John feels he's Hall of Fame material
Despite consistency and longevity, lefty on outside looking in
At some point, having more wins than anyone not in the National Baseball Hall of Fame loses its distinction and becomes just a festering frustration.Tommy John, winner of 288 games, reached that point a long time ago. And he still appears a better bet to make the American Medical Association's Hall of Fame than baseball's. As a pitcher, consistency was his chief asset. He won 13-plus games 11 times, with an amazing 22 seasons spanning the first (1965) and last (1987). As a Cooperstown candidate, John has been just as consistent, which, in this case, isn't such a good thing. The left-hander is in his 13th year on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot. He reached his highest vote total percentage of 29.61 in 2006, but his annual support has been in that same range since his first year of eligibility, in 1995. A candidate must get 75 percent of the vote to gain election. Results of the 2007 BBWAA Hall of Fame election will be announced on Jan. 9, and the induction ceremony will take place on July 29 in Cooperstown. While puzzling, John's steady-but-not-sensational Hall of Fame run appropriately reflects his reputation during his active years. He didn't put fear into batters who, quite the contrary, couldn't wait to grab a stick against his soft stuff. Then they would go to bed muttering about another hapless night of flailing at it. Similarly, the sum of his accomplishments have been no more impressive to voting members of the BBWAA. John, who had every right to expect to be quickly ushered into Cooperstown, has dealt with his disappointment. "I have no control over it. I don't really worry about things I can't control. Let it fall where it may," he has told MLB.com. He was the epitome of the crafty left-hander, a soft-thrower who kept infielders busy dealing with the products of his sinker. For John, however, it was just another form of dominance.
He had 162 complete games. Randy Johnson, a left-hander on the opposite end of the spectrum perceived as the ultimate southpaw poison, is still looking for his 99th as he heads into his 20th season. John had 46 shutouts; Johnson is stuck on 37.John will always be synonymous with a historic elbow operation that now bears his name. Dr. Frank Jobe performed the medical miracle, transplanting a ligament into his dead left arm, but John performed the ensuing pitching miracle. He won more games following the surgery (164) than before it. But Hall voters who recently rewarded Dennis Eckersley for having two successful careers (as a starter, then a closer) haven't shown John the same consideration. John must wonder whether he would at least be closer to Cooperstown, if not already on the wall, had he won 40 fewer games but taken six fewer seasons to do it. To the skeptic, he hung around from 1984-89 to chase personal goals, persistence now perhaps being held against him. To John, it was a matter of still being able to pitch at a high level and still being asked to do so. He didn't pitch out the string in Detroit or Pittsburgh or some other doormat of the times, but in the Bronx, going 29-24 for the Yankees in his last four seasons. "I was one of the five best pitchers the Yankees could find in baseball for the last four or five years," he recalled, with some pride and some lingering bitterness. "I didn't strike guys out and I gave up hits, but I didn't let runs score and I won ballgames. That's what you're supposed to do," John has said. "I think my win total, my longevity, coming back from the arm surgery, all of the wins I had post-surgery -- that should be enough." Someday, it will be. John is the ideal candidate for the Hall of Fame's revised Veterans Committee, which in its first two sessions (2003 and 2005) didn't give anyone the nod. However, John would prefer getting in alongside the hitters he spent a quarter-century getting out. His shelf life on the BBWAA ballot would expire after 15 years.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.