The Tommy John Interview: Part 3
- Updated: October 8, 2009
Tommy John and His Thoughts on the Game Today
I started off the conversation in part 1 talking about how he became affiliated with the increasingly popular children’s book, “A Glove of Their Own”. Part 2 was a conversation on Tommy’s great career (in my humble opinion, he should be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the veterans committee in 2010) and in part 3 of this interview with Tommy John we’ll highlight his thoughts on the game as it is played today.
At the end of this section of the interview will be an embedded MP3 player where you can listen to our conversation in its entirety.
Swinging back from Tommy’s career to the way baseball is currently played I wanted to get his opinion on a few of the differences since his playing days. But I also wanted to get a feel for his take on who he likes to watch, especially modern pitchers.
“I like to watch Chris Carpenter, Brandon Webb, Peavy, Santana. I like Carpenter because he throws the ball. He gets the ball, gets on the rubber and throws. He throws strikes and he puts the ball in play. He gets it, and he pitches old-time baseball. Brandon Webb has one of the best sinkers I’ve seen in a long time. I like Halladay at Toronto. Santana has some of the best, I call it variance of speed. He goes from 94 mph to 72 or 73 mph and if you as a hitter have to slow your bat down or speed your bat up that much, it makes it very tough to hit. Most pitchers in baseball today are 2 speed pitchers. They may have 3 pitches, but their split and slider are the same speed so, you get something fast, something not as fast. If these guys have something else they can throw that’s slower, they can get guys out on it. You don’t see guys that pitch that have curve balls anymore. Big curve balls. And if you have a big curve ball, you can be very effective. Kershaw with the Dodgers has that big curve ball. And guys are swinging at it in the dirt because they just don’t see it anymore. It’s just not there.”
Seeing that Tommy played in the AL before the DH and also in the NL after the DH so I wanted to get his opinion about pitchers batting and he was very adamant about his views.
I wondered if Tommy thought there were any current day batters that he thought would give him a hard time if he were pitching to them todayand he said, “Jeter would. Rodriguez would. Anyone who likes the ball out over the plate. There are some guys that are very good hitters now. Good hitters are going to get their hit. Pitchers are going to give them their hits. You just want to do it without anybody on base.”
Knowing the bond that can be built up between a pitcher and a catcher, I asked Tommy if there was a certain catcher that he just loved to throw to. His response was “Munson, Johnny Oates, and for the Red Sox fans out there, I loved to pitch to Pudge Fisk. I only pitched to him 2 innings in the All Star Game in ’80, but he was very good. Better than what I thought. I knew he was a good hitter, but he was a very good catcher.”
Personally, I don’t think fans in general or even some managers respect the art of a catcher who has the ability of calling a good game. Seeing how strongly Tommy felt about pitchers hitting, which I totally agree with his stance there, I wanted to know how important it is from a pitcher’s perspective.
“Well, it’s the pitcher’s responsibility to throw the ball, but you’ve got to have good rapport between the pitcher and the catchers. I would tend to let my catchers call the game. But, I had good catchers, and I didn’t pitch well when I had bad catchers. I was constantly second guessing myself. “should I throw this? He’s not the greatest thinker in the world. What should I do?” I liked to have a great thinking catcher behind the plate. The catchers in the last few years have been offensive, and they catch between at bats.” Likewise, I was eager to ask Tommy for his take concerning the use of pitch counts.
“Pitch counts are like putting a governor on a car because they don’t want the car to go too fast. They put pitch counts on the pitchers to keep the pitchers from throwing a lot of pitches because 1. They have a ton of money invested in them and they probably are on huge salaries and they can get more out of their money if they have a pitch count on him. Back when I played, the starting salary was $7000, and if the guy hurt his arm, he was back selling used cars on his buddy’s lot, but now they have millions invested in salaries, scouting, training. And so the pitch counts, I call them necessary evils. Honestly, though there is no reason why a guy can’t throw 120, 125 pitches, in a ballgame and not hurt their arms.”
I briefly returned to ask Tommy about his managerial days to see if he adhered to pitch counts when he managed.
“Oh yes. When I managed an affiliated team, we had pitch counts and we had to adhere to them. But when I managed in the independent league, there were no pitch counts. Guys pitched 7, 8, 9 innings. If they were still throwing the ball good, they would stay in the game. I just kept asking “how do you feel?” and if they felt good, they could stay out there. If they were getting tired, I’d get someone warmed up…”
My final question to Tommy was to ask him what he saw change from his rookie year to his last year, 26 seasons later.
“Mainly the players were rushed through the minor leagues towards the end. You might have to spend 5 6 7 years in the minor leagues before, but you can’t afford to do that now because like I said, they have so much money invested in these guys you just can’t afford to have them in the minor leagues very long. They have to get through the minors and into the big leagues and that’s the way it is.”
I would like to thank Tommy once again for his time and for the interview. Hopefully this will generate interest in the book A Glove of Their Own, too.
Next is the audio file of the interview embedded in an MP3 player where you can listen to our conversation in its entirety full of all my “and”s and “uh”s, etc. After all, this was my first phone interview.