Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I was lucky enough to sit down for lunch with retired Yankee pitcher Tommy John this weekend.  What I really enjoy about spending time with him is being able to hear the stories that he tells.  One of my favorite from his arsenal is the following about late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner.

Tommy decided to bet Steinbrenner $50 that he couldn’t name all of the states in the United States.  Steinbrenner took the bet, and Tommy kindly handed him a piece of paper – with numbers 1-51.  When it was completed, Tommy took Steinbrenner’s $50, explaining there were only 50 states, and that Puerto Rico is not one of them!

Another very cute story he shared was when he introduced his family, including his young daughter at the time, to Joe DiMaggio.  “Do you know who this is?” Tommy John asked his toddler daughter.  “This is Joe DiMaggio, one of the best players to play the game.”

“That’s not Joe DiMaggio!” she exclaimed.  “That’s Mr. Coffee!”

And a personal story that I witnessed:

I was watching Tommy John coach the Bridgeport Bluefish a few years ago (part of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball and not part of MLB) while they played their arch-rivals the Long Island Ducks.  Truthfully, the umpires were making some really, really bad calls that night.  After a handful of these, Tommy came running out of the dugout to argue a play that the umpire called a home-run, which had clearly drifted into foul territory.  I couldn’t hear what was said, but I observed a heated, yet controlled exchange between the two men.  Tommy turned to walk back toward the dugout, and then stopped and returned to the umpire.  He leaned in and very calmly and quietly said a quick sentence.

You could see the red crawl up from the umpire’s chest protector to his neck and he very loudly and enthusiastically threw Tommy out of the game.  Since I know Tommy does not curse, I was very curious what he could have said to get thrown out.  It is amazing how powerful simple words can be.  Tommy simply told him, “That is why you will never be an umpire in affiliated baseball.” 

(Tommy John is a retired southpaw in MLB with 288 career victories.  Throughout his 26 years in the majors, he played for the Indians, Dodgers, White Sox, Angels, Athletics and Yankees.  You can follow him on twitter @TJsBullpen and read his weekly blog at