Dr. Frank Jobe, who pioneered “Tommy John” surgery and saved numerous pitching careers in the process, died Thursday at the age of 88.
On Friday, Tommy John stopped by The Morning Show to honor Dr. Jobe and explain how the surgery came about.
It was July 17, 1974. John, one of the best pitchers in the game, hurt his arm – his elbow, to be exact – and went to see Dr. Jobe.
“This is ’74,” John reminded listeners. “There’s no MRIs, there’s no CT cans, there’s no PET scans. There’s only X-ray.”
To determine whether John had torn a ligament, Dr. Jobe held his humerus down and moved John’s forearm back and forth. There was too much movement.
Other doctors confirmed what Dr. Jobe suspected: John had torn a ligament in his elbow.
Initially, John was told to rest his arm to see if it healed, so he took four weeks off, came back and tried to throw.
“It was like throwing hand grenades,” John recalled. “You really couldn’t throw the ball the way you should.”
When it became obvious that surgery was necessary, John wanted it immediately.
“I didn’t know how long it was going to take,” he said. “I thought 10, 12 weeks and I’m back throwing again. And the longer I wait (to have the surgery) in ’74, it means the longer it’s going to be in ’75 before I’m back on the mound.”
John wanted the surgery done on Sept. 1 or 2, but Dr. Jobe said that wasn’t possible. In fact, he gave John a list of several surgeons that he wanted in the room while the surgery was taking place.
“And this is why Dr. Jobe was a great surgeon,” John prefaced. “When he told me (what he was about to say), I knew that I had absolutely the perfect person for me because he admitted that he was only human.
“He said, ‘I will not operate on you until all six of these doctors can be in the operating room with me,’” John recalled. “I said, ‘Why?’ He said, “Because I don’t know what I’m doing, and I want as many brilliant surgical minds in there (as possible) guiding my hand.’
When he told me that, I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ I knew that I had the doctor that was going to get me better. And I told him, ‘If you do your job, I will more than do my job – if it takes a year, if it takes two years, if it takes three years – I will work however hard, however long I need to get back to pitching in Major League Baseball again.”
Dr. Jobe performed the surgery on Sept. 25, 1974. John, who missed the entire 1975 season, returned in 1976 and went 10-10. He wound up playing 26 years in the majors – then a record – and won 164 games after his surgery, which was later named after him.
After surgery, John asked Dr. Jobe how long he had to wait before throwing again. Dr. Jobe said 16 weeks.
“To this day, guys (who) come back Tommy John surgery start throwing a baseball 16 weeks (later),” John said. “Now, how Dr. Jobe knew 16 weeks (was the appropriate recovery time), I don’t know. I have no idea. But it’s still 16 weeks.”