Meanwhile, the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee should analyze John’s case from a fresh perspective. Instead of comparing his statistics (Hall-worthy as they are) against other possible inductees such as Ron Guidry, Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey and Keith Hernandez, or already enshrined Hall of Famers, committee members need to look at those numbers with some historical context. Hall voters have done so in the past. The earned-run averages of modern pitchers aren’t compared to those from the game’s “dead-ball” era, when home runs were rare. The statistics of players whose careers were interrupted by their military service, or those who spent years locked out of baseball by its color barrier, have appropriately been given special consideration.
John put up his stats as a player and a pioneer. No one had ever done what he did. He had no template to work from as he spent the latter half of 1974 and all of 1975 trying to recover from the strange, unprecedented repairs in his left arm. His task wasn’t just to regain the ability to carry groceries and change an overhead lightbulb. John needed to recapture the strength to get major-league batters out, just as he’d done for 12 seasons with the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers from 1963 to ’74.
...John pitched 288 victories, the seventh-highest total in history for a lefty and 26th best overall. Every pitcher with more victories is already in the Hall, except for recent retirees Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson. Those victories, coupled with his solid 3.34 earned-run average, merit induction alone. Yet skeptics discount John’s win total, insisting it is mostly a product of his longevity and that John was never dominant. (Sinkerball pitchers don’t dominate; they frustrate.) Those skeptics are seeing raw numbers with no context. John pitched the last four of his 26 seasons — yes, 26 — in the starting rotation of the New York Yankees. George Steinbrenner would not tolerate hangers-on. John went 13-6 in 1987 at age 44. At 45, he pitched 176 innings for the Yankees.
Look again at that win total. Notice that 164 of John’s victories came after his landmark surgery, one fewer than Sandy Koufax’s entire career total. John finished 10-10 with a sharp 3.09 ERA in 1976, his first season back with Los Angeles. Then, in the following four seasons, he delivered Exhibit A of his Hall-of-Fame credentials. In that span, John won 20 or more games three times. Twice, he was the Cy Young Award runner-up, once in the National League with the Dodgers and once in the American League with the Yankees. Over those four seasons with L.A. and New York, his combined record was 80-35 with a 3.11 ERA, and he posted a 2-1 mark in two World Series.
Had John reached the 300-win plateau, there would be no argument. It equals automatic Hall induction. Every pitcher in the 300 club, except those recent retirees, is enshrined. Remember, John missed one and a half seasons in the heart of his career to undergo that then-uncertain surgery. His “what-ifs” are countless, starting with, “What if his left elbow never blew up in 1974?” John might have notched those missing 12 victories in just the second half of that season; he was 13-3 before the injury.
Forget the what-ifs, though. Consider the Hall of Fame voting criteria, “based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contribution to the team[s] on which he played.”
Tommy John should be a Hall of Famer.
Posted: October 06, 2013 at 06:09 AM | 18 comment(s)
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