A 31-year-old pitcher with a bum elbow faced retirement—unless he agreed to an experimental procedure. "They said the chance of recovery was less than 2%," Tommy John says. "I figured, might as well try." Thus, in 1974, John allowed Frank Jobe to slice six inches of tendon from his nonthrowing arm and weave it through holes drilled in the opposite elbow. John pitched 14 more seasons, and Jobe's "Tommy John surgery" reshaped baseball.
Jobe passed away last week at 88, although his legacy lives on through hundreds of pitchers who have enjoyed revitalized careers. John says he and Jobe, who remained friends, were shocked by how routine the procedure had become, and laughed whenever either used Tommy John surgery as a proper noun. (The name stuck; Jobe, who spoke at orthopedic conferences across the country, clung to its clunky medical title, ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, until he too finally relented.)
To illustrate Jobe's impact, John hopes to gather every pitcher who has undergone Tommy John surgery for a group photo this spring. A 2013 study estimated that fraternity includes 124 active pitchers, or roughly one-third of those on big league rosters last year. "I don't know if it's possible to get us all together," John says. The chances might be as little as 2%.
5 TEST CASES SHOW HOW POST-SURGERY RECOVERY TIME HAS IMPROVED
[The following text appears within a chart. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual chart.]
*Matt Harvey projected
THEY SAID IT
"They should apologize for their regular season lineup."
John Henry Red Sox owner, responding on Twitter to the Marlins' demand that Boston apologize for sending a lineup full of prospects to a Grapefruit League game.
PETER READ MILLER FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (JOHN AND JOBE)
NANCY R. SCHIFF/HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES (JOBE)
Elbow Patch Jobe initially referred to the procedure he pioneered on John (far left, with Jobe in 1978) as ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction.
DAMIAN STROHMEYER FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (HENRY)