coarse-burlap-grained 1st series, bought around April 1968.

John’s 1967 card is one of the 4 cards from that set that I still don’t have. It’s from the high-numbered (7th) series, and in fact is the final card in the set (#609). Popular lore says that the first and last cards in a set are the hardest to find in good condition, because kids put a rubber band around their cards and it dug into the edges of the first and last cards. To that I say bah! There’s no rubber band large enough for a 609-card stack of cards. But I digress… 

Tommy John had a 26-year career as a starting pitcher from 1963 to 1989, for six teams, most notably the White Sox, Dodgers, and Yankees. He missed the 1975 season (while out with “Tommy John” surgery – go figure!). Over his career, he started 700 of his 760 games, and compiled a 288-231 record with 2245 strikeouts. He also made 4 all-star games and appeared in 14 post-season games between 1977 and 1982.

John was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1961, and played in the minors for 3 seasons before making his debut with 6 games in September 1963. Tommy began the 1964 season in the minors, but also pitched 25 games for the Indians from early-May to mid-July, then again in late-September.

Before the 1965 season, John was sent to the White Sox in an 8-player, 3-team deal. He immediately landed in the Sox’ starting rotation along with Joel Horlen, John Buzhardt, and Gary Peters. At age 22, Tommy compiled a 14-7 record in his first season on the South Side.

In 1966 he led the team in wins (14), starts (33) and innings pitched (223), and had a 2.62 ERA. Although Tommy remained one of the White Sox’ top 3 starters for the next several seasons, he slumped to 10 wins in ’67 and again in ’68, then 9 wins in ’69. His 1967 ERA of 2.48 was 4th-best in the league. If he could have shaved it down below 2.38, the White Sox would have had the top 3 ERA leaders that season.

He bounced back somewhat in 1970 with 12 wins, and was the team’s top starter that season. (Horlen had a huge off-year at 6-16, and Peters had been traded away to Boston after 1969.) John maintained a similar record in 1971, although Wilbur Wood and his 22 wins led the staff that season.

After the 1971 season, Tommy was traded to the Dodgers for first baseman Dick Allen. John had 3 solid seasons in LA before missing the entire 1975 season following surgery that would eventually bear his name.

He bounced back and had 3 more good years with the Dodgers, including a 20-win season in 1977, followed by 17 wins in ’78. He was named the NL Comeback Player of the Year in 1976, and appeared in the NLCS and World Series in both ’77 and ’78.

John was granted free agency after the 1978 season, and signed with the Yankees. His first 2 seasons in New York were superb, compiling 21-9 and 22-9 records. After an off-year in ’81, John was traded to the Angels in August 1982. He remained with the Angels until they released him in June 1985.

Tommy was picked up by the Athletics a month later, and finished out the season with Oakland. Granted free agency after the season, the Yankees signed him in May 1986, and he manned their starting rotation for the next 3-plus seasons, until his final release on May 30, 1989.

As mentioned earlier, John had a 26-year career, 11 ½ prior to his surgery, and 13 ½ afterwards.

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