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The Hall of Fame Case for Tommy John

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On Sunday, December 8, the Modern Baseball Era committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame, which includes candidates whose primary contributions to baseball came between 1970-87, will vote on candidates for the 2020 induction class. Between now and then we will take a look at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness.

Next up: Tommy John

 

The case for his induction:

He had a long career — 26 seasons! — in which he was almost always an above average pitcher. In the end that led to some pretty impressive numbers: 288 wins, a 3.34 ERA, 4,710.1 innings pitched and a WAR of 62.1 WAR. Only Nolan Ryan pitched in more seasons than John and the only pitcher of the modern era with more wins than John who isn’t in the Hall of Fame is Roger Clemens who, as we know, is a bit of a special case for Hall of Fame purposes.

Beyond his pitching stats John is obviously notable for being the first recipient and namesake of Tommy John surgery. The procedure has revolutionized baseball, has saved countless pitching careers, and John was proof of concept.

It certainly revitalized John’s career. In his second season back from the surgery John won 20 games with a 2.78 ERA and finished second in the 1977 National League Cy Young Award vote. He’d win 20 games two more times in the next three years, meaning that all three of his 20-win seasons came after he went under the knife. This was, such as it was, his career peak, as he went 80-35 with a 3.12 ERA in that four-year stretch. He’d start for the Dodgers in the 1977 and 1978 World Series and for the Yankees in the 1981 World Series.

 

The case against his induction:

That peak wasn’t much of a peak as far as Hall of Famers go, especially in the very pitcher-friendly era in which John pitched. By today’s standards 288 wins and a 3.34 ERA looks pretty snazzy, but he paled in comparison to the top pitchers of the 1960s and 70s. He was no Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, Steve Carlton, Fergie Jenkins, Don Sutton, Vida Blue and, well, a good number of others. He never led his league in wins, ERA, strikeouts or innings pitched, and he was named an All-Star Game just four times over his 26 seasons. John was simply not dominant in any way — his ERA+ was a not-very-Hall-of-Famer–111 — even if he was pretty darn dependable and even if he ate innings like crazy.

 

Would I vote for him?

Can’t say that I would. He was a good pitcher for a long time, but it’s hard to point to any “great” on his resume. I like to see some great.

 

Will the Committee vote for him?

John spent 15 years on the BBWAA ballot and only topped 30% once. This is his fourth time on some version of the Veterans Committee and he never got much support there either. That’s made him pretty cranky. I suspect he’ll continue to be cranky after Sunday.

Ex-Angels employee charged in overdose death of Tyler Skaggs

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FORT WORTH, Texas — A former Angels employee has been charged with conspiracy to distribute fentanyl in connection with last year’s overdose death of Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, prosecutors in Texas announced Friday.

Eric Prescott Kay was arrested in Fort Worth, Texas, and made his first appearance Friday in federal court, according to Erin Nealy Cox, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas. Kay was communications director for the Angels.

Skaggs was found dead in his hotel room in the Dallas area July 1, 2019, before the start of what was supposed to be a four-game series against the Texas Rangers. The first game was postponed before the teams played the final three games.

Skaggs died after choking on his vomit with a toxic mix of alcohol and the powerful painkillers fentanyl and oxycodone in his system, a coroner’s report said. Prosecutors accused Kay of providing the fentanyl to Skaggs and others, who were not named.

“Tyler Skaggs’s overdose – coming, as it did, in the midst of an ascendant baseball career – should be a wake-up call: No one is immune from this deadly drug, whether sold as a powder or hidden inside an innocuous-looking tablet,” Nealy Cox said.

If convicted, Kay faces up to 20 years in prison. Federal court records do not list an attorney representing him, and an attorney who previously spoke on his behalf did not immediately return a message seeking comment.