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On March 6, 2014, Dr. Frank Jobe, the orthopedic surgeon who performed the first surgery known as Tommy John, passed away at 88 years old in California.
The surgery, the first of its kind, was performed in 1974 on then-Dodgers pitcher Tommy John and has been practiced on hundreds of baseball players since then, allowing them the possibility of continuing their careers. John’s injury, a ruptured ligament in his throwing elbow, was replaced with a tendon from his right wrist to repair his elbow. With the success of the surgery, John continued his career for 14 more seasons and amassed another 164 wins.
So I’m sure you’re thinking, “Why should I, a Nationals fan, care about Dr. Frank Jobe and Tommy John surgery?”
The answer, simply put, is Stephen Strasburg. Or Jordan Zimmermann. Take your pick. Both of these pitchers have had their careers saved by Tommy John surgery – Strasburg had his in 2010 and Zimmermann had his in 2009 – and they aren’t the only ones. Four other current Nationals (on the 40-man roster) have undergone Tommy John: Taylor Jordan (2011), Ryan Mattheus (2009), Sammy Solis (2012) and Rafael Soriano (2004).
Nowadays, Tommy John surgery is a common form of surgery for both pitchers and position players alike in baseball. So far just in 2014 Kansas City Royals pitcher Luke Hocheavar, Minnesota Twins top prospect Miguel Sano, San Diego Padres pitcher Cory Luebke, Los Angeles Dodgers pitching prospect Ross Stripling and possibly Atlanta Braves pitcher Kris Medlen are all either reported to have undergone, or will undergo, Tommy John surgery and be lost for the upcoming season. On average, it takes about one-year for a pitcher to recover from Tommy John and it takes a position player six months to recover.
Think about it this way: how competitive would the Nationals rotation be if Strasburg and Zimmermann’s playing careers were over already over? Thanks to Dr. Jobe and his pioneering surgery it is a thought we won’t have to entertain anytime soon.
It’s not just Nationals fans that should be thankful. All fans should be thankful for this surgery and for Dr. Jobe. Some of the biggest names in baseball, pitchers and position players alike, have all added extra playing time to their careers because of it. Go through the complete list of players who have had Tommy John surgery if you don’t believe me, and try to imagine baseball with some of their careers cut short. The entire baseball landscape would be different today if it wasn’t for Jobe and John.
So, the next time Strasburg or Zimmermann get shelled (which hopefully won’t be a lot this season) or when Soriano blows the save (not so sure about this one), remember that if it wasn’t for Dr. Frank Jobe and Tommy John, the careers of these pitchers might have already been over for good.