Stats show Tommy John surgery really is a game changer
It was an interesting epilogue to a colorful life and career. Just days after Dr. Frank Jobe died March 6 at the age of 88, a paper was presented at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons annual meeting that showed the surgical technique he invented has had some notably impressive results.
Researchers compared the records of 179 major-league baseball pitchers who had undergone Jobe’s ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction technique, better known as “Tommy John surgery,” against 179 pitchers who did not have the surgery. Both groups were matched for age, body mass index, handedness and major league experience. Before surgery, the pitchers who underwent the procedure had been outperformed by the control group. Post-surgery, the “patients of Jobe” allowed fewer walks and hits per inning, won a higher percentage of games and had a lower earned-run average.
Researchers found the surgery extended pitching careers by an average of 3.9 years. But for the original surgical subject—Los Angeles Dodgers All-Star Tommy John—the statistics were even more impressive. John, who told Modern Healthcare that he and Jobe were forever linked in history like Burns and Allen, or Abbott and Costello, pitched an additional 13 years and won 164 games after the surgery (compared to 124 wins before).
Researchers, however, included a caveat with their findings: “We do caution looking too much into the improved stats for pitchers,” Dr. Anil Gupta, a paper co-author and surgeon with
the Florida Orthopaedic Institute in Tampa, said in a news release. “We do not want to suggest Tommy John surgery is an option for improved performance.”
Also, while the findings were presented after Jobe’s death, the study itself was posted on the American Journal of Sports Medicine website on Dec. 18. Jobe, who was once called baseball’s “career saves leader” in a Chicago Sun-Times headline, was honored last summer by the Baseball Hall of Fame for his contribution to the sport.
Tommy John reconnected with Jobe last year at Dodger Stadium.