“I told Dr. (Frank) Jobe that if he did his job, I’d do mine,” recalled former major league baseball pitcher Tommy John, the first athlete to have his torn ulnar collateral ligament repaired in a now-common surgery – Tommy John Surgery – that colloquially would be named after him.
“His job was to repair the ligament and mine was to rehabilitate it enough to pitch.”
John went on to pitch for more than a decade in a 26-year career with six Major League Baseball teams, including the season with the New York Yankees in which Thurman Munson lost his life in a plane crash. He will recall that surgery along with a host of other baseball memories, when he speaks July 9 at the 2022 Thurman Munson Catcher’s Scholarship Award Dinner sponsored by J. Babe Stearn Community Center, formerly the Canton Police Boys Club.
This year’s dinner, at which Faith Kiko of North Canton Hoover High School and Landon Waller of Canton McKinley High School will receive $1,000 Thurman Munson Catchers Scholarship awards, will be combined with the enshrinement of three individuals into the Stearn Center Hall of Fame.
“It’s going to be a great program,” said Steve Fettman, event chairman, who noted that the number of Hall of Fame inductees has been cut back to accommodate the pairing with the scholarship dinner.
The quality of the class of enshrinees, however, is special, Fettman said.
The trio of members and supporters of the Stearn Center to be enshrined include football greats Todd Blackledge, Mark Murphy, and Garland Rivers.
In addition, Tommy Mankowski of McKinley High School will be honored as the Stearn Center’s Student of the Year.
Emcee for the dinner will be Mark Milano.
Tickets to the event, which begins at 6 pm July 9 at Tozzi’s on 12th, are $40 and they can be obtained at the Stearn Center, Davies Pharmacy and Mike Munson’s Tug Boats. Seating is limited to 300, and deadline to make reservations is July 6.
Information can be obtained by calling the Stearn Center at 330-455-3921.
Scholarship winners recognized
The amount of the scholarships being awarded has been doubled this year, noted Tim Haverstock, program director of the Stearn Center. A male baseball and female softball catcher annually receive the scholarships.
“They’re selected on the basis of the characteristics for which Thurman Munson is known,” he said.
Leadership by example and sportmanship for all and integrity for their sports are values shared by both of this year’s recipients.
“I believe the best way to show leadership is to lead by example,” said Waller in his scholarship application. “I encourage, my teammates to play with maximum effort every pitch.”
Sportsmanship means “playing with class,” noted both Waller and Kiko. It means “being fair, and not just to opponents but also the officials,” said Kiko.
“It also means being the bigger person and keeping your cool even at the worst of times,” she added.
Participating in her sport has “made me the person I am today,” said Kiko, “giving me the opportunity to overcome challenges,” and Waller concurred.
“If you never give up, success will come,” Waller agreed. “It’s not how many times you get out, it’s about how many times you get back in the box and give it your all.”
HOF inductees to be enshrined
Three individuals to be honored as new Hall of Fame enshrinees by the Stearn Center have achieved their share of success, and also have contributed to the growth of the center.
Todd Blackledge has been involved with the center for more than 25 years, and has supported many of the club’s programs, said Haverstock.
“He left the game of professional football, he ran quarterback camps for students at the Babe Stearn Center as well as coached in our many youth leagues,” Haverstock said. “Todd also ran fundraisers with his counterpart Mark Murphy to raise funds for the Babe Stearn boys club.”
Former NFL player Murphy has also been involved with the Stearn Center for more than a quarter of a century.
“Mark also ran the Pro Am Golf Tournament to raise money for the club,” said Haverstock. “He has also been involved in coaching and playing in many youth leagues at the Center. He was instrumental in starting our NFL Flag football program with the Pro Football Hall of Fame. To this day Mark still makes himself available to support the club.”
Garland Rivers was a member of the club as a youth and grew to be an outstanding football player at Canton McKinley High School, then went to the University of Michigan before playing professional football, said Haverstock.
“Garland came back to the club to coach and umpire Mitey Mite Baseball along with any other task needed by the students,” Haverstock said. “Garland is an extraordinary role model for our students.”
Student of the year Tommy Mankowski will be entering his sophomore year at McKinley High School, where he participates in football and golf and has a 4.2 grade-point average.
“Tommy is also finishing up his eagle scout project at the Babe Stearn Center,” said Haverstock, “which will enhance the neighborhood in our community garden project.”
Promoting Munson’s HOF election
Another goal for the dinner is to promote Munson’s election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Last November, Major League Baseball announced that Munson’s name had been added to the ballot for the Hall of Fame’s modern era committee. Fellow Yankee Tommy John is also on that ballot.
Each year, a candidate needs at least 75% of the committee members’ votes to be elected.
“That would be so neat to go in with him,” said John in a recent phone interview. “He was an outstanding catcher, hitter, and leader. If I go in with him I will be absolutely thrilled to pieces.”
Much has been written about the worthy credentials of both former players.
“We’d like to push for both of them to be elected to the Hall of Fame,” said Haverstock.
An organization called the Munson HOF Committee has launched a campaign to encourage Munson’s election to the elite body. In a career cut short by tragedy, the catcher has statistics and leadership qualities that warrant his election, the website for the committee notes.
“During the 1970s, Thurman Munson was among the top three catchers in major league baseball,” says the website. “He was named to seven all-star teams, respected by his peers and was the heart and soul of the Yankee championship teams of that era. When viewed through the prism of modern baseball analytics, Thurman Munson had an incredible decade of dominance from 1970 to 1979 that matches up with other catchers in the Hall of Fame.”
John’s career, in addition to contributing to his sport by being the pioneer recipient of surgery that extended his professional pitching and continued the careers of countless other athletes who have received the surgery since John’s operation in 1974, also has statistics that support his selection to the Hall of Fame.
John competed in the Major Leagues – for the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, California Angels and Oakland Athletics – for 26 seasons between 1963 and 1989. During that career he won 288 games, struck out 2,245 batters , and compiled an earned run average of 3.34.
When he speaks at the scholarship dinner, will “tell baseball stories” about that career, a career lengthened by the surgery that bears his name.
John said that he had no concept at the time of the significance of the surgery.
“To me, it meant I had a job in the Major Leagues for 26 years. All I wanted to do was play baseball. I was happy to have gotten to play when I did, where I did and with the teammates I did,” he said.
John, who recently donated the cast from the surgery to the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of American History, said he didn’t seek out a place in sports surgery history.
“I was in the right place, at the right time, and God was good to me.”
Reach Gary at email@example.com. On Twitter: @gbrownREP.
About the event
WHAT Thurman Munson Scholarship Awards Dinner and J. Babe Stearn Community Center Hall of Fame Enshrinement.
WHEN – 6 pm July 9.
WHERE Tozzi’s on 12th.
WHO Hosted by J. Babe Stearn Community Center; speaker will be former baseball pitcher Tommy John.
WHY – To honor two individuals, one male baseball catcher and one female softball catcher, with college scholarships; also to enshrine three individuals into the Stearn Center Hall of Fame.
How: Tickets may be obtained for $40 at the Stearn Center, Davies Pharmacy, and Mike Munson’s Tug Boats. Deadline is July 6. For information, call the Center at 330-455-3921. Opportunities for sponsor ads are also available by calling the Center.