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MIRACLE WORKER; DR. JOBE GIVES PLAYERS BACK THEIR ARMS.

Byline: Steve Dilbeck Staff Writer

He is uncomfortable with the question, maybe even slightly embarrassed. It goes straight against his nature. But what is Dr. Frank Jobe to do? Honesty and modesty are what he knows.

So if Jobe cannot deny he has made a difference in the world, neither does he particularly relish acknowledging it.

``You'd like to think you have, and I do now sort of see it,'' Jobe said. ``But if you'd said that 15 years ago, I'd have said, `Well, I'm just an ordinary doctor. I'm lucky.' ''

This is a monumental admission by the unpretentious Jobe, if an almost painful one. Yet the good fortune went to those touched by his remarkable gift, either directly or from the countless others who adopted his innovative work. Surely, there has been nothing ordinary about his career.

It could be argued that during the past 25 years, no man has had a greater impact on baseball than Jobe. Not some powerfully built player with bat or executive with pen, but this gentle North Carolina native with the deft scalpel.

Who else developed a pair of revolutionary surgeries that enabled thousands of pitchers to avoid career-ending injury, allowing them to continue to entertain, win games and make millions? Who else used biomechanical engineering to pioneer motion analysis on the act of throwing? Who designed a series of exercises to avoid arm and shoulder injuries, now in common usage throughout baseball and called the Jobe Exercises? Who has trained so many other doctors and physical therapists at the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic?

``I've never sat and talked with him about his impact,'' said veteran Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, who has known Jobe since he became a team doctor 36 years ago. ``It's not the thing you do with Frank, because he's just so self-effacing.

``But when you think of all the people who have gone through that clinic, his impact is amazing - amazing. Then he's sending out his disciples all over the country. Just remarkable. Yet through it all, he's a very humble man. Frank is what Frank is. He's just a beautiful man.''

Jobe is the most famous and influential orthopedic surgeon of his time. As with followers climbing the mountain in search of wisdom, doctors come from all over the country, all over the world, to Los Angeles to learn at the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic.

``He's certainly considered one of the premier fathers of modern sports medicine,'' said Dr. James Andrews, the internationally renowned orthopedic surgeon from Alabama. ``Without his influence, baseball players' sports-medicine care would probably still be in the dark ages.''

The soft-spoken Jobe rose to prominence when he came up with the radical idea of transplanting a tendon and wrapping it into an elbow ligament. The concept had been used on hands and to reinforce joints on polio patients but never in the elbow, never on a pitcher.

But 25 years ago on Sept. 25, baseball was forever changed when Jobe performed the operation on Dodgers left-hander Tommy John.

``I think now Dr. Jobe is going to give me a sterling-silver ligament,'' John said.

Jobe told John at the time he had a ``one in one hundred'' chance of ever pitching again. John went on to win more games after the surgery than before. Soon the operation became commonplace throughout the country. Jobe estimates he's performed between 1,000 and 2,000 ``Tommy John'' operations.

``Tommy John surgery now is almost looked upon as an improvement,'' said Mets right-hander Orel Hershiser. ``Guys who come out of Tommy John surgery are throwing better than they did prior.''

Hershiser was Jobe's second pioneering surgery. This time he went from the elbow to the shoulder, designing a less-invasive procedure that enabled him to reconstruct a shoulder that had become unstable with stretched-out ligaments.

Jobe had already performed the procedure on NFL quarterback Jim McMahon and golfer Jerry Pate but never on a major-league pitcher required to throw 90-mph fastballs some 100 times a game.

``The first thing he said at the beginning of our meeting was, `I'm sorry,' so I knew it was really serious,'' Hershiser said.

As with John, Hershiser - then with the Dodgers - knew his choice was to take the chance or never pitch again. He didn't hesitate.

``His reputation proceeded his advice on the surgery,'' Hershiser said. ``He probably prescribed the most radical thing that could have happened to me and I didn't second-guess it all. I didn't want a second opinion, I didn't need anybody else to tell me what was wrong with me and how to fix it.''

Hershiser has now won more games since the surgery than before. He's also earned himself another $20 million in contracts.

If Jobe had performed all his surgeries for a percentage of future earnings - instead of the workman's-comp fees normally paid by clubs - he would probably be the wealthiest physician in history.

``If he takes one percent from me, that's $200,000,'' Hershiser said. ``Everyone else, he'd have $50 million - no, way more than that.''

