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Sunday 18th Feb 2018

When I was reading the tributes to Dr. Frank Jobe, who passed away last week, I kept thinking about the trade of Tommy John to the Dodgers.

When John was swapped to the Dodgers in 1971, I was as hardcore a Dodgers fan as you could find. 

As I have noted before, I didn't realize as a ten-year old in 1962, when I adopted the Dodgers as a Northern California boy, that I was contrary. Part of the deal was everyone else loved the Giants, but I would like to also think that I had some subliminal attachment to the Bums and Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson that appealed to me: Me, a supporter of the underdog and, well, lifelong happy bearer of all things Berkeley Hippie.

By '72 I was already in my third year of college, and as much into Pink Floyd and the Who as the Dodger rotation of Bill Singer, Al Downing, Claude Osteen, Don Sutton and the newly added John.

When the Bums traded the great and wrongly maligned hitter, Dick Allen to the White Sox for John after the 1971 year, I was sort of shocked, kind of like I was when the Dodgers copped Osteen for Frank Howard in 1964. However, that trade really worked out well for the Bums, and over the years I learned to trust their front office and moves.

Sure enough, TJ was very good. At age 29, in '72 he was 11-5, 2.89 (186.6 innings), and 16-7, 3.10 (218 innings) in 1973, before really killing it at 13-3, 2.59 over 153 innings in 1974, when the lefty blew out his elbow.

By then, Sutton and Downing were still in the rotation, joined by Doug Rau and Andy Messersmith and TJ, whose career looked like it was suddenly over. (When you think about it, that was a rather storied rotation, for in addition to John's narrative, Messersmith was amongst the first players to be declared a free agent, Downing gave up Hank Aaron's 715th homer and Sutton went on to become a Hall of Famer.)

Enter Dr. Frank Jobe, who grafted a ligament from John's right elbow to his left, resurrecting his career in an amazing fashion.

For John, 164 more wins over the 14 seasons after he returned to the lineup from the pioneering operation that was performed by the good doctor were the results, and according to the Los Angeles Times, over 1000 such surgeries have been performed on Major Leaguers since TJ was the guinea pig.

When all of this transpired 40 years ago, it seemed such a miracle (it really was) that John recovered and was able to pitch again. At least I remember being skeptical at the time about the process, but John's recovery, and the now standard use of the procedure, clearly shows Dr. Jobe knew what he was doing. In fact, it seems that most pitchers who undergo the surgery actually throw a bit harder post operative than they did prior to the operation.

Dr. Jobe, who died at age 88 on March 7, was the man with this vision, and to whom so many arms and players attached owe their livelihood.

As a case in poin: below is the list of players who are currently under contract and are recovering from TJ Surgery.

  • Luke Hochevar
  • Eric O'Flaherty
  • Fernando Rodriguez
  • Matt Reynolds
  • Gavin Floyd
  • Jonny Venters
  • Kyuji Fujikawa
  • Chad Billingsley
  • Scott Elbert
  • Matt Harvey
  • Casey Kelly
  • Jason Motte
  • That is quite a legacy, Dr. Jobe. I am sure all those ballplayers--and others who have undergone the operation for whatever reason--thank you so much.

    I certainly do.

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