Making room for medical pioneer Dr. Jobe in Cooperstown
Thursday morning, Dr. Frank Jobe died. He was 88.
“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.”
With all due respect to Stan Kasten or whomever wrote the press release, “a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word” is a very strange choice of words, because a) “Hall of Famer” is three words, and b) he’s arguably a Hall of Famer in every sense of the words … except for the literal sense of them, because of course Jobe’s not actually in the Hall of Fame.
What Kasten might have said is that Jobe is a Hall of Famer in every sense but the literal sense, and been largely correct. Because while there’s never been a serious effort to consider Jobe as a Hall of Fame candidate, that’s less his fault than the Hall’s. His credentials? Well, we can start here:
A legend in the field of sports medicine, it was 40 years ago Jobe made history and altered the sport of baseball forever.
Tommy John was diagnosed with a ruptured medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his left elbow, an injury that previously had no cure. On Sept. 25, 1974, Jobe tried a procedure in which he removed a tendon from John’s forearm and repaired his elbow. John, who had won 124 games prior to the operation, went on to pitch 14 years after the operation, compiling 164 more victories in that time, without ever missing a start due to elbow problem.
Since then, Jobe performed hundreds of Tommy John surgeries on pitchers at every level, helping to resurrect the careers of countless big leaguers. His fellowship program at the Kerlan-Jobe clinic has trained more than 250 fellows through the years.
Now, you might be wondering to yourself, “Self, this fellow’s making some sense, except for one thing: There’s no category in the Hall of Fame for a medical doctor!”
Well, no. There is not. There is something better.
There are two men in the Hall of Fame elected for their contributions as pioneers: Candy Cummings, who pioneered the curveball; and Henry Chadwick, who pioneered box scores and other elements of baseball journalism. Granted, both Cummings and Chadwick were enshrined roughly 75 years ago.
Also, the Hall of Fame has shown no inclination since of honoring even a single pioneer since then. But precedent has been set, and wouldn’t the Hall of Fame be a somewhat richer, slightly more relevant institution if there were somehow room for different sorts of people? A doctor who invented a career-saving surgery, for example? Or an erstwhile sabermetrician who invented the word “sabermetrics” (and will soon be presented his third World Series ring)? And once we’ve got a doctor and a sabermetrician in the Coop, what about a great scout? Or a pitching coach?
But wait. Let’s not get ahead of myself. Let’s focus on Dr. Jobe. While another surgeon might well have invented Tommy John surgery if Jobe hadn’t, he did invent a procedure that’s saved many hundreds of careers, and it’s difficult to imagine how different baseball history would look without it.
Nobody’s ever asked me. But he’s got my vote.