In the modern era of Major League Baseball, only one clean pitcher has more than 270 wins and isn't in the Hall of Fame. This player was also the pioneer of the most famous surgery in sports history, and his arm cast now resides in the Smithsonian. He was a medical marvel whose career spanned three decades, yet he never cracked 40-percent of the Hall of Fame vote. Tommy John has a theory on why he's been left out, and it involves an enemy on the inside.
"Somebody that was on the committee said, 'Whenever we had meetings, he went in there and told everybody why you shouldn't be in," John explained on the latest episode of the "New York Accent" podcast.
John doesn't intend to reveal the name of his adversary, as he's since passed away. "Doesn't do any good," he explained. "I would say his name if I thought my buddy in New York would take a hammer to his kneecaps."
John's only half kidding about his friends in the underworld -- we think -- after two stints with the Yankees during the 1980s. In 26 major league seasons, he recorded 288 wins, more than Bert Blyleven, Jim Kaat, Ferguson Jenkins, Jim Palmer, and Jack Morris -- all contemporaries in the Hall of Fame.
In fact, John has more wins than any pitchers not in Cooperstown, aside from Roger Clemens (PED's) and Bobby Mathews, who called it quits back in 1887. Pitchers' win totals were skewed during the 19th century. Why? They took the hill so often. Cy Young had 511 wins. Mathews once had 70 starts in a season.
"I should've been [in Cooperstown] years ago," the 79-year-old John claimed. "For whatever reason -- well, I know the reason... There was one player who was voting against me all the time and [helping get] in other players." He's no longer eligible for the writers ballot -- it's now up to the Veterans Committee.
"There had to be a reason why I wasn't getting a lot of votes," John explained. "Granted, a lot of guys think I didn't throw hard enough, or strike enough guys out. But I was pretty damn good. I had 288 wins, that's a lot of wins. But here is the kicker -- I had 188 no-decisions. And that tells you right there, you get a quarter of those [as wins], and I've got 310 or whatever."
The cast from his elbow reconstruction surgery ended up at the Smithsonian, and even though Cooperstown wanted it, he wasn't doing the Hall any favors. His competitive fire flares up. "My thing to them is, what did you do for me to help me get into the Hall of Fame?" John said. "And you want me to give you my cast for your thing here and you didn't do anything to help me get in? No, that's not gonna happen."
John says he's never confronted the former player who allegedly torpedoed his baseball resume because he found out after the person passed way. But the former big-league southpaw has a secret weapon now.
"I've got a guy who's in the Hall of Fame. Now he's going to be on the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee, and his name's Jim Kaat," John said. "And he said, 'TJ, I'm wanting to see that you get in the Hall of Fame, you should be in there before me. I appreciate it. And I said, 'But do what you have to do, and let the chips fall where they may.'"
Aside from his 288 wins, John's legacy is felt daily more than 30 years after he retired. The notorious surgery that bears his name was first performed back in 1974, when he was a member of the Dodgers. It was the first time the surgery was conducted on a baseball player too, and John ended up having the most productive stretch of his career following it. He logged 13 more seasons after the operation and retired at 46, which was hailed as a medical miracle.
Today, having Tommy John surgery is part of the sports lexicon. Perhaps one day soon, John will finally be honored in Cooperstown. It'd certainly make his "buddy in New York" happy.
You can listen to and watch the entire conversation of John on the "New York Accent" podcast everywhere you get your podcasts, and on YouTube.