Name for me a pitcher who gets mentioned more on ESPN than Tommy John. Cy Young? Tommy John is quickly becoming a name synonymous with baseball. Now, let’s be honest. Tommy John is known for a surgery that was performed on him. He is no greater than Lou Gehrig is for being diagnosed with ALS (commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). Maybe the doctor who performed the surgery should be in the Hall-of-Fame. Why not? But this is not about him. This one is about Tommy John.
Why he belongs…
288 wins. Only one other eligible pitcher has more wins that is not in the Hall-of-Fame (HOF)-the mysterious Bobby Mathews. (Can somebody explain to me why Mathews is not in the HOF?) Yes, he played for 26 seasons. His debut game was in September of 1963. To put that in perspective, that is nearly 16 1/2 years before I was born. His last game was May 25, 1989, five days short of my 9th birthday. 288 wins. That’s good enough for 26. Wanna know who he has more wins than? Robin Roberts, Fergie Jenkins, Jim Palmer, Bob Feller, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal. (Not just HOF’ers, but some of the greatest of all-time.)
He is #56 in Games Pitched. He is one of the few starters in the sea of relief pitchers. That’s more games than Warren Spahn, Steve Carlton & Pud Galvin. Only 19 pitchers saw more innings. If you look at that list, only two qualified pitchers haven’t made it (There goes that Bobby Mathews again. And Bert Blyleven who should go in this year.)
On the all-time strikeout list, he’s #50. That’s better than Jim Palmer, Grover Cleveland Alexander & Dazzy Vance. When it comes to Games Started, he’s #10. Only two pitchers higher than him are not in the HOF (Roger Clemens & Greg Maddux). Matter of fact, you have to go down to #17 before you find a pitcher who qualifies but is not in the HOF (Jim Kaat, but Jamie Moyer will be a different story for a different time).
He’s #195 on the complete game list, which may not seem impressive until you remember that the reliever was coming into play more in his career. Looking at his shutout numbers, he is #26. That’s Roger Clemens numbers. That’s above Whitey Ford, Addie Joss, Phil Neikro, Robin Roberts & Red Ruffing.
Baseball-reference.com compares him with Robin Roberts, Fergie Jenkins, Bert Blyleven, Early Wynn, Burleigh Grimes, Tom Glavine, Don Sutton & Eppa Rixey. Those are all either in the HOF or on their way there (Blyleven is a forgone conclusion and Glavine is not yet eligible).
I know what you’re thinking. “So the guy played a lot of years and complied a bunch of stats. So what?” There were 3 20-win seasons, being in the top 10 6 times. He was in the top 10 in Winning% 9 times, leading twice. He was in the top 1o in Walks/Innings Pitched 12 times, leading once. He was in the top 10 in shutouts 7 times, leading 3 times. In 26 seasons, he only finished in the Top 10 in walks and earned runs once. He also finished Top 10 in HR’s/IP 12 times, leading 3 times. He also finished in the Top 10 in losses twice. He finished top 10 in ERA 6 times. And to top it all off, he finished in the Cy Young balloting 4 times, coming in 2nd place twice.
How does that not scream Hall-of-Famer?
Why he doesn’t belong…
4 All-Star games don’t look good to HOF voters.
While he did give up few walks, he gave up quite a few hits. (#10 on the All-time List, but you have to go #16 before you see somebody not in the Hall, except for that pesky Bobby Mathews.)
Honestly, I have no idea why he isn’t in.
Tommy John is indeed one of the greatest pitchers of his era and a truly great player. It’s embarrassing that he’s not in the Hall-of-Fame.