Allentown Morning Call - May 13, 1980

John the MVP of free agents


By John Kunda, Executive Sports Editor


In the rain and mist of Yankee Stadium, Tommy John was making the Minnesota batters look like hockey players practicing slap shots. 


A swing – and another grounder. The ball never left the soggy turf, a roller to either third or short. Another easy out. 


Yes, Tommy John, the ex-Dodger pitcher now a Yankee millionaire. He's been mowing 'em down with regularity and showing that all free agents aren't overrated. 


Tommy John might be the best of the whole lot. Sorry about that, Pete Rose. 


This is the same Tommy John whom the Dodgers wouldn't sign for big bucks two years ago, but then did a turnabout last winter by diving headfirst into the free agent market and coming up with a pair of former American Leaguers, Dave Goltz of the Twins and Dan Stanhouse of the Orioles. 


Only time will tell if those were sound investments. In the meantime, Tom Lasorda has to be somewhat edgy. Perhaps thankful, too, that John is, at least, out of the National League. 


And for the Yankees? John has to be their best grab, even though he's costing them $1.4 million. 


In his first season with the Yankees, John won 21 games, the most wins ever in a highly distinguished career. He lost nine. Add the six wins of the new season to the 21 of a year ago, and John is a remarkable 27-9 since he put on the Yankee pinstripes. 


Okay, so you say John didn't get the Yankees into the playoffs or World Series last year. Did Pete Rose get the Phillies into the playoffs or World Series? 


There are still stories bouncing around about how the Phillies might have been better off going after John instead of Rose in the free agent market in late 1978. 


Pitchers, the stories said, are what the Phillies need most. Get a strong one like John and the problems are solved, so they said. Besides, the Phillies had enough talented, everyday players. 


The truth of the matter is, that while John and his agent shopped around, the Phillies were never in the chase. "We weren't going to pay him any higher than Steve Carlton," a Phillies source said yesterday. "Plus, the inside word was that John was going to the Yankees no matter what." 


If you remember, John and Rose were practically on the same course at the same time. They were in and out of the same baseball executive suites it is surprising they didn't run into each other. Especially in Atlanta where Ted Turner had very serious talks with both of them. 


Actually, the Yankees nearly lost John to last-ditch negotiating effort not by Atlanta, but by the Kansas City Royals and Cincinnati Reds. The Atlanta offer was supposed to be astronomical, but John later said he was never really interested in pitching for the Braves. He wanted to go with a winner. 


As it turned out, John and Rose signed their multiyear contracts within less than two weeks of each other. John's contract with the Yankees called for $1.4 million over three years, while Rose's, with some help from Channel 17, was a four-year deal calling for in the neighborhood of $800,000 a year. 


John was taken in by the appeal of the Yankees themselves and by the City of New York, plus Al Rosen's persuasive ways. He liked the thought of joining a team that just won a World Series. After all, he was coming from a winning team in Los Angeles. 


"Having been beaten by the Yankees two years in a row," John said at the time of his signing, "I like playing for a winner. When you look at the Yankee infield, you're talking about the best in baseball. That makes Tommy John a better pitcher. When you're throwing 19 or 20 ground balls a game, you need guys shagging them down. My fielders get a lot of work.”


On Sunday, the Yankee infielders did indeed get a lot of work. John did throw ground balls, getting 16 outs that way, and got double plays in the second and third to wipe out the Twins of a possible rally. 


While this was John's sixth straight win, it was his fourth complete game, and those four are all the Yankees have. He's got an ERA of 1.77, an enviable mark to say the least. 


All Tommy John has to do is get the Yankees into the World Series. From the start he's had, if the Yankees don't make it, it won't be his fault – again.