TERRE HAUTE —
To many people around the nation, “Tommy John” are the first two words used to describe a reconstructive surgery that injured athletes have performed on their elbows so they can compete again.
But to Terre Haute, Tommy John is a hometown boy made good in Major League Baseball. And soon his name will adorn a community softball field that, decades ago, was a field of dreams for him when he last played baseball for Gerstmeyer High School, up in the neighborhoods on Terre Haute’s north side.
That honor for a native son comes after the Terre Haute Parks Board on Wednesday night voted to have a field in Spencer A. Ball Park (Ball being a last name, not a description of the park) dedicated to John’s career.
It’s a well-deserved honor for a skilled athlete who carried Terre Haute’s support with him in the 768 major league games he pitched while wearing six MLB teams’ hats and uniforms between Sept. 6, 1963, and May 25, 1989.
The folks at the Parks Department want more than a sign. They want a first-class event for a first-class guy. They want an enthusiastic welcome home for John, if he can attend a ceremonial observance. They want something special, something that will show John how his hometown feels about him. We applaud the board for advancing the idea for honoring John, and we join those who believe it could be a lot of fun and also show a lot of community character.
As a byproduct, that his hometown shows its appreciation in this manner also could only help John’s rightful claim to become a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. — from which he so far has been excluded, probably because flashier players have won admission over him. His induction is in the hands of the Hall of Fame’s veterans committee.
His playing credentials make him unquestionably worthy for the Hall of Fame.
Over 26 seasons, John won 288 games, with a .555 winning percentage and a 3.34 earned-run average. Only six lefthanders in the ancient history of baseball have won more games. Four of them are in the Hall of Fame. The two others — Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson — are not yet eligible for the Hall, but are sure bets.
John is the 26th winningest pitcher of all time, righthanded or lefthanded, and he has won more games than 34 Hall of Famers who are among the 150 winningest pitchers of all time.
For instance, John has more victories than Robin Roberts, Fergie Jenkins, Bob Feller, Carl Hubbell, Bob Gibson, Terre Haute’s Mordecai Brown, Jim Bunning, Don Drysdale and Joe Niekro.
And during some great days when he pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers (1977-1980), John was 80-35 and pitched in two World Series. Even after age 40, he was a very respectable 55-70.
So the stats are there.
Maybe a groundswell of hometown support — topped by the naming of Tommy John Field — would turn some heads.