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But as a lefthander, and one who could throw 90 mph, Tudor persevered, working his way up through the Boston organization after being drafted in the secondary phase of the 1976 free-agent draft. But the arm continued to hurt. After his third start for the Red Sox in '79, he says, "My shoulder was such a mess that when I went to warm up for my next start, I couldn't get loose."
Burdened by injuries, he was labeled by some in the Red Sox organization as "gutless." Zimmer says that charge "is obviously the exact opposite of the truth." When Tudor went out to pitch the seventh game of the 1985 World Series, he had already thrown 303 innings. The day before the game he had said, "I know I'll pay the price forever. But I also may only be here once in my life. It's worth whatever price I have to pay." His shoulder didn't make it through the third inning. "He'd try to throw pitches right down the middle, and they'd be a foot out of the strike zone," recalls Roarke. "When that happens to a pitcher with perfect control, you know the arm just gave out."
In September 1986, Tudor's shoulder gave out again. In '87, he won two of his first three starts, but during a game on Easter Sunday, New York Mets catcher Barry Lyons fell into the St. Louis dugout in pursuit of a pop foul. Tudor tried to help break Lyons's fall and broke a bone below his right knee. In January of '88 he underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery. When one writer found out about the surgery, Tudor made him promise not to tell others in the media. "If I stink, I don't want some medical excuse," he said. "If I stink, it's my fault. When a team gives you a long-term deal [he signed a three-year, $3.3 million deal with the Cardinals in '86], it has a right to ask you to go out there and not complain. They took a chance. So should I."
In August 1988, when he was traded to the Dodgers, the shoulder was again causing him pain. In Game 3 of the World Series against the A's, Tudor pitched a 1-2-3 first inning and then went to the clubhouse and asked Dr. Jobe for a cortisone shot to kill the pain. Jobe refused. Tudor went back out, struck out Mark McGwire, kicked the dirt and walked off the field. "He got the strikeout, then walked off," marvels Horton. On Oct. 27, Jobe performed three operations on Tudor: He removed bone screws from his knee, cleaned out his shoulder and transferred a ligament from his right forearm to his left elbow. Says Tudor, "I knew the elbow wouldn't be any problem. But the shoulder always would be."
"The trouble with John Tudor is that he has learned to pitch with so much pain that he has too high a tolerance for it," says Dr. Arthur Pappas, who performed Tudor's 1988 shoulder surgery. "He complains about it, but that's a defense mechanism that lets him into a game with nothing psychologically to lose. But he goes in with a scary pain threshold."
One day last week Tudor talked with Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser, who recently had shoulder surgery and is out for the season. "I guess there's a camaraderie among us because of what we know we go through," says Tudor. "I just wish that new procedure that was used on Orel [one that is much less damaging to the musculature of the shoulder] was around three or four years ago. I wouldn't feel like this. Don't get me wrong. I don't want sympathy. A lot of people go through life with a lot more pain than I do. And I get reimbursed pretty handsomely to put up with what I put up with."
Tudor signed with the Cardinals as a free agent in December "because I thought I could still pitch." It wasn't for the money; Tudor has salted away most of his earnings, and when he signed his contract in 1986, he told his agent, Steve Freyer, "If I can't live the rest of my life on $3 million, I don't deserve a penny." This time around, the Cardinals gave him $100,000 to sign and a $250,000 base. He has earned an additional $100,000 for his starts thus far in 1990, and he could earn another $950,000 if he makes 30 starts and wins Comeback Player of the Year. But, says Tudor, "if I can't help this team, I'm not afraid of saying so and retiring."
The life Tudor would retire to in Massachusetts is a simple one. " John's life is the opposite of ostentatious," says Gail. Says Tudor, "With a few exceptions, my friends are the same ones I had in high school."
"He's the most respected local athletic hero I've ever seen," says Salem (Mass.) Evening News sports editor Bill Kipouras. "He'll do anything and go anywhere for the people in Peabody—Little League banquets, clinics, anything. He doesn't do big things, just little things for the people who knew him when he was coming up." Tudor took some of his 1988 World Series share and spread it among North Shore Community College, Georgia Southern and Peabody's Little League and Babe Ruth League. When Kipouras reported this generosity, Tudor was miffed. "That's private," Tudor said. Last year, John and Gail were married in Lynnfield, near Pea-body. " John's wedding was like This Is Your Life," says Kipouras. "There were a few players, but no celebrities. Most of the guests were former Little League teammates and coaches and high school friends. He never forgets anything, most of all where he comes from and who he is."
What Tudor does not know now is whether he is still an effective major league pitcher. If he is, he will add a few more hard-earned credits to his unlikely career. If he isn't, he will quickly leave it behind. "I am very happy in my own world," he says. "I am not happy being paid to take a beating. I'm not vain, but I am proud, and there's no amount of money that could get me to sell my pride."