Jobe's legacy goes beyond medical contributions
Tommy John surgery pioneer, longtime Dodgers physician was dedicated, humble
To many of the people who knew Dr. Frank Jobe best, he wasn't just the man who revolutionized sports medicine. Oh sure, they knew that Frank Jobe and understood his astonishing contributions.
That Frank Jobe, who died Thursday at 88, lived a wonderful life. He served in World War II and then began a medical career in which he would have a profound impact on baseball. There simply is no way to overstate his importance.
At one point last season, 34 percent of all Major League pitchers -- 124 of 360 -- had undergone Tommy John surgery, the groundbreaking procedure Jobe first performed 40 years ago, according to data compiled by Will Carroll for BleacherReport.com.
So many of the moments we as baseball fans hold in our hearts and minds were made possible because Jobe had the imagination, surgical skills and courage to do something no one thought possible. To name all the pitchers who had their careers saved or reborn by Tommy John surgery would take hours.
Here's a partial list: Adam Wainwright, John Lackey, Tim Hudson, Stephen Strasburg, Matt Harvey, A.J. Burnett, C.J. Wilson, Josh Johnson, Joe Nathan, Chris Carpenter, Grant Balfour and Fernando Rodney. Incredibly, from looking into a professional abyss, many of them came back better than ever with the trademark triangular scar on their elbow.
Jobe actually invented two revolutionary surgical procedures that saved the careers of thousands of pitchers. One was a less invasive shoulder operation. His first patient was Orel Hershiser, who told the world again and again that Jobe had saved his career.
"He change my life!! Gave me back my career!!" Hershiser tweeted Thursday night.
He change my life!! Gave me back my career!! I will miss him and I am eternally grateful!!! Dr. Frank Jobe- Orel Hershiser (@OrelHershiser) March 7, 2014
And the other procedure was performed on Tommy John in 1974. John had torn a ligament in his left elbow while pitching for the Dodgers. At the time, there was a simple prognosis for pitchers who suffered that injury. They were done.
Jobe performed two prior surgeries on John's elbow, and then the radical one, the one that changed everything. John encouraged Jobe to think outside the box because he had nothing to lose.
Jobe did that, reconstructing the elbow with a slice of ligament transplanted from the forearm. John pitched 14 more seasons, won 164 games and twice finished second in National League Cy Young Award balloting.
In recent years, John said Jobe would have been a slam dunk for Hall of Fame induction "if I hadn't won so darn many games after the operation." He meant that his recovery was so impressive that some people assumed the surgery wasn't all that big a deal.
At the time of the surgery, Jobe gave John a 10 percent chance of pitching again. For John, the risk was worth it. Instead, the new ligament worked beautifully, making the elbow durable and strong. Many pitchers routinely threw at least as hard -- sometimes harder -- after the surgery.
Now pitchers undergo the procedure as early as high school. Jobe also studied the mechanics of pitching, offering tips for reducing stress on the elbow and shoulder, both to prevent injury and to recover.
Still, to the people who worked with and around Jobe -- including hundreds of Dodgers players, coaches and employees -- he will not be remembered for any of those things. This Frank Jobe will be recalled simply as a man of humility and decency, a reserved man who never seemed all that comfortable in the spotlight.
Vin Scully, who knew Jobe for 50 years, said he was never really comfortable discussing Jobe's impact on the sport. Jobe simply was uncomfortable allowing the spotlight to be turned on himself.
The Baseball Hall of Fame honored Jobe last summer, and during the weeks leading up to the ceremony, Jobe perhaps came to understood how much he'd meant to so many people.
Jobe was showered with letters and phone calls from not just players, but representatives of virtually every Major League Baseball team. They wanted Jobe to know that they were honored to know him and appreciate, not just the things he'd accomplished, but the way he'd lived his life.
And that's the Frank Jobe who will be missed. His surgical innovations will live on, saving careers, making baseball better. Still, there's a huge void. His dignity and decency will not be replaced. His humility is gone forever. They're among the things Frank Jobe's friends loved about him. They're the things that will be missed. His was a life well lived.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.