After a memorable start to his 1989 season, Tommy John declined rapidly, with a 2-7 record and winless May. At the end of that month, the Associated Press reported:
Tommy John decided Tuesday to continue his quest for 300 victories instead of accepting a forced retirement by the New York Yankees.
The Yankees on Monday gave John 24 hours to retire or be released. Tuesday he was released, and now he can try to make a deal with another team.
John, a 46-year-old left-hander, was scheduled to pitch Tuesday night against Seattle, but New York recalled 25-year-old Jimmy Jones from Triple-A Columbus, Ohio, to take his place.
John, whose career record is 288-231, remained near the phone at his New Jersey home Tuesday, waiting to hear from other clubs.
“I’m not retiring,” John said. “I feel I can still help a team win.
“If my sinker wasn’t working and I wasn’t getting ground balls, then I’d be worried,” he said last week. “But I am getting ground balls, and my fastball is even better than it was in spring training.”
On June 9, John said he was still trying to catch on somewhere:
John said he and his lawyer have spoken to the Cardinals, Dodgers, Indians and White Sox and plan to talk with the Red Sox and Brewers.
John told the New York Daily News that the teams contacted have taken a “wait-and-see” attitude.
“There is nothing concrete right now,” John said from his New Jersey home. “They all say they want to talk it over with their staff. If it had been earlier or later, maybe, but it’s sort of an in-between time. If this had been in spring training . . .
“I’ll give it two or three weeks. I’m using the end of school as a gauge. That will give teams an idea when they get closer to a pennant race. I really don’t think I can do this (waiting and calling teams) all summer.
“(My family and I) want to go to Europe this summer. Somewhere down the line we have to make plans, get passports.
“To me, the longer it goes, the better I seem. Let’s say a team wants me on July 1, they’ll have to pay less money for a Tommy John and the Yankees will have to pick up more of it. From a business standpoint, a ballclub doesn’t have anything to lose.”
John added that he spoke with George Steinbrenner the day after he was released and that the Boss said, “You know where I am, you have my numbers, there’s a place for you here.”
When asked if he would make that call when the deadline passes, John said, “Yeah, sure. George has been nice to me. I just don’t know what he has in mind.”
In early September, John finally acknowledged that his career was over. The AP reported:
Tommy John, who has been throwing baseballs almost every summer since he was 10 years old in the Terre Haute Little Leagues, says he would rather still be pitching, but the former Yankee has accepted that his career as a hurler is over.
John, 46 years old, pitched for 26 years in the big leagues before the Yankees released him last May. Before departing, he won 286 games, lost 224, and appeared in six World Series games, two All-Star Games and seven league championship games.
The Terre Haute native was in town on Friday to present a Yankee jersey bearing his number, 25, a Yankee cap and a baseball glove to the Indiana Museum of Sports in the Indiana State Museum.
As part of ”Tommy John Day,” he received a key to the city and was named a Sagamore of the Wabash, the highest award the governor of Indiana can bestow.
”I think I could still pitch, but it’s a young man’s game,” he said. ”I’d rather still be pitching, but I don’t miss the travel, the night games, the clubhouse every day. I’m looking at a lot of things both inside and outside baseball. I haven’t made up my mind yet. I’ve got time to pick and choose.”
”Now,” he added, ”I have a little time for golf and some of the other things I like to do,” including spending more time with his wife, Sally, and the couple’s four children: Tami, 14; Tommy 3d, 12; Travis, 10, and Taylor, 7.
Indiana State University planned to honor John yesterday at Memorial Stadium in Terre Haute during halftime activities of the football opener against Central Missouri State.”
For whatever reasons, John hasn’t received nearly the acclaim after retirement that Bert Blyleven has, and I don’t think there’s any cheering section of sabermetricians trying to get him into the Hall of Fame. At this point, he definitely seems to be most famous for the surgery named after him, not for his on-field accomplishments.
Early this year, he was rejected on his 15th and final time on the Hall of Fame ballot, to remain the winningest pitcher in MLB history not in the Hall. In response, John said: “I was one of the five best pitchers the Yankees could find in baseball for the last four or five years. 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. 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.”