Dr. Frank W. Jobe – The Man who Changed Baseball Medicine

(Re-posted from January 20, 2013)

Let’s be honest here – when you hear the name Tommy John, what is the very first thing that comes to mind? Is it the famous former Indians, White Sox, Dodgers, Yankees, Angels and Athletics left-handed pitcher who won 288 career games, had a career ERA of 3.34, struck out 2,245 batters and appeared in 4 All-Star games?

I didn’t think so.

As great of a pitcher as Tommy John was, the very first thing that comes to mind when you hear his name is “Tommy John surgery.”

In that same breath and synonymous with Tommy John is, of course, Dr. Frank Jobe – at least it should be. While Tommy John gets all of the accolades for what is clearly the most significant advancement in baseball medicine history, the truth of the matter is that it is Dr. Jobe who deserves all of the credit.

Dr. Frank W. Jobe(Photo courtesy of Kerlan- Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic)

Dr. Frank W. Jobe
(Photo courtesy of Kerlan- Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic)

But there is far more to this man of miracles. Truth be known, not only is Dr. Jobe one of modern medicine’s greatest pioneers, he is also an American hero.

Frank W. Jobe was born in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1925. In 1943 at the age of 18, Jobe enlisted in the Army where he served as a medical staff sergeant in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division – yes that 101st Airborne Division – ‘The Screaming Eagles’ and among the heroes of the Battle of the Bulge (and many others) and featured in HBO’s popular miniseries Band of Brothers.

After the war, Jobe attended La Sierra University in Riverside, California where he completed his undergraduate degree. He continued his education at Loma Linda University Medical School and completed his residency at L.A. County Hospital as an orthopedic surgeon.

After completing his residency, Dr. Jobe teamed up with fellow orthopedic surgeon Dr. Robert Kerlan to specialize in the virtually uncharted field of sports medicine. The duo co-founded the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in 1965 and became the official team doctors for the Dodgers, the (then) L.A. Rams, the Lakers, the Angels and eventually the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks. Their clientele also included professional and amateur athletes from across the country.

On September 25, 1974, Dr. Jobe made sports medicine history when he performed the first-ever ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction surgery on Dodgers left-hander Tommy John; a procedure that is known today as “Tommy John surgery” and a procedure that is now considered (almost) routine for injured baseball players on every level – including high school.

“I think the discussion (with Tommy John) about the surgery itself was a very interesting thing,” said Dr. Jobe during a 2012 interview. “Should I have done it or shouldn’t I? Every circumstance is different. 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 it 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.’”

"Let's do it" said former Dodger pitcher Tommy John after Dr. Jobe discussed the uncertainty of the procedure to him.(Photo courtesy of the Dodgers)

“Let’s do it” said former Dodger pitcher Tommy John after Dr. Jobe discussed the uncertainties of the procedure to him. (Photo courtesy of the Dodgers)

Dr. Jobe has authored more than 140 medical publications and has edited seven books written by his colleagues. Additionally, he has received two Honorary Doctorate Awards in the U.S. and one in Japan.

Since that historic first-ever Tommy John surgery in 1974, it is estimated that Dr. Jobe’s procedure has saved or prolonged the careers of more than 150 professional baseball players (and counting) and more than a thousand worldwide. It’s unfortunate that Dr. Jobe didn’t discover his miracle procedure a mere eight years earlier  – then it would have been known as ‘Sandy Koufax Surgery’ instead. Can you imagine?

Dr. Jobe is flanked by two of his most famous former patients - Tommy John and Orel Hershiser.(Photo credit - Jon SooHoo)

Dr. Jobe is flanked by two of his most famous former patients – Tommy John and Orel Hershiser. (Photo credit – Jon SooHoo)

Today the soon to be 88-year-old Dr. Jobe still serves as a clinical professor for the Department of Orthopedics for Keck School of Medicine at USC. He remains a member of the Dodgers front office serving as Special Advisor to the Chairman, along with Dodger legends Don Newcombe and Tommy Lasorda.

Interestingly enough, there is currently a grassroots campaign to have Dr. Jobe elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. To be quite frank (no pun intended), it is beyond all conceivable and logical comprehension that Dr. Jobe isn’t already enshrined in the sacred Halls of Cooperstown.

What are your thoughts? Does Dr. Frank W. Jobe belong in the National Baseball Hall of Fame?

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Note: Article updated March 7, 2014

On July 27, 2014 the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum “recognized” Dr. Jobe but did not enshrine him into the actual Hall of Fame, where he rightfully belongs. Although ailing, the 88-year-old Dr. Jobe attended that induction ceremony – the same one in which no one from the 20th or 21st century was voted in by the BBWAA. If ever there were a person deserving of enshrinement into the Hall of Fame in 2014 it was Dr. Jobe, but Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson and the Board of Directors absolutely dropped the ball on this one, this in spite of the efforts of the grassroots campaign of DrJobeHOF.org which has since disbanded after Dr. Jobe was ‘recognized’ by the Hall of Fame in 2014.

On March 6, 2014, Dr. Jobe died at the age of 88. And while there is every reason to believe that he will eventually be enshrined into the Hall of Fame, it sure would have been nice (and respectful) if Jeff Jeff Idelson and the Hall of Fame Board of Directors had done so when he was alive instead of now having to do it posthumously.

 

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16 Responses to “Dr. Frank W. Jobe – The Man who Changed Baseball Medicine”

  1. Evan Bladh says:

    Frank Jobe has impacted the game in a way that no other medical professional has. So many careers saved. So much more amazing baseball seen from hundreds of players that would have had careers shortened. There probably is no other non-player more worthy of HOF enshrinement than Dr. Jobe.

  2. OldBrooklynFan says:

    The only answer to you question Ron is “Absolutely”.

  3. KSparkuhl says:

    Unequivocally, Dr. Jobe should be inducted to the MLB Hall of Fame… right next to Tommy John, who should be there as well.

    Just curious; I wonder how many players who underwent the proceedure are currently in the Hall? Obviously as the years pass there will be more… but I wonder what that number is now?

    • Ron Cervenka says:

      I agree that TJ belongs in the Hall as well, Kevin, but that’s another story for another day.

      That I am aware of, there are currently no Hall of Famers who underwent the procedure, but there eventually will be. Perhaps this is what the Veterans Committee is waiting on, even if ridiculous.

      As it stands right now, it would appear that John Smoltz would have the best shot at being the first TJS recipient to enter the Hall of Fame, although with a career mark of 213-155 and a career ERA of 3.33, he may not make it; HOWEVER, he is ranked as the 41st best pitcher of all time and there are only 12 guys ahead of him who are not in the Hall of Fame, and a couple of those probably will be in the next couple of years. None of them, however, had TJ surgery.

      I found this lists of all known TJ surgery recipients in the MLB and MiLB as of November 2012. I imagine that there are a few more, but it appears to be a pretty comprehensive list. (Don’t know why he alphabetized them by first name, but he did).

  4. Bluenose Dodger says:

    Anyone who makes such a positive impact on the game should be recognized with the highest honor that can be awarded. I doubt the BBWAA will vote him in until there is that groundswell of support from those who have benefited from his genius. He is indeed an invaluable pioneer in the game.

    • Ron Cervenka says:

      I’m pretty sure that this would be under the Veterans Committee and not the BBWAA. It would be a travesty if he gets voted in posthumously when they had an opportunity to do it now.

  5. Bluenose Dodger says:

    Probably under Veterans Committee. Posthumously seems like a definite possibility if at all. As you say, that would be a travesty.

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