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LOS ANGELES -- Dr. Frank Jobe, the doctor who pioneered the most famous surgery in sports, died Thursday in Santa Monica, Calif., after being hospitalized recently with an undisclosed illness, the Los Angeles Dodgers announced. He was 88.
Jobe changed the course of baseball history when, in 1974, he replaced the torn medial collateral ligament in left-hander Tommy John's elbow with a tendon from John's forearm. John went on to pitch 14 years after the operation, compiling 164 more victories without ever missing a start because of an elbow problem.
The procedure became known as "Tommy John" surgery, and it prolonged the careers of hundreds of other pitchers, including stars such as John Smoltz, Kerry Wood and Stephen Strasburg.
A 2013 study found that 124 active pitchers, about one-third of those in the majors, had undergone Tommy John surgery at some point in their careers. Before Jobe, such an injury was certain to end a pitcher's career.
"Baseball lost a great man and Tommy John lost a great friend," John said in a statement. "There are a lot of pitchers in baseball who should celebrate his life and what he did for the game of baseball."
|Dr. Frank Jobe was honored by the Hall of Fame last summer for helping prolong the careers of hundreds of major league pitchers.|
Jobe joined the Dodgers in 1964 and served in the organization for 50 years. A soft-spoken Southerner, he visited Dodger Stadium several times last season and spoke with the media following the death of colleague Lewis Yocum, the longtime Los Angeles Angels team physician.
Along with his mentor, the late Dr. Robert Kerlan, Jobe formed the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in 1965, still one of the primary destinations for pitchers undergoing the surgery. They supervised the medical treatment for the Dodgers and Angels, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Rams, the Los Angeles Kings, and Anaheim Ducks, as well as other pro and amateur athletes around the country.
Jobe is survived by his wife, Beverly, and four sons, Christopher, Meredith, Cameron and Blair.
"I was deeply saddened to learn of the loss of Dr. Frank Jobe, a great gentleman whose work in baseball revolutionized sports medicine," baseball commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. "Since 1974, his groundbreaking Tommy John surgery revitalized countless careers, especially those of our pitchers. His wisdom elevated not only the Dodgers, the franchise he served proudly for a half century, but all of our clubs."
The Hall of Fame honored Jobe at a special ceremony last summer. The Dodgers, particularly Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully, had been pushing for some kind of recognition for Jobe for years.
However, Jobe is not enshrined in Cooperstown. The Dodgers' director of medical services, Stan Conte, said Friday that there has to be a place in the Hall for a man he calls a pioneer.
"With all due respect to the Hall of Fame, they need to fix that," Conte said.
Shortly before Jobe was honored by the Hall last summer, baseball agent Scott Boras, who has represented dozens of clients whose careers have been prolonged by the doctor's work, told ESPNLosAngeles.com that Jobe "falls into the class of a profound leader in our industry who had a wide-ranging impact on the game. What a man. What a kind, sincere, caring person. A lot of doctors are quirky and, while they're really skilled, have huge egos. Frank is a very tender, caring man."
John returned following a difficult 18-month rehab and won more games and threw more innings after the surgery than he had before it. In three of his first five years back, he finished in the top four of Cy Young voting.
The surgery and the relationship between John and Jobe was the subject of a 2013 "30 for 30" short documentary on ESPN.
The surgery has become practically routine in recent seasons, with some teams encouraging pitchers with elbow-ligament injuries to undergo it in the minor leagues. Rehabilitation typically lasts between a year and 18 months.
Dodgers right-hander Chad Billingsley is among the current major-leaguers working their way back from the surgery.
Former Dodger great Orel Hershiser, who now works as a broadcaster for the team, tweeted about Jobe's death Thursday:
Dr. Jobe may have touched more wins and saves than anyone in baseball!! Performed and trained countless surgeries and surgeons!- Orel Hershiser (@OrelHershiser) March 7, 2014
Jobe's colleagues also reflected on his death.
"He was one of the pioneers and giants of the sports medicine business and basically wrote the book on the field," longtime Lakers trainer Gary Vitti said in a statement. "Although he was primarily involved with baseball, his contributions carried over to many other sports. I had a great relationship with him and appreciate him personally and for what he meant to me in my career in sports medicine."
Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin and The Associated Press was used in this report.