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Getting Tommy John to 300… #293

by Paul Semendinger

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Background:

300 is a great round number.

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.

(Note – With Jim Kaat and his 283 wins gaining entrance into the Hall of Fame, Tommy John should earn election the next time his name comes up in committee. Tommy John is every bit as deserving as Jim Kaat.)

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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 quest. Today I will seek and find win #293 for Tommy John.

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WIN #293:

22 days. Just 22. We’re basically taking three weeks. All when he was just 21-years-old. Five starts. Five games. Five losses.

22 days.

5 Games.

5 Losses.

Five games he should have won.

If those five games had gone differently, Tommy John would be in the Baseball Hall of Fame today. Let alone 300 wins, if Tommy John had 293 wins, he’d already be in the Hall of Fame. And, as we’ll see, those losses cost Tommy John at least 18 or 19 starts. If he had just won a few of them, which he could have if given the chance, he would have reached 300.

We talk about small sample sizes. This is the ultimate small sample size, especially in a career that lasted 26 years.

Here’s a quick summary:

June 10: LOSS – 7 innings pitched, 1 earned run

June 14: LOSS – 6.1 innings, 3 earned runs

June 20 – LOSS – 7 innings, 2 earned runs

June 26: LOSS – 8.2 innings, 3 earned runs

July 1: LOSS – 7 innings, 1 earned run

Tommy John’s ERA over this span was 2.50. And yet, he lost all five starts.

After the July 1 start I’ll recount below, Tommy John was basically removed from the starting rotation. He’d make only two starts the rest of the season. Remember, these losses didn’t come about because he pitched poorly. He lost because his team played poorly.

After the fifth loss, Tommy John soon found himself in the minor leagues. Teams send down pitchers who lose all the time. Five losses gets a 21-year-old kid demoted.

If the Indians had won even one of those games, or a few, Tommy John would have stayed in the Majors. He’d be a 300 game winner already.

The next time Tommy John would start and win a game, would be in 1965 and he would be a member of the Chicago White Sox.

This small sample size, this 22 day period is what has kept Tommy John out of the Hall of Fame for the last thirty years.

Ridiculous.

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July 1, 1964

On this day, the Indians were playing in Detroit against the Tigers.

Tommy John’s team scored one run, in the top of the second inning, on a home run by Al Smith.

No, they didn’t help their pitcher much.

On the other end, Tommy John allowed the following:

A George Thomas double (Hit #1) – this scored Jerry Lumpe who had reached on an error

An Al Kaline double

A Bubba Phillips home run

Yeah, that’s it.

On July 1, 1964, for all intents and purposes, Tommy John’s last ever start as a member of the Cleveland Indians’ starting rotation, he allowed three hits and two runs (one earned) over seven innings – and lost.

Don McMahon relieved John that game, pitched the eighth inning, and gave up a run. That made the score 3-1.

For the Indians, that was too much for them and that’s how the Indians, and Tommy John, lost.

For the Indians, they lost more than they knew, because this loss, a fifth in a row, probably convinced them to move on from Tommy John.

On January 20, 1965, Tommy John was part of a package of players that were traded between the Cleveland Indians, the Kansas City A’s, and the Chicago White Sox:

Per Baseball-Reference:

January 20, 1965: (Tommy John) Traded as part of a 3-team trade by the Cleveland Indians with Tommie Agee and John Romano to the Chicago White Sox. The Chicago White Sox sent Cam Carreon to the Cleveland Indians. The Chicago White Sox sent a player to be named later, Mike Hershberger and Jim Landis to the Kansas City Athletics. The Kansas City Athletics sent Rocky Colavito to the Cleveland Indians. The Chicago White Sox sent Fred Talbot (February 10, 1965) to the Kansas City Athletics to complete the trade.

Per me… there were a good number of players who played for the Yankees and the Mets in that trade:

Tommy John, Tommie Agee (Mets), Rocky Colavito, and Fred Talbot. Amazing.

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Previous Articles In This Series:

Should Tommy John Be in the Hall-of-Fame?

Getting Tommy John to 300… #289 – September 21, 1963

Getting Tommy John to 300… #290 – September 26, 1963

Getting Tommy John to 300… #291 – June 20, 1964

Getting Tommy John to 300… #292 – June 26, 1964

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All game information came from Baseball-Reference. (I do love that site.)

#TommyJohn

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