Dr. Frank Jobe, the inventor of the graft reconstruction of the ulnar collateral ligament of the elbow, better known as Tommy John surgery, died on Thursday at the age of 88. Since that experimental procedure was performed on Dodgers pitcher Tommy John in 1974, more than a thousand major league players, most of them pitchers, have had the surgery, and in the vast majority of those cases, the procedure was career-saving. Jobe’s impact on the game from that groundbreaking procedure alone is tremendous.
His impact runs deeper than that. Beyond his miracle cure for the elbow, he greatly advanced his colleagues’ ability to repair shoulders, and his biomechanical research led to great leaps in the collective understanding about the ways in which pitching stresses the arm. That research did almost as much to help pitchers avoid surgery as his surgeries did to restore their careers.
Still, Tommy John surgery will be the thing Jobe is best remembered for, and for good reason. That innovation alone changed the face of the game, turning what was formerly a career-ending injury, the tear of the UCL in the pitching elbow, into one from which a pitcher could experience a complete recovery. In recognition of that, here is a look at the five pitchers who had the greatest post-Tommy John surgery careers (measured by Baseball-Reference.com’s wins above replacement) comprised of pitches that never could have been thrown before Jobe, at the urging of the injured John, invented the procedure.