A sinkerballer with impeccable control, John’s major league career spanned 26 seasons and seven U.S. presidents, both ML records. In mid-career, he made history by becoming the game’s first “right-handed southpaw” when he had a tendon transplanted from his right forearm to his left elbow to remedy a tear that threatened to drive him from baseball.
After breaking in with the Indians, John became an effective starter for the mediocre White Sox from 1965 to 1971, leading the AL in shutouts in 1966 and 1967. He was traded to the Dodgers for Dick Allen before the 1972 season, and in 1973 he led the NL in winning percentage with a 16-9 record. John seemed to be embarking on his best season in 1974, posting a 13-3 mark before injuring his pitching elbow in July.
Dr. Frank Jobe performed the revolutionary surgery that saved John’s career, and it was amazingly successful. The soft-throwing John joked that he told Jobe to “put in a Koufax fastball. He did, but it was Mrs. Koufax’s.” He underwent rehabilitation for a year and a half, missing the entire 1975 season, and his 10-10 record in 1976 earned him the Comeback Player of the Year Award. He then won 20 games in three of the next four seasons. John was 20-7 for the Dodgers in 1977 and 17-10 in ’78, helping them to the World Series each year. But the Dodgers lost to the Yankees both times. John then signed with the Yankees as a free agent before the 1979 season and won 21 and 22 games in his first two seasons in New York.
John was traded to the Angels for Dennis Rasmussen late in the 1982 season and was released in 1985 at the age of forty-two, but after a brief stint with Oakland he returned to the Yankees in 1986 and led the club in innings pitched as a 44-year-old in 1987. He often explained his unusual durability by pointing out that his pitching arm was much younger than his chronological age.
John’s excellent sinker induced numerous ground balls and double plays throughout his career, and he was usually a fine fielder himself, setting club records with errorless seasons for both the Dodgers and White Sox. On July 27, 1988, however, John tied an ML record by committing three errors on one play. In the fourth inning against the Brewers, John muffed a ground ball for one error and threw wildly past first base for a second. Then, inexplicably, he intercepted the throw home from right field and threw wildly past the catcher.
He was released by the Yankees early in the 1989 season.