He never threw a pitch. He never stole a base. He didn’t hit a single homerun. Yet, Dr. Frank Jobe left a mark on Major League Baseball that will never be erased. In 1974, Dr. Jobe became the first to perform an elbow procedure that has become famously known as “Tommy John surgery.” The procedure, which involves grafting a tendon from the forearm into the elbow to replace a ruptured ligament, has saved the careers of hundreds of Major League players and has allowed scores of other athletes to continue competing on the field of play.
The procedure was first performed on pitcher Tommy John, who at the time was a 12-year Major League veteran. Following the groundbreaking surgery, John went on to pitch another 14 more seasons, including three seasons in which he won 20 games – all without ever missing a single day due to a problem with his surgically repaired elbow. Without the surgery, John’s career would have ended in 1974; instead, he retired from the game in 1989 at the age of 46, having won 288 Major League games (including 164 games after the surgery).
Tommy John surgery has now become a common procedure that has prolonged the careers or hundreds of baseball players. A study in 2013 found that 124 active Major League pitchers had undergone the procedure at some point in their careers. Some of the more notable pitchers who have had the surgery include recent Hall of Fame inductee, John Smoltz, Billy Wagner, Stephen Strasburg, David Wells, Chris Carpenter, and NY Mets pitcher Matt Harvey, who underwent the procedure last year.
In addition to being the first to perform Tommy John surgery, Dr. Jobe also pioneered a procedure that repaired the shoulder of Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser. When Jobe performed the major reconstructive procedure on Hershiser in 1990, it was the first time such a surgery had ever been performed on a Major League player. Following the procedure, Hershiser went on to pitch for another 10 seasons.
On March 6, 2014, Dr. Frank Jobe passed away at the age of 88. Upon receiving the news, Tommy John tweeted, “Today I lost a GREAT friend.” Although Dr. Jobe is no longer with us, his legacy on the game of Major League Baseball, and on a host of other sports, will truly live on forever.