Talking White Sox history with Tommy John

Found on eBay: Tommy John smiling on Comiskey Park's artificial turf, something he didn't do too often.

On Tuesday, I posted the first part of my conversation with Tommy John, dealing with some of the issues that current White Sox pitchers have to deal with. Today, I'll share the parts that deal with his experiences during his White Sox career.

For a quick review, John's South Side stay started in 1965, when the White Sox cleared 90 wins for the third straight year. That's a feat unmatched in franchise history, before or since.

His career ended during the darkest days of the organization's history (at least ones that didn't involve throwing games). Sox fans were treated to an artificial-turf infield, a 106-loss season, league-worst attendance and rumors of relocation to Seattle. John went 82-80 with a 2.95 ERA, the win-loss record dragged down by anemic offenses, before he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Dick Allen.

On the Allyns

John and Arthur Allyn owned the White Sox from 1961 to 1975

"John you didn't see very much. Arthur was the one -- we had a party down at Arthur's home in Siesta Key, Fla. And we went to his house, and he was a gracious host and did everthing he could to make the evening nice for us, and he took us into his room ... and showed us his bug collection. He was an entymologist. And you kinda go, 'Huh? Oh ... OK.'

"But he was a nice man. You never saw John much. The thing about John that I liked, and I never took it upon myself -- and had I been in this era, I would have -- John Allyn was a member at Augusta National. And I would've made that son-of-a-gun take me down there and play the course with me."

 

On the managers

"[Chuck Tanner] and [pitching coach] Johnny Sain were big on pitching on two days' rest, three days' rest, and he had Tom Bradley** -- Bradley could pitch. God, that son-of-a-gun could throw the ball -- they rode him right into the river, man. And Bradley, I thought, was never the same pitcher after that first year ... He amassed a ton of innings, which is great if that's what you're looking for. But if you're looking for wins, shoot, I'd rather pitch seven and win a game than pitch nine and lose."

(** Until Javier Vazquez achieved the feat in 2007-08, Bradley was the most recent White Sox pitcher to record 200 strikeouts in consecutive seasons, which he did in 1971-72.)

"And we always had good bullpens with the White Sox. Hoyt Wilhelm and Eddie Fisher and Bob Locker and Don McMahon and Woody [Wilbur Wood] -- we had guys who could close games out for us, which helps, big-time."

"Al Lopez was one of the best managers I ever played for ... He said, 'Here's the bat, here are the balls, see you at the end of nine innings.' He let the players win, he let the players lose."

"In 1965, my roommate on the road was Ron Hansen, and Hansen was having a horrible, horrible year. He was hitting in the low .100s. He would come in, and Al would ask him every day, 'You OK?" 'Yeah, I'm fine.' 'OK. If you need a day off, let me know.' 'Sure thing, Al.'

If Ron went up to him and said, 'Al, I need a day off,' OK, he'd get a day off. But Ronnie didn't. He just set there and he kept playing, and All-Star break came, and in the second half of the season, Hansen was one of our best hitters. Al just stuck with him."

On the sad scene

"Tony Cuccinello was coaching third base, and he counted the house. It was like in September [1969] -- he came in and said there's 2,617 people. And there happened to be, like, 2,800. He said, "They must've been in the bathroom when I counted." And he counted, as crazy as that sounds."

"When they told us they were putting in the Astroturf, I said, 'You gotta be kidding me.' Ed Short was our general manager, and he said, 'You'll have more double plays!' I said, 'Yeah, because I'll have more guys on base.'

"It made no sense ... We were a pitch-to-contact staff with sinkerballs, and we had a slow-footed infield with no range."

On getting traded

"They say if you can last seven years in a marriage, you can make it last. Ballclubs found out after about seven years that I couldn't pitch."

"When I left, the radio station was in some guy's basement in Oak Park. It was an FM station that nobody could get in the city. When Dick [Allen] came in and had the MVP year, the next year, they're on WBBM**, getting paid."

(**The White Sox moved to WMAQ, not WBBM.)

"It might've been the best trade ever, in terms of both teams getting what they needed down the road. When we [the Dodgers] won the pennant in 1977, we're having a party at Tommy LaSorda's brother's restaurant. And this little guy gets up and says, 'I just want to toast Peter O'Malley and the Dodger organization, Tommy LaSorda ... you guys did a great job this year, and most of you don't know me, but I won you the pennant.'

"You could hear people saying, 'Who is this guy?' And he says, 'Oh, by the way, I'm Roland Hemond, general manager of the White Sox, and I was the guy who traded Tommy John to the Dodgers for Dick Allen.' And then people gave him a standing ovation."

Star-divide

John has shared more stories on his blog on VarsityScoreboards.com. For example, after Harmon Killebrew's passing, John wrote about his experiences sharing the field with him. An excerpt:

I never pitched against the Twins in 1964 but got a chance to see Killebrew against the 1965 Chicago White Sox. He hit a game winner against another future Hall of Famer, Hoyt Wilhelm. I was warming up in the bullpen at Sox Park and the ball hit off the back wall some 450 feet from home plate. Again, I was in awe. How could someone that short and stocky generate that much bat speed? Watching him hit was a delight, but not if you were pitching to him. Very little wasted movement. Bat back with a firm left arm. WHAM!!! A blur going through the hitting zone and he always kept BOTH hands on the bat, unlike how the hitters of this era do.

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