Getting Tommy John to 300… #289
by Paul Semendinger
November 5, 2021
300 is a great round number.
If a batter hits .300 over his career, it usually means a ticket into the Hall-of-Fame.
And if a pitcher wins 300 games, that’s also almost a sure fire way to gain induction.
Every single pitcher in baseball history with 300 wins, save for Roger Clemens (but that’s another story) is in the Hall-of-Fame.
The pitchers just outside 300 have not been as fortunate.
Bobby Mathews (who pitched from 1871 to 1887 – spending a few years in New York on the NY Mutuals) won 297 games. He’s on the outside looking in. It was, of course, a different game then.
But next on the All-Time Wins list is Tommy John with 288. He’s also on the outside looking in.
I decided to take a look at Tommy John’s long career to see if I could find him 12 more wins.
This, then, is my new quest. Today I will seek and find win #289 for Tommy John.
September 21, 1963
In 1963, Tommy John, a rookie, started three games down the stretch for the Cleveland Indians.
John lost his first two starts.
In his first start (his fourth big league game), he gave up 4 earned runs over 6.2 innings in a game the Indians lost to the Angels 4-3. This is a close call, but I’m not going to go out and argue that a pitcher who gives up four runs in under seven innings (a 5.40 ERA) was cheated out of a win. In fact, in this game, Tommy John gave away a 2-0 lead. He deserves the loss.
In his second start, Tommy John he pitched similarly. He gave up four runs in 6.1 innings. The Indians lost 4-2. Tommy John put his team in a 4-0 hole by the time he was lifted in the seventh inning.
But wait… this game deserves a deeper look.
In this game, Tommy John gave up a run in the top of the first inning. Albie Pearson led off the game with a single and was then doubled to third by Jim Fregosi. Billy Moran was then intentionally walked. With the bases loaded and no outs, Tommy John got Felix Torres to ground into a run scoring double play. He then retired Bob Perry to end the inning.
That run was the only run allowed by Tommy John through the first six full innings. If a pitcher allows just one run every six innings, he’d have a 1.50 ERA.
The problem for Tommy John on this day was that He was being bettered by Dean Chance of the Angels. Through six innings, Chance allowed no runs. Had the Indians scored, if they scored just two little runs, Tommy John would have had a lead. It wasn’t Tommy John’s fault that his team failed to score – at all.
And it wasn’t like the Indians didn’t have chances:
Bob Chance was stranded at third base in the bottom of the second inning
Woodie Held was stranded at third in the third
Fred Whitfield was stranded at second base in the fourth
And Tommy John himself was stranded at second in the fifth
It all fell apart for Tommy John in the seventh. Jim Fregosi led off with a single. Billy Moran then reached base on a catcher’s error on a play that also included an error by the centerfielder that scored Fregosi and allowed Moran to reach second. That certainly was not Tommy John’s fault.
After a sacrifice (fielded by Tommy John), Bob Perry hit a two-run homer to give the Angels a 4-0 lead.
That homer ended Tommy John’s outing.
In the bottom of that inning, the seventh, the Indians scored two runs. They then went quietly in the eighth and ninth innings.
Tommy John earned the loss, his record for his career stood at 0-2, but this was a game he could have won.
I’m going to say that if a pitcher gives up one run over six innings, that’s worthy of a win.
I’m going to award this as Tommy John’s 289th win.
He’s getting closer to #300.
Final note – as I do this deep dive, if I find any wins that Tommy John didn’t deserve because he pitched poorly, or otherwise, I’ll subtract those from his win total.
I’ll do this as fairly as I can.
My plan, though, is that once I get ol’ TJ to 300 wins, this exercise will conclude. If not, this could go on forever – the man made 700 starts in his big league career!
All game information came from Baseball-Reference. (I do love that site.)