John Set for Release by Angels
The first two months of his 22nd major league season have not been easy for Tommy John.
Shuttling between the Angels’ rotation and bullpen--demoted every time a day off permitted the club to use just four starters--John repeatedly said he was unable to establish consistency.
His work schedule was compounded by the mental concern and strain stemming from his mother’s struggle with a serious illness at her home in Terre Haute, Ind., where John has been visiting frequently.
Monday, however, proved to be the 42-year-old left-hander’s most difficult day yet.
First, his wife, Sally, underwent successful abdominal surgery at UC Irvine Medical Center.
Then, because he had not been at his Peralta Hills home to receive a call from Angel General Manager Mike Port, it was necessary for John’s attorney, Bob Cohen, to reach John at the medical center with a message.
The Angels, creating a roster vacancy for Rod Carew, who had been on the disabled list since May 20 with a stress fracture in his left foot, were putting John on a designated for assignment list.
The Angels, who will replace John as tonight’s starter against Texas with rookie Rafael Lugo, now have 10 days to assign John to another club via trade or release him, which is the likely move. John, once released, can be signed for the prorated remainder of the $40,000 major league minimum.
The Angels will still be responsible for the remainder of his guaranteed contract, which called for $600,000 this year and extends through 1986 at $500,000.
“The easy way would be for Tommy to take the money and retire,” Cohen said, “but he’s healthy and wants to pitch.
“I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t end up with another club once waivers clear. The clubs now have a better idea of their needs than in the spring.”
Cohen said he was not surprised by the Angels’ move. In fact, he and John had been asking for it since December, when they became convinced John didn’t fit in the Angels’ plans.
Cohen said he talked to Port as late as last Thursday, suggesting again that if the Angels couldn’t give John a definite assignment that they release him.
“This is nothing we haven’t been asking for,” said Cohen, who has been given permission by the Angels to begin talking to other clubs.
“We kept telling Mike,” Cohen said, “that we know he doesn’t care about Tommy, but he has to care about the club, and the way Tommy was being used simply wasn’t beneficial to the club--and certainly not to Tommy. If he was going to start, start him. If he was going to relieve, relieve with him. But a combination of the two was no good to him mentally or physically.
“We’re sorry this had to happen so late into the season because we knew in December it had to happen sooner or later, but we’re looking on it as being for the best.
“I mean, from a pride standpoint, no athlete is happy to be released, but from a personal standpoint, Tommy might be better off. He pitched very well given the circumstances. There are going to be clubs interested in him.”
John, who was unavailable for comment, had made six starts and six relief appearances. He was 4-2 with a 4.70 ERA. He was 7-13 last year and 11-13 the year before. His ERAs were 4.52 and 4.33. He will enter the market with a career record of 257-201.
Manager Gene Mauch said it was obvious that the Angels doubted John’s ability to win consistently, though “I hope for his sake I’m wrong. I’ve been involved in a lot of decisions like this and it’s always difficult. The fact that he’s a wealthy young man takes some of the sting out of it, but it’s still not easy.”
Said pitching coach Marcel Lachemann, who joined Mauch and Port in making the decision: “I have a great deal of respect for what Tommy John has accomplished. You don’t win 250 games without being a great pitcher, but if we thought he could win consistently we wouldn’t have made this move.
“I’m sure Tommy feels he can still win. Who’s to say he’s wrong or we’re right. The organization was at a time and place where we had to make a move.”
The Angels will start two rookies in their rotation: Lugo, who was 13-8 at Double-A Waterbury last year and has a 1.38 ERA after six relief stints, and Kirk McCaskill, the 24-year-old right-hander who registered his first major league win against Texas Monday night.
Said Mauch: “These young guys have a chance to get better, but they can’t get better unless they have a chance to pitch. We’re at that point.
“I had fully expected John to pitch well early in the season (because of his strong spring and off-speed pitches).”
Did he pitch well?
“Decently,” Mauch said. “He gave us a couple of chances to win.”
The Angels are carrying only nine pitchers, but will get back to 10 soon with the addition of Luis Sanchez, who has returned from a rehabilitation assignment at Edmonton and is expected to come off the disabled list within a few days, necessitating another roster move.
Of his rotation, Port said, “There’s still room for improvement.” He has two starters in the wings: Steve Rogers at Edmonton and Geoff Zahn on the disabled list. He also continues to pursue a trade. A source, requesting anonymity, said that Bert Blyleven, No. 1 on the Angels’ shopping list, was told by the Cleveland Indians Sunday that he would be traded before this week ended.
Lugo’s name has been mentioned prominently in the Blyleven negotiations. He will have a chance tonight to prove perhaps that the Angels don’t need to trade.
John had foreseen much of this, saying in the spring that the Angels were determined to go with young pitchers and to dump the big salaries of fringe veterans. He said Port was unable to make a decision without the advice of owner Gene Autry’s wife, Jackie, and criticized the club for leaving his status uncertain.
Port refused to delve into the personalities on Monday. John? Does he leave bitter?
“This didn’t quite work out the way we wanted,” Cohen said, “but there’s no room to be bitter. Tommy’s a big boy. He’s been paid well. He still has a contract. He understands the way things are done and is ready to move on, to take things from here. There’s no excuses. There’s no hard feelings.”