He's made a lot of wealthy athletes a lot wealthier.

``I've thought about it, of course,'' Jobe said. ``But I think most of them are very appreciative of what I've done.''

Jobe looks at athletes not by the uniform they wear, but the help they need. It was a principle he learned as a medical staff sergeant in the Army's 101st Airborne Division during World War II, a stint that saw him briefly captured by Germans at Bastogne before escaping. In war, doctors help anyone, even the enemy.

``The greatest feeling of satisfaction is going to a ballgame and seeing people you've operated on play well,'' Jobe said. ``I'm a fan of people who have been operated on, more than I am of teams.''

After the war, Jobe attended a private junior college in Tennessee. Then he decided to use the GI bill to go to college in Southern California, studying at the University of Loma Linda Medical School and doing a residency at Los Angeles County hospital, where he met Dr. Robert Kerlan.

He practiced three years as a family doctor in Westchester to pay off school loans before returning to medical school at USC for an orthopedic residency.

``He delivered over a hundred babies,'' John said. ``Then he started operating on the big babies.''

Kerlan invited Jobe to join him, and on a handshake the Kerlan-Jobe partnership was formed in 1964. Kerlan had already been named the Dodgers' team physician, but Kerlan-Jobe would go on to serve the Lakers, Angels, Kings, Ducks, USC, the PGA Tour and PGA Senior Tour.

And Jobe would go on to international acclaim.

``I think there must have been someone looking after me,'' Jobe said. ``I've been pretty lucky to get through the war, getting into medical school, graduating, taking care of the Dodgers, the PGA Tour - all those things just seem to come to me without me hardly knowing it, and they were there. They turned out to be wonderful opportunities to do good for people.''

Now 74, Jobe continues to work full time. He has cut back to three days of surgery and now mostly assists. But he puts in full days at the new Kerlan-Jobe Clinic in West Los Angeles, has another year left on his contract with the Dodgers and hopes to sign another.

He and his wife, Beverly, married for 40 years, have four prosperous sons - two doctors, an attorney and a banker. Through it all, Jobe has remained remarkably unchanged. His success and fame have had no outward impact.

``He has not been touched by celebrity,'' Scully said. ``He's like the great surgeon he is - minimal scars.''

For a revolutionary, he has almost a pacifist bearing. There is a calmness about him, a pleasant peacefulness.

``The big thing is, Frank Jobe is probably one of the nicest, kindest human beings that God ever put on this earth,'' John said. ``Not only is he a brilliant surgeon, he's just a good person.''

Kevin Tollefson, the Mets physical therapist who worked at Kerlan-Jobe for three years and spent five years with the Dodgers' minor-league clubs, said he sometimes saw other doctors envious of Jobe's medical standing.

``There is some hostility and jealousy toward him in that area,'' Tollefson said. ``But I've never seen him do anything but act honorably in situations of adversity.

``I have so much respect for him. He always did the right thing and was very gracious. He doesn't know everything. He doesn't get it right all of the time. But he's obviously very good at what he does. And he's one of the most honorable, humble, gracious men around.''

John understands he is doomed to be recognized more for more than his actual career.

``I'll be known more for the (elbow) surgery than I will for 288 wins,'' he said.

Jobe would prefer to be known for the series of exercises he developed to strengthen the arm and prevent injuries, but he, too, recognizes that wish is futile.

He was given a gift, and realized it early in his career. His long, soft fingers know how to play no instrument save the scalpel.

Still, Jobe likens a gifted surgeon's ability to that of an artist who must first visualize what it is he is trying to create.

``The surgery is essentially the same thing,'' he said. ``You know if you have a three-dimensional picture of the shoulder, you know what's under the skin and where it is in relationship to the other things, so you can do a lot of work where you don't actually see it, but you know you're getting it right.''

He has gotten most of it right throughout his 37-year career, leaving a legacy matched by few before him. His has been a life of success stories, an impact that will continue, whether he planned his life out or not.

``Maybe (things have) happened because I wasn't smart enough to plan,'' he said. ``But things couldn't have happened any better if I'd planned it. When I've thought, `How would I change it?' - I wouldn't change a thing.''

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos

PHOTO (1 -- color) Dr. Frank Jobe, shown with photos of former patients, revolutionized sports medicine with Tommy John and other surgeries.

(2) A diagram of Tommy John surgery, in which a tendon is wrapped into an elbow ligament.

Tom Mendoza/Staff Photographer
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 24, 1999
Words:1727
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