Column: Tommy John and Frank Jobe revolutionized baseball

2012-07-18T19:00:00Z Column: Tommy John and Frank Jobe revolutionized baseballBy MARK WHICKER - McClatchy Tribune Writer

PASADENA, Calif. - His career is dwarfed by his incision.

"It's the ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction while using the Palmaris longus tendon," he said. "That's why they call it Tommy John surgery."

That is why teenage pitchers, with scarred elbows, should have attended Pasadena Central Library on Sunday and offered thanks.

They could have learned the operation is named after a real live pitcher, one who got 166 of his 288 career victories after exposing his left arm to a knife that never had gone exactly there before.

But it is actually the Frank Jobe surgery.

The Dodgers' orthopedist performed the first one on John in 1974. John thereupon won 20 or more games in three different seasons, and he went 6-3 with a 2.65 ERA in 14 playoff games.

The career that was supposed to end with one faulty pitch on July 17, 1974 wound up lasting 26 years, one short of the all-time record.

On Sunday, John introduced his doctor as Jobe was inducted into the Shrine of the Eternals by the Baseball Relinquary, as were pitchers Jim "Mudcat" Grant and Luis Tiant.

The Shrine recognizes baseball people whose careers were too short or controversial to make the Cooperstown class but are often more influential. Marvin Miller, Fernando Valenzuela and Bill Veeck, to name three.

Both John and Jobe deserve to enter the real Hall. There is no calculating the years, victories and money that they recovered for pitchers.

Just on Sunday, Tommy John alum Ben Sheets made his first start in two years, for the Braves. Two-time patient Chris Capuano rushed into the Dodgers' breach when Chad Billingsley's elbow acted up.

In the final game of the 2012 season, TJ veteran Chris Carpenter won the World Series for the Cardinals. Texas signed 37-year-old closer Joe Nathan, two years removed from Tommy John, last winter.

Until John, a felled pitcher just rested and hoped. Or he kept pitching, and wound up selling insurance.

Now? There are 41 pitchers on major league rosters who have had the surgery in the past 24 months.

"When you add up all the procedures in the United States and Japan, it would have to go well into the thousands," said Dr. Chris Jobe, Frank's son and an orthopedic surgeon at Loma Linda University.

"Sixteen year olds come to see you now. Their parents have the MRI results. You have to explain that Tommy John was a major league pitcher before his surgery."

Has it become routine, like filling a cavity?

Not quite, but Chris Jobe said his dad, who turns 87 today, was performing the surgery in 40 minutes at the end of his career. The first one took three hours, just because it was unplowed ground, if you will.

"But Tommy's attitude was the special thing," Frank Jobe said. "He didn't hesitate. He said, 'Let's do it.'"

Options were gone. Trainer Bill Buhler had actually taped up his elbow, as he would an ankle, to allow John to grunt the ball 60 feet, 6 inches. But John knew he couldn't get major league outs.

Vin Scully watched John run endless, wishful laps in the Astrodome before a game and wondered how John could push this boulder back to normalcy.

Yet John trusted Jobe. The doctor had opened up his elbow in 1972, to clean out bone chips after John had hurt himself sliding. "I was absolutely petrified before that surgery," John said.

Now it was down to cut or run.

Jobe told John that the new surgery "might" restore his career.

"I had been the valedictorian in my high school class," John said. "I knew might was better than never. There was no downside risk."

But Jobe also brought in Herb Stark, a hand surgeon who had performed tendon transfers, and other experts, too.

"That's because I don't know what I'm doing," Jobe said.

"I knew right then that's why I wanted him operating," John said Sunday. "He admitted to being human."

Jobe transferred the Palmaris longus, located in the wrist, and made it into a ligament, figuring it would regenerate itself.

John missed 1975. His first post-op game was a loss, five tentative innings against Atlanta. But he went seven in each of the next three outings and got an L.A. standing ovation when he beat the Pirates on April 26, 1976. "I felt like jumping over the fence," he said.

Jobe had other moments, too. In World War II, he landed in Belgium, on a glider, and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He also delivered 200 babies.

"And he published seven books," John said, smiling. "I dug a little deeper and found that one of the titles was 'Fifty Shades Of Orthopedic Surgery.'"

The audience laughed, but hundreds of pitchers know that they're all shades of green.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

No Comments Posted.

Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick

Activate subscription button gif
The Herald & Review sports team has you covered

The Herald & Review sports team has you covered

Get in the game with this handy email in your inbox every Saturday.  You'll get the latest news, videos scores and more covering all Herald & Review area high school sports teams.


Online only

NFL Draft

Get the latest updates, video and interactive features on the NFL draft

May 01, 2015 10:55 am(0)



More Teams



Sports Links


Main | Football Stats (Big Ten Scoreboard) | Men's Basketball Stats (Big Ten Scoreboard)


Football: FBS | FCS
Men's Basketball: Main | Scoreboard
Women's Basketball: Main | Scoreboard


MLB: Main | Scoreboard
NFL: Main | Scoreboard
NBA: Main | Scoreboard
WNBA: Main | Scoreboard
NHL: Main | Scoreboard
Tennis: Men | Women
Auto Racing: Sprint | Nationwide | Truck | Indy | F-1 | Champ
Golf: PGA | LPGA | Champions | Nationwide | USGA | European | Canadian
Soccer: MLS | WPS | Indoor | International
More: AHL/CHL/ECHL | Arena FB | CFL

High School

Main | Baseball | Boys Basketball | Football | Girls Basketball | Golf | Soccer | Softball | Volleyball | Track and Field | Wrestling

Deals & Offers

More Offers
Sign up to get weekly sports updates!

Saturday Morning

Sunday Morning

Featured Businesses

More Businesses