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.
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, the 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.’”
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. My only regret is that Dr. Jobe didn’t discover his miracle procedure eight years earlier and that it’s not called ‘Sandy Koufax Surgery’ instead. Can you imagine?
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?