Via the Advocate:
Despite multiple trips to the World Series, pitcher Tommy John never took part in a championship parade. But he will experience a sampling of that Sunday in Stamford, when he will lead the annual big-balloon parade as grand marshal.
“It’s nice to be back,” said John, 65, who is entering his third year as manager of the Bridgeport Bluefish minor league team. “When you’ve played up here with the Yankees and all that, you get used to the people and the ambiance. It’s like a second home.”
John, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., but moves to the Bridgeport area during baseball season, said the former owner of the Bluefish, Mary Jane Foster, asked him to serve as grand marshal.
“I told her I would do it if Bobby Valentine would be right next to me,” John said with a laugh. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
John, a pitcher with 288 career wins, is in Tampa Bay, Fla., for Yankees Fantasy Camp and will head north tonight. He’ll arrive in the area about 6 a.m. and go straight to Stamford for the parade. John said it is the first time he will be a grand marshal since a Christmas parade in Los Angeles in the 1970s.
Even though he is a four-time All-Star and three-time 20-game winner, John may be more associated with a revolutionary surgery. It’s routine now for pitchers to have “Tommy John surgery,” in which a ligament in the elbow of a pitching arm is replaced with a tendon from the opposite forearm.
John had the surgery in 1974, and there was no certainty about how it would turn out. But his 164 wins afterward are testimony to its success.
“The stat I’m most proud of is, after the surgery, I pitched 13 years and never missed a start. I pitched on three days rest,” John said. “In the ’81 World Series, I started Game 2, came out of the bullpen in Game 4 and started Game 6. That would be unheard of today. In fact, the only other guy that came close was Randy Johnson in the (2001) World Series against the Yankees with Arizona.”
Despite an impressive run in the majors and a game-changing surgery, he still gets asked questions about the surgery, even by his own players on the Bluefish, an independent minor league team unaffiliated with the Major Leagues.
The players ask whether John is the person who had the surgery or “if it was my father,” John said. “I think this year I had about seven or eight guys come up and ask me that.”
Still, he is worried about the health and use of teenage pitchers who are going under the knife younger and younger.
“It’s really an epidemic, especially with the younger kids. They’re 13, 14, 15 years old having to have it done, and that’s when it comes to the point that they’re being abused,” John said. “I never knew it was going to become like this.”
You have to give T.J. credit – much like Sparky Lyle and now Tim Raines – for hanging in there, working pro-baseball jobs that many would pass on…
…for love of the game, indeed.
It’s a shame that the Yankees don’t have a spot, somewhere, in their organization for John. I know that he managed in the minors for them in the past.
Stay strong Tommy. The race doesn’t always go to the swift, but, sometimes to those who keep running…