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Timing of Angel Move to Drop Him Upsets John Most

Times Staff Writer

As the owner of a car agency in Orlando, Fla., and a man whose six-figure salary is guaranteed through 1986, Tommy John said Tuesday: “I could retire right now and never have to work a day in my life. Maybe I could go to journalism school and become a sportswriter.”

Could, but won’t. Not yet. The 42-year-old John still feels the familiar fires. His goal of 300 wins is still to be achieved. His upcoming release by the Angels is just one more challenge. It’s a matter of pride now.

“Pitching,” John said by phone from his Peralta Hills home, “is still the thing I enjoy doing most. Throwing the ball. Working the situations. I’ve always enjoyed challenges and this is the latest.”

John learned Monday that the Angels have put him on a designated for assignment list, meaning they have 10 days in which to trade him to another team or release him, which is what will happen.

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No team will trade for John before his release because it would then be responsible for the remainder of his contract, which pays him $600,000 this year and $500,000 next year. Once released, however, John can be signed for the prorated remainder of the $40,000 minimum salary with the Angels obligated for the rest.

John was unavailable for comment Monday, having spent most of a long day at UC Irvine Medical Center, where his wife, Sally, underwent serious but successful abdominal surgery. She will return home Saturday.

On Tuesday, John endorsed the Monday reaction of his attorney, Bob Cohen.

He said his arm is healthy, that he believes he can pitch beyond the parameters of his current contract. He said the release represents a providential move in that he could not help the Angels in an undefined role that saw him shuttling between the rotation and bullpen.

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His regret, he said, is that it didn’t happen in the spring, when he predicted it would eventually happen because of the Angels’ new emphasis on young players and a determination to dump fringe veterans with high salaries.

“This is the best thing they could have done for me,” John said. “I only wish they had done it eight to 10 weeks ago because I really think it was in their plans all along.

“I mean, the sad part of the situation is that I pitched the best I could in a role that was never once defined. I told Gene (Mauch) and Lach (pitching coach Marcel Lachemann) that I can pitch a little every day out of the bullpen or I can throw 125 pitches every five days, but I can’t do both, I can’t prepare if I have to do both. I don’t like to use the word ‘communication’ but I didn’t get much from either Gene or Lach. I seldom knew when I was going to pitch. In fact, I had to read it in the paper once that I wasn’t.

“It just seems that when you’ve accomplished things like I have, people are afraid to come to you, afraid to say, ‘hey, like it or not, this is your job.’

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“I finally went to Lach and said, ‘Is it too much to ask that I know how I’m going to be used and when?’

“I mean, I have to be happy that I pitched as well as I did under the circumstances. I really feel I can win consistently if I’m used in a consistent role, but I wouldn’t want to go anywhere that would put me back in the same situation I was in with the Angels.”

John was 2-4 for six starts and six relief appearances. He averaged just over five innings per start, but only once started with the normal four days in between. He went 15 days between each of his last two starts but still restricted the Detroit Tigers to two runs in six innings and the New York Yankees to three runs in 6.

Having been critical of club management in the spring for leaving his status uncertain, John was asked Tuesday if he thought his release stemmed from a festering personality conflict.

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“No,” he said. “I think they were at a point where they had to make a move (to activate Rod Carew) and they had a choice between a 42-year-old pitcher who they had lost confidence in and a 22-year-old pitcher (Rafael Lugo) they are confident can do the job.

“I saw this in the spring. I knew they had good young pitchers then. Shoot, they should have pitched them from the start and made this move with me eight weeks ago. I just don’t think they expected me to pitch as well as I did in the spring. The rumor was out that the Angels were going to release me, which is why clubs wouldn’t trade for me then.”

The Angels have already given Cohen permission to talk to other teams. John said he expects to hear from six to eight teams once waivers clear.

“Cleveland no, Minnesota no,” John said, “but I’ll consider going to any team that has a chance to win its division.”

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Among the clubs expected to be interested are the Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and Yankees. John has 257 wins. Can he reach 300?

“You have to have goals and you have to set them high enough and far enough ahead,” he said, “that it takes a hard climb to attain them.

“To say I want to win 260 would be to set a goal but one that would be easily attainable. There would be no challenge.

“To say I want 300 is to set a goal that may be impossible, but I can give it my best effort, I can try as hard as possible to attain it. If I don’t, however, it doesn’t mean I will have had anything less than a successful career.”

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