LOS ANGELES -- Dr. Frank Jobe, whose experimental surgery to fix a pitcher's elbow turned into a medical breakthrough that forever changed baseball, died Thursday. He was 88 and in his 50th season with the Dodgers.
In 2008, after retiring from active practice at the Kerlan-Jobe Medical Clinic, Jobe was named special advisor to the chairman of the Dodgers. Last year, Jobe was honored as part of Hall of Fame Weekend in Cooperstown for having a significant impact on baseball culture. Specifically, in 1974 Jobe transplanted a tendon to replace the torn ulnar collateral ligament of Dodgers lefty Tommy John, whose comeback lasted 14 years and set such a successful precedent for future patients that the surgery bears his name.
But it was Jobe who invented it, performed it, refined it and taught it to hundreds of training orthopedic surgeons that now consider it a routine procedure to prolong careers of ballplayers at every level of the game.
"[Sandy] Koufax teases me that if I was smart enough to think of it 10 years before, it might have been called the Koufax operation," Jobe once said. "He had essentially the same problem."
Jobe originally told John there was only a 5 percent chance of success, but in its current form nearly 95 percent of patients return as good, or better, than before suffering the injury.
"Frank Jobe is a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word," said Dodger President Stan Kasten. "His dedication and professionalism in not only helping the Dodgers, but athletes around the world is unparalleled. He was a medical giant and pioneer and many athletes in the past and the future can always thank Frank for finding a way to continue their careers."
"I was deeply saddened to learn of the loss of Dr. Frank Jobe, a great gentleman whose work in Baseball revolutionized sports medicine," said Baseball Commissioner Allan "Bud" Selig. "Since 1974, his groundbreaking Tommy John surgery has revitalized countless careers, especially those of our pitchers. His wisdom elevated not only the Dodgers, the franchise he served proudly for a half-century, but all of our Clubs.
"Dr. Jobe's expertise, as well as his enthusiasm to mentor his peers, made the National Pastime stronger. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to Dr. Jobe's family, friends, Dodger colleagues and the many admirers of his pioneering spirit throughout our game."
Although he never played the game, Jobe has been suggested as a candidate for election to baseball's Hall of Fame for his contributions to the game.
"I don't see why not," John said. "I think Dr. Jobe is worthy of it. What he's done medically-speaking is as much as a 300-game winner."
Although that has not happened formally, the Hall of Fame honored Jobe during Hall of Fame weekend in 2013.
"The groundbreaking work of Dr. Frank Jobe to conceptualize, develop, refine and make mainstream Tommy John Surgery, a complex elbow procedure that has furthered the careers of hundreds of ballplayers, is a testament to the positive role of medicine in our game's growth," said Jeff Idelson, President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
While Jobe is known for the operation, he is prouder of the shoulder and arm exercises he developed to help players avoid the surgery. Unlike the operation known for the patient, the preventative exercises are known by pitchers as simply "Jobe Exercises."
"Without his influence, baseball players' sports-medicine care would probably still be in the dark ages,'' noted colleague Dr. James Andrews told the Los Angeles Daily News in a 1999 interview.
Jobe's first dealings with the Dodgers came in 1964, when he teamed with then-club physician Dr. Robert Kerlan to found what continues as the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic. Jobe took over as Dodgers physician in 1968 and held the job of medical director until 2008, when he retired from active practice and became special advisor to the chairman of the Dodgers.
In 2012, Jobe was honored by the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation with the Dave Winfield Humanitarian Award. He also was inducted into the American Orthopedic Society of Sports Medicine Hall of Fame, the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Hall of Fame and by the Baseball Reliquary into the Shrine of the Eternals.
A native of North Carolina, Jobe as an army medic in World War II was captured by the Nazis at Bastogne briefly before escaping. He earned the Bronze Star Medal, Combat Medic Badge, and the Glider Badge with one star.
He attended a junior college in Tennessee when he returned from the war and transferred to La Sierra University in Riverside, Calif.; he studied at Loma Linda Medical School and did his residency at Los Angeles County Hospital, where he met Kerlan. He had a family practice for three years to pay off school loans, then at Kerlan's urging returned to medical school at the University of Southern California for an orthopedic residency.
Jobe has been a clinical professor in the department of orthopedics for the Keck School of Medicine at USC. He also served for 26 years as orthopedic consultant for the PGA and Senior PGA and was named emeritus physician for the PGA Tour.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com.