I was honored on several occasions to speak with Dr. Frank Jobe. The pioneering sports surgeon is the Babe Ruth of surgery, most famous for his development of the now-common ulnar collateral ligament replacement surgery. You might know it as Tommy John surgery. Jobe passed away this week at the age of 88.
Around baseball, many players today would not be in the game if not for Jobe's work. It's more than simply developing Tommy John surgery, though without it, one-third of pitchers would be out of the game.
Imagine this. On Jobe's own Dodgers squad, Brian Wilson and Chad Billingsley have had the surgery three times between them. It's much the same around the league.
All-Stars like Adam Wainwright, Tim Hudson, Stephen Strasburg and Matt Harvey would be memories, the way hundreds or thousands of pitchers were prior to the development. Jobe told me in June of last year that his one regret about the surgery was that he didn't develop it sooner. He believed that he could have helped his friend, Sandy Koufax, return to pitching with the surgery.
Beyond Tommy John surgery, Jobe had two major developments that contribute more to the game. Jobe developed a series of exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff. These exercises, often called Jobe exercises or the Thrower's Ten, are still in use today. If they didn't work, Jobe developed a surgery that he used on Orel Hershiser in the late 1980s that is still in use today.
Jobe was also instrumental in the establishment of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic. The Los Angeles clinic is one of the centers of sports medicine, training a large percentage of surgeons around all sports, especially baseball. Sadly, one of Jobe's top proteges, Dr. Lewis Yocum, passed away last year after a battle with cancer. Yocum was one of the top surgeons in baseball and was to the Angels what Dr. Jobe was to the Dodgers.
Jobe had universal respect around the game. Last year, when I was writing about Dr. Jobe prior to being honored by the Hall of Fame, it was very easy to find people willing to give a quote. Other giants in Sports Medicine didn't hesitate to honor him, as well as many around baseball. Tommy John himself called Jobe "the king of Dodger Stadium."
Sadly, Jobe is one of the last surgeons of his generation. Along with doctors like his longtime partner, Dr. Robert Kerlan, and Dr. Jack Hughston, he invented Sports Medicine in the post-war years. Not only did the entire speciality owe itself to their work, they trained the next generation of surgeons.
While that generation, which includes their proteges, like Dr. Yocum and Dr. James Andrews, is aging itself, the work has gone on and almost all top surgeons can trace a line to one of these greats.
I am sure that the Dodgers will be honoring Dr. Jobe, but in this case, perhaps that is not enough. A patch will never truly honor what he did, but I think baseball itself should take it a step further. I think that every pitcher and player around the league should wear a special patch on the sleeve of their jersey, reminding everyone that without Dr. Jobe, there are a lot of players who wouldn't be in baseball today. Of course, all of them walk around with a scar that should remind them of how lucky they are.
Last year, I was proud to tell Dr. Jobe's story in this article. I was honored that his colleagues at the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons selected that series for their annual MORE Award for excellence. I'll be accepting that award in May and dedicate it to the memory and the work of one of the greats, Dr. Frank Jobe.
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