Born: May 25, 1950
Town: Long Branch, New Jersey
John Joseph Montefusco Jr. was born on May 25, 1950, in Long Branch. He played shortstop in high school, and did not begin pitching until his senior year. That season he was undefeated in six decisions and tossed a no-hitter. Scouts were unimpressed; he was not offered a pro contract or a college scholarship. He chose to attend Brookdale Community College in nearby Lincroft. He set several records playing for the baseball team, including 16 strikeouts in a game. Still, there was no interest from the pros.
John played semipro ball in leagues around the Jersey Shore. The owner of his team called a friend who worked for the San Francisco Giants and sold them on the idea of scouting John. They saw enough to offer the confident young man a contract in November 1972—after which he predicted he would be in the big leagues within two years. True to his word, he got the call after going 24–14 in 1973 and 1974.
John was summoned to Dodger Stadium on September 3rd for a game against the Giants. He arrived just before the first pitch and was sent to the bullpen by manager Wes Westrum. John watched as starter Ron Bryant failed to get an out in the first inning. Then the call came—Westrum wanted him to get in the game and mop up. John proceeded to throw a “complete” nine-inning victory, allowing just one run as the Giants came back to win 9–5. In the third inning, John smacked a two-run homer against Charlie Hough. After the game, Al Michaels, the Giants’ broadcaster, dubbed him The Count of Montefusco.
John was rewarded for his effort with five September starts, and a spot in the rotation in 1975. He got off to a fast start, beating fellow New Jerseyan Andy Messersmith and the Dodgers 1–0 in April. After the game, John began trash talking in the locker room. The comments were reported in the newspapers, making him an instant target for Dodger players and fans. John finished his first full campaign with a flourish that gave him a 15–9 record, an ERA under 3.00 and more than 200 strikeouts. He edged Gary Carter for Rookie of the Year and finished fourth in the Cy Young voting.
John won 16 games in 1976, with a 2.84 ERA and 172 strikeouts. He pitched in his one and only All-Star Game, tossing two hitless innings and striking out Fred Lynn and Phil Garner. In his final start of the season, he no-hit the Atlanta Braves. Fewer than 1,500 fans were in the ballpark in Atlanta and the game was not broadcast on TBS, so it was probably the least-viewed no-no of the television era.
In 1977, the injury bug bit John. He turned his ankle trying to beat out a bunt in a May game and didn’t come off the DL until July. He finished the year with just 7 wins. John reinjured the ankle in 1978 but recovered to go 11–9. After two losing seasons he was traded to the Braves in 1981. In 1982, he signed a free agent deal with the Padres and in 1983, he was traded to the Yankees in August.
John went 5–0 in New York down the stretch and pitched parts of the next three seasons for the Yankees—never capturing the magic he had in the 1970s, but then again never losing his brashness and confidence. The final nail in The Count’s big-league coffin was a car accident that resulted in a sore hip. John altered his pitching mechanics to compensate and ruined his arm.
After retiring from the Yankees, John explored several business opportunities but eventually came back to baseball. In 2000, Sparky Lyle asked him to serve as pitching coach for the Somerset Patriots. He helped the club win the league title in 2001 and 2003. John resigned late in the 2005 season after the team informed him he would not be its manager in 2006.