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All American Game : : Story

Published: Wednesday, August 03, 2011

He is the only All-Star pitcher in major league history whose name is more closely associated with a surgical procedure than anything he ever accomplished on the field. And now that name has become associated with Perfect Game.

Tommy John, a terrific left-hander out Terre Haute, Ind., who won 288 games over a 26-year big league career, will be actively involved in the festivities surrounding the Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings, slated for Sunday, Aug. 14, at PETCO Park in San Diego.

The all-star game is the highlight of five days of activities in San Diego, starting with the PG National Games at the University of San Diego Aug. 11-12 and followed by two days of workouts, scrimmages and other special events leading up to Sunday’s game.

The Classic showcases 46 of the nation’s top prospects in the high school graduating class of 2012.

I’m anxious to see these young men of high school age and see how well they play,” John said in a recent telephone conversation with Perfect Game. “As a baseball person, I’m huge on high school players entering the draft and getting their feet wet right away because that gives them a chance to play baseball seven days a week.”

John got involved with the Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings after meeting PG Vice President of Development Brad Clement at the PG Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game in Elmira, N.Y., last month. John threw out the first pitch at the game and participated in other activities surrounding the event.

The meeting with Clement ultimately led to John being invited to the All-American Classic.

While in San Diego, John will watch the prospects workout and scrimmage, make a visit to the Rady Children’s Hospital – which receives proceeds from the Classic – and will meet and talk with the troops at the Miramar Naval Air Station.

He will be the presenter of the coveted Perfect Game Nick Adenhart Award, whose recipient “best exemplifies the overall spirit and character of a true (Perfect Game) All-American,” according to the inscription on the trophy. Adenhart pitched in the first Aflac All-American Classic in 2003 and was tragically killed in an auto accident on April 9, 2009, hours after making his first start of the 2009 season with the Los Angeles Angels.

John will also sit down and visit with the players and their parents, answering questions and providing his unique insights.

I was co-valedictorian of my high school class (at Gerstmeyer High School in Terre Haute) and I opted to forgo college to go play pro ball,” John said. “I’m going to talk to the players and tell them, if they do (turn pro), what to expect and what not to expect. I’ll kind of give them an overall view.”

John, now 68, was drafted by the Cleveland Indians as an 18-year-old amateur free agent in 1961 and made his major league debut with the Indians two years later.

He went on to pitch 26 more seasons with the White Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Angels and Indians, and finished with a career record of 288-231. He was a four-time All-Star and played in three World Series.

John was enjoying a stellar season with the Dodgers in 1974, posting a 13-3 record just past mid-season as the Dodgers were rolling toward their first pennant in eight years. It was at that point he damaged the ulnar collateral ligament in his left (pitching) elbow, which led now famous Dr. Frank Jobe to attempt a procedure that had never been done before.

Jobe replaced John’s damaged elbow ligament with a tendon from his right forearm in a procedure that today is simply known as Tommy John surgery. It not only salvaged John’s career – he won 164 games in 14 seasons after the surgeries – but also those of countless other players of all ages who have underwent the procedure.

When John was 31 in 1974, he suffered what many believed to be a career-ending injury. By the time he retired in 1989 at age 46, he was the oldest active player in the big leagues.

John previously coached high school baseball after ending his professional career in 1989 and also coached in the minor leagues.

I had probably more fun coaching that high school team than anything I’ve ever done in pro ball,” John said. “It was gratifying in that you saw where they were when the season started and you saw where they were when the season ended, and how much they had grown as baseball players.

The thing I tried to do when I coached was teach the kids respect for the game.”

Now John will head to San Diego late next week for a whirl-wind visit that he eagerly anticipates.

I know I’m going to enjoy it. It’s going to be fun,” he said. “I’m going to enjoy meeting the people at Perfect Game and I will really enjoy meeting the players and answering any questions that they may have of some old goat named Tommy John.”

 
 
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