His name is attached to a surgery that has saved many major league pitchers’ careers.
But Tommy John knows that’s an honor he came by thanks in large part to good luck.
“Fortunately for me, I was at the right place at the right time,” he told All Things Considered host Melissa Block on Friday. “I happened to have one of the greatest surgeons of all time being the surgeon for the Los Angeles Dodgers.”
That would be Dr. Frank Jobe, who died Thursday at the age of 88.
It was Sept. 25, 1974, when Jobe took a tendon from John’s forearm and used it to repair John’s left elbow. The Dodgers pitcher, a left-hander, had ruptured his medial collateral ligament — an injury that at the time meant the end for any pitcher’s major league career.
Jobe told him, John says, that the chances of his ever pitching again were “less than 5 percent.” But a year later, John was throwing again in an instructional league game. He would go on to pitch for 14 more seasons in the big leagues, compiling a career record of 288 wins to 231 losses. After the Dodgers, he pitched for the then-California Angels and the New York Yankees.
While he was lucky to have Jobe as his surgeon, John also believes the surgeon was lucky to have a stubborn athlete as a patient. John was more than willing to have the surgery and to do the rehabilitation work that followed.
As for his friend, anyone who met Jobe, says John, “would think he was just some mild-mannered person from Greensboro, N.C.”
Jobe would say, his most famous patient remembers, ” ‘I’m not a great surgeon, but I have the best patients in the world.’ ”
Much more from John’s conversation about Jobe is due on Friday’s edition of All Things Considered. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show.
For much more about “Tommy John surgery,” a good place to start is this package of stories from the Los Angeles Times‘ Bleacher Report. In includes a video about “how the surgery is done.”