Q&A with Tommy John

Tommy John was a major league pitcher for 26 years, starting in 1963 with Cleveland and ending in 1989 with the Yankees (his 2nd stint with them) . In between he pitched for the Dodgers, White Sox (twice), Angels and Athletics. He had a career record of 288-231 and an ERA of 3.34 but he would probably be remembered best for the ulnar nerve replacement operation on his throwing elbow which commonly is known as Tommy John surgery. Mr. John is now the Manager of the Staten Island Yankees.

Tommy John was gracious enough to answer some questions before a recent game.

PinstripesPlus: You pitched in the 60s, 70s and 80s, why not the 90s? Your last season was 1989.

Tommy John: I tried but nobody wanted to give me a job. I said I'll pitch out of the pen, anything. I didn't feel I was done. I would've been real proud of that record too because I would've done it the hard way. I started in 1963, most who have played in four decades started in the year or two before the end of the decade.

PinstripesPlus: You pitched for 26 seasons. What is the secret of your longitivity?

Tommy John: I would work out, and run a lot, 4-5 times a week, distance, stairs and sprints. I would run twice as much as anybody else. I also threw everyday. Never long toss. I was throwing 60.5' so why throw further?

PinstripesPlus: How long were you in pain prior to your famous surgery on your elbow?

Tommy John: The elbow first hurt in 1963. It was quickly determined it was a partial tear of the ulnar nerve. The day JFK was assassinated I was in SL's orthopedists office getting my first cortisone shot (11/22/63). It was the first of 40 shots. The pain kept on getting worse. There wasn't much medical advances in those days and most teams had trainers that have been around for a long time. There was a trainer for Senators who didn't believe in any numbing anesthetic before the cortisone injection. That one was particularly painful.

PinstripesPlus: What were the odds they gave you before having the operation?

Tommy John: Dr. Jobs, the orthopedic surgeon of the Dodgers, told him the chances of it working was something around 1 in 20. It didn't make a difference what the odds were. Jobs told me if I didn't have the procedure I'll never pitch again, so I didn't hesitate a second.

PinstripesPlus: What did you do in the time between 1989, your last year in the majors, and 2002 when you joined the Expos organization as their pitching coach at Harrisburg. (In 2003 he was their pitching coach at Edmonton)?

Tommy John: I was a broadcaster for the Twins, Braves, the Charlotte Knights. It's a dream job. You watch a game, talk a little and you don't have to be accurate. I also coached High School and college baseball. The college was Furman in South Carolina. I also ran some baseball camps. For six years I was a broadcaster for George Shinn and the teams he owned, the Knights, the Charlotte Hornets. That's why I settled in Charlotte, NC. When Shinn sold the team the new owners took a look at his salary and felt they should go in another direction.

PinstripesPlus: You have close to 50 years in pro ball, was that all you ever wanted to be when you grew up in Terre Haute, Indiana?

Tommy John: In high school I also played some basketball. I was pretty good but knew that there wasn't much future in it. I knew my future was with baseball. If I went to college I would've played both sports. I also ran track, both cross-country and indoors. I wasn't very fast but it kept me in shape for baseball. They tried me in hurdles, then the relays where I wasn't bad running a 440 leg.

PinstripesPlus: For such a long career you probably have many memorable moments, do any standout?

Tommy John: Defeating the Phillies and Steve Carlton, 4-1, in driving rain. It got us into the World Series. The game had to be played because Sunday there was an Eagles game, and next day was Monday Night Football. It was the best game I ever pitched.

PinstripesPlus: You played for many managers and hitting coaches. Who were your favorites?

Tommy John: There was Lopez with the White Sox, Tommy Lasorda, Dick Howser, Bob Lemon, Gene Michael, Clyde King and Lou Piniella. As for pitching coaches, Ray Berres, Ray Adams, Sammy Ellis and Clyde King.

PinstripesPlus would like to thank Tommy John for taking the time to answer our questions.

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