DR. FRANK JOBE, who would have turned 90 in the summer of 2015 before his passing a few years ago, was a renowned orthopedic surgeon who revolutionized the medical care and prolonged the careers of baseball pitchers with his groundbreaking tendon transplant procedure now known as the “Tommy John” surgery. In 1974, Dodgers pitcher TOMMY JOHN was diagnosed with a torn ligament in his left (pitching) elbow, apparently ending his career. In an experimental surgery, which he estimated at the time as having 1% odds for a successful outcome, Jobe transplanted a tendon from John’s right forearm to his left elbow. After more than a year of rehabilitation, John and his bionic arm returned to the mound, where he pitched for 14 more seasons and racked up 164 of his 288 career victories before retiring at the age of 46. Today, the procedure is commonplace among professional and amateur pitchers. It has been estimated that Jobe performed more than 1,000 Tommy John surgeries himself and that nearly 200 major leaguers – not all of them pitchers – have had their careers extended by the procedure.
In an interview with Tom Hoffarth of the Los Angeles Daily News a few years back, Jobe discussed how he and John decided to proceed with the surgery, thus establishing a relationship of trust between doctor and patient: “Tommy happened to be in my office talking, and we already had told him about all the potential complications. I was ready to sign his papers for retirement. I wasn’t even sure I should have brought [the operation idea] up in our conversation. I had no idea if it would be successful. I really wasn’t sure. We got to a point where we kind of looked at each other and he said, ‘That makes sense, let’s do it.’ I think those were the three words that changed the course of baseball medicine for the rest of time. ‘Let’s do it.’”
After a long and grueling rehabilitation, John returned to the mound with the Dodgers in 1976, completing 207 innings, recording 10 wins with a 3.09 ERA, and receiving both the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award and the Fred Hutchinson Award for Outstanding Character and Courage. That he was a better pitcher after the experimental surgery was fully evident by 1977, as John won 20 games with a 2.78 ERA, earning him a second-place finish to Steve Carlton in Cy Young Award balloting. Reliquarian Michael Fallon, in his biographical profile of Tommy John for the Society for American Baseball Research, noted that the pitcher revolutionized “athlete’s attitudes toward medicine. With 164 of his 288 victories coming after the surgery, John shattered the barrier that said players could not play after undergoing surgery.” Fallon added that, despite having the most wins of any eligible pitcher not inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, John’s “pioneering gumption, his ability to endure and come back from adversity does put him among baseball’s all-time elite.”
The two figures made medical history over 40 years ago.
For all the talk of baseball players (pitchers mostly) that will be undergoing Tommy John Surgery, we will be keeping a running list! E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any names to add to our totals.
How many players are having or had TJ in history? You are about to find out:
More Tommy John Surgeries By The Numbers + Who Is the 1st $100 MIL Pitcher To Go Down With It? + A Scherzer Angle?
TOMMY JOHN SURGERY – 2015 (25)
2015 Surgeries (29)
Greg Holland, Royals, Oct.2
Aaron Barrett, Nationals, Sept.3
Nathan Adcock, Reds
Jason Vargas, Royals, Aug.1
Jack Leathersich, Mets, July.30
Don Kelly, Marlins, July.1: OF
Sergio Santos, Blue Jays, July.1
Brandon Workman, Red Sox, June.15
Jarrod Parker, A’s – Honorable mention (3rd TJ Surgery not to occur, but he is out indefinitely after was revealed he had a tear in his elbow – recovering from 2nd TJ Surgery from Mar, 2014 in Minor League rehabilitation earlier in the month.) Still having an elbow surgery, just not the Tommy John operation. Continue reading