Inductee — Thomas Edward, Jr. John

Thomas Edward, Jr. John

Class of 1996

Birthplace: Terre Haute, IN



JOHN, Thomas Edward (“T.J.”)  born May 22, 1943, Terre Haute; lives in Long Lake, Minn. Cleveland (AL) 1963-1964, Chicago (AL) 1965-1971, Los Angeles (NL) 1972-1974, 1976-1978, New York (AL) 1979-1982, California (AL) 1982-1985, Oakland (AL) 1985, New York (AL), 1986-1989. Debuted Sept. 6, 1963. 6-3, 180, BR, TL.

Tommy Johns 288 career victories is the highest total for an Indiana-born pitcher. He also spent more seasons in the major leagues (26) than any other Hoosier. John made history after undergoing a revolutionary medical procedure, now commonly referred to as “Tommy John surgery.” A two-sport star at Gerstmeyer High School in Terre Haute, he was a straight-A student and class valedictorian. In 1961 John declined numerous college basketball scholarship offers to sign with the Cleveland Indians.

Johns first professional team was Dubuque (Midwest) in 1961, and by 1963 he was pitching for Cleveland. In January 1965 he went to the Chicago White Sox in a three-way trade involving the Indians and Kansas City Athletics. Relying on an excellent sinker and pinpoint control, John developed into an excellent starting pitcher in Chicago. He twice led the American League in shutouts (1966-1967) and in 1968 he compiled a 10-5 record. From 1966 through 1968 he was among the league leaders in earned run average.

In December 1971 the White Sox traded John to the Los Angeles Dodgers for slugger Dick Allen. In 1973 he registered the National Leagues best winning percentage (.696). He was en route to an even better season in 1974, and he was 13-3 in mid-July when he hurt his arm in a game with the Montreal Expos. The medial collateral ligament in his left elbow had ruptured, and that September, Dodger team physician Frank Jobe performed experimental surgery. Dr. Jobe laced Johns tendons back and forth across the joint, and then repositioned the tendons. In December, John underwent a second, even riskier, procedure when Dr. Jobe re-channeled the ulnar nerve, or funny bone, from its normal position to the front of Johns elbow.

After the surgery, Johns left arm was crippled. “I couldn’t use it at all,” he said. “I couldnt open a car door . . . My wife had to cut my food and feed me.” By July 1975 John regained feeling in his fingers. That fall he pitched in an instructional league. In 1976 the pitcher with the bionic arm returned to the majors. He had a 10-10 record season and won National League Comeback of the Year honors. In 1977 John won 20 games for the first time in his career, leading led the Dodgers to the pennant. His 17 wins helped the Dodgers to a second consecutive World Series in 1978. Both years, Los Angeles lost the Series to the New York Yankees. John became a free agent when the Dodgers refused him a three-year contract and signed with the Yanks for 1979. During his first year in pinstripes John went 21-9. His 22 wins helped New York to a division title in 1980, and in 1981 he made his final World Series appearance against the Dodgers.

In August 1982 New York sent John to the Angels, and in July 1985 he joined the Oakland Athletics. A free agent again prior to 1986, John signed with the Yankees for a second time. His last big year was 1987, when he went 13-6 for New York. The Yanks released him at the end of May 1989. He had a 2-7 record and was a dozen games short of 300 career wins. In his autobiography, My Twenty-Six Years in Baseball, written with Dan Valenti, John wrote: “Winning 300 games was a goal to shoot for, and nothing more . . . I just enjoyed playing baseball.”

John retired from baseball after the 1986 season to become an assistant coach at the University of North Carolina. After just four weeks, however, he resigned and returned to the majors. He later coached at Westminster Academy in Miami and in 1992 was honored as Floridas high school coach of the year. After working as a television commentator for the Minnesota Twins and Yankees, John returned to the field. He worked as a coach in the Montreal organization and later managed in the Yankees system.

A four-time All-Star (1968, 1978-79-80), John is the fifth-winningest left-handed pitcher in major league history. He compiled a 2-1 record in World Series play and had a 4-1 slate in five league championship series  two with the Dodgers, two more with the Yankees and one with the Angels. During his professional career John attended Indiana State, served in the Indiana Air National Guard and was active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He received the 1976 Fred Hutchinson Award (for overcoming a major physical disability) and the 1981 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award (for outstanding character). John was elected to the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996. He is the subject of two other books: The Tommy John Story, written with Joe Musser, and The Sally and Tommy John Story: Our Life in Baseball.

From The Encyclopedia of Indiana-Born Major League Baseball Players, copyright © 2007 by Pete Cava. Reproduced with the authors permission.