LOS ANGELES (AP) - Dr. Frank Jobe, a pioneering orthopedic surgeon who was the first to perform an elbow procedure that became known as Tommy John surgery and saved the careers of countless major league pitchers, died Thursday. He was 88.
Jobe performed groundbreaking elbow surgery on John, a Dodgers pitcher who had a ruptured medial collateral ligament in his left elbow. The injury previously had no solution until Jobe removed a tendon from John’s forearm and repaired his elbow. John went on to pitch 14 years after the operation on Sept. 25, 1974, compiling 164 more victories without ever missing a start because of an elbow problem.
“Today I lost a GREAT friend,” John tweeted.
“When he did come back, I thought maybe we could do it on somebody else,” Jobe told The Associated Press in 2010. “I waited two years to try it on somebody else, but we had no idea we could do it again.”
The surgery has since become common practice for pitchers and players at every level of baseball, including New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey, Washington star Stephen Strasburg, Milwaukee’s Tim Hudson and Minnesota’s Francisco Liriano.
Some pitchers have signed multiyear contracts just months after they have the surgery in expectation of a high-level return.
Typically, full rehabilitation takes about a year for pitchers and about six months for position players. The procedure initially required four hours; now it takes about an hour.
“I had no idea it would do this,” Jobe told the AP. “It startles me even today that it has done that. The doctors are recognizing the condition early enough to fix it and they are learning how to do the surgery so well. They rehab it so not just the arm, but the whole body gets better.”
Jobe believed the advancements would continue.
“You never want to say in medicine this is the end. You’re always coming up with something a little bit different,” he said. “Even with Tommy John, there’s people doing things slightly different. In their minds they’re getting better.”
Jobe had served the Dodgers‘ organization for 50 years, most recently as special adviser to the chairman. The courtly Southerner attended the team’s games as recently as last season, with someone on either arm escorting him.
Sixteen years after saving John’s career, Jobe reconstructed the right shoulder of former Cy Young Award winner Orel Hershiser, another procedure that had never been successfully performed on a major league pitcher.