Wiedmer: Southern Adventist honor for Dr. Jobe should be followed by a call from the Hall

Wiedmer: Southern Adventist honor for Dr. Jobe should be followed by a call from the Hall

May 4th, 2009 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports

Southern Adventist University showed baseball's Hall of Fame the way on Sunday morning at the Chattanooga Convention Center. The school bestowed an honorary degree on former student Dr. Frank W. Jobe.

If only the Hall would now honor Jobe for his historic "Tommy John surgery," which is almost certainly baseball's most important medical procedure ever.

Or don't you think the author of the surgical technique transferring tendons from one arm to another to save the careers of everyone from John to future Hall of Famers Mariano Rivera and former Atlanta Brave John Smoltz is worthy of his own plaque in Cooperstown?

"It's been talked about," said Jobe at the close of SAU's 117th commencement. "Not by many people with votes, mind you. There's no category in the Hall for someone like me. There's a spot for players, owners, even reporters, but not doctors. So it's a long shot at best."

Then again, it couldn't be a longer shot than the odds Jobe faced of becoming a world-famous surgeon when he became a boarding student at Collegedale Academy in 1940.

The United States was about to be drawn into World War II at that time and was just pulling itself out of the Great Depression. His parents had sent him to the academy from his North Carolina home.

"Most of us were poor back then, so a lot of us worked jobs to attend the school," recalled Jobe. "I remember my first job was milking the cows, but I had to get up at 4 a.m., so I tried to find something else pretty quick."

He settled on a position in the school's printing shop, setting type. He stayed there until he graduated in 1943 and entered the military, where he not only landed on Normandy - "Not on the first day, but I was there" - but participated in the Battle of the Bulge as an army medic in the 101st Airborne Division.

It was during that epic battle, surrounded by so many dead and dying, that Jobe decided he wanted to "Help people heal."

When the war ended, he returned to Collegedale to enter Southern Missionary College (now Southern Adventist) on the G.I. Bill. But after one year he headed to California, transferring to La Sierra College. He later earned his medical degree from Loma Linda University. Until last week, he had not been back to Chattanooga since 1947.

"I kept up with it," Jobe said. "In fact, I have five close friends who were still around here and all but one of them passed away in the past year. But in my age group that might happen. I'm 84."

It was 1974 that changed both his life and the sport of baseball forever. After medical school Jobe had joined the practice of LA doctor Robert Kerlan, who was the Dodgers team physician.

"That was 1965," said Jobe, "and most people didn't know what a team doctor was."

But by 1974 Jobe was becoming fascinated with the work hand surgeons were doing with transplanted tendons.

When John, then 31, was told his career was over due to damage in his left elbow, the two men decided to see if Jobe's idea of transferring a tendon from his right arm to the two largest bones in John's left elbow, replacing the damaged ulner collateral ligament.

"It helped that Tommy was smart," said Jobe. "He understood the risks, understood the importance of rehab, understood that it was going to take a lot of time. And he could tell me what he was feeling as the rehab progressed."

It took more than 18 months, but John pitched again in 1976. When he retired 14 years later he had won 164 games after the surgery as compared to 124 before it.

Jobe said of John, "Tommy helped me make a name for myself."

John told CNN.com a couple of years ago, "Dr. Jobe, Dr. (James) Andrews and Tommy John should go in at the same time. In those days (before 1974), you hurt your arm and it was, 'Jeez, that's too bad, you're back at home selling used cars at your buddy's lot.'"

Because of Jobe more than 250 major leaguers are believed to have salvaged their careers through his surgical technique, including more than 85 current players.

And even though Jobe will always be tied to the Dodgers - his innovative shoulder surgery saved the career of Orel Hershiser - his past patients have been overrun with current and former Braves, including Andy Ashby, Paul Byrd, Mike Gonzalez, Mike Hampton, Tim Hudson, Russ Ortiz, Smoltz, Rafael Soriano and Mark Wohlers.

He has also treated former LA Lakers basketball greats Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain, golfer Paul Azinger, our own Rick Honeycutt (now the Dodgers pitching coach) and still considers all-time Dodgers pitching star Sandy Koufax, "A great friend. It was always fun to take care of the best pitcher in the world."

Amazingly, for all his grand work on behalf of baseball, Jobe never played sports on a competitive level before marrying Beverly and beginning a family that would grow to include four sons.

"I got into sports by luck," he said on Sunday. "Or by accident."

It will be no accident if Jobe isn't one day elected to the Hall of Fame. It would instead be a great shame.