A physician who changed baseball history through his invention of the “Tommy John” surgery received an honorary doctor of science at Southern Adventist University’s commencement ceremony this Sunday.
“I got into sports by luck,” says Jobe, “by accident.” During his residency, Jobe, who attended Southern in the 1940s, was invited to join sports medicine pioneer Robert Kerlin in his practice. Jobe became the team physician for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1969.
The field of sports medicine was so new that when Jobe told people what he did, he would get quizzical looks. “I’d say, “I’m a sports doctor,’” Jobe recalls, “and they’d say, ‘what?’”
When Tommy John, a pitcher for the Dodgers, ruptured his ulnar collateral ligament, his career would have typically ended. Back then, when pitchers injured themselves in this way, they were sent back to the farm and replaced with a new pitcher. But this was also the time when baseball athletes were seeing rising salaries.
“His salary was more than he could earn on the farm,” says Jobe.
So when Tommy John told Jobe that he didn’t want to go home, Jobe asked, “What are you going to do?”
“You’ve gotta come up with something,” was the young athletes reply.
Jobe did come up with something—a way to use a tendon from John’s right wrist to replace the damaged ligament in his left elbow. The surgery worked, and Tommy John went on to become the oldest player in the major leagues.
Since then, more than 1,000 careers (including 75 major league careers) have been saved thanks to Jobe’s invention. In addition to the many pitchers who have experienced the procedure, outfielder José Canseco underwent “Tommy John surgery” in 1993 after injuring his arm while pitching. Football players, such as Terrell Owens and Deion Sanders, have also benefitted from Jobe’s revolutionary procedure.
Jobe is the author of more than 140 medical publications, 27 book chapters, and seven books. In 1996, the American Orthopaedic Association inducted him into its Hall of Fame. There has also been talk of including Jobe in the baseball's Hall of Fame, though, as Jobe explains, this would require having a new area created for physicians. He continues to serve the Dodgers as special advisor to Chair Frank McCourt and was recently honored at the Dodger Stadium with Tommy John and former Dodger Orel Hershiser.
Jobe’s trip to Southern to receive the honorary doctorate was the first he made back to campus after leaving in the 1940s. He expressed how much he had enjoyed seeing the campus, which has changed drastically since he was here. In particular, he enjoyed seeing the new Hulsey Wellness Center, saying, “This is the best one I’ve ever seen.”