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Dr. Frank Jobe: ‘It could have been Sandy Koufax surgery’

Jul 14, 2012, 9:45 PM EDT

Sandy Koufax

The Dodgers are having Tommy John and the man who performed his famous surgery, Dr. Frank Jobe, throwing out the first pitches prior to Saturday’s game, and Jobe said something very interesting in talking with the media: “If I was smart enough to do this 10 years before, it might be called the Koufax surgery.”

No longer able to deal with his elbow pain, Koufax retired after going 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA and 317 strikeouts in 323 innings in 1966. He was just 30 at the time.

Jobe said Koufax had “essentially the same thing” as Tommy John, who underwent his revolutionary procedure in 1974. At the time, Jobe thought he had very little chance of returning to the majors, but John went on to pitched 14 more seasons and win 164 games.

  1. yahmule - Jul 14, 2012 at 10:19 PM

    Obviously, more seasons of the great Sandy Koufax would have been wonderful, but this amazing medical pioneer should have no regrets.

  2. aceshigh11 - Jul 14, 2012 at 10:32 PM

    Fascinating story, and I agree 100% with yahmule’s comments.

  3. Kevin S. - Jul 15, 2012 at 12:40 AM

    Maybe it’s a good thing he didn’t figure it out sooner. We tend to take it for granted now, but there’s no way of knowing if somebody else would have come back from it as successfully as John did, and if it was seen as something that didn’t work, maybe the procedure never takes off and we never get to see all the careers saved by it. Even with a DeLorean, I don’t think I’d explain it to 1965 Frank Jobe. Doesn’t seem like it’d be worth the risk.

  4. cogitobaseballergosum - Jul 15, 2012 at 3:21 AM

    This is especially ironic given Tommy John’s quote that he asked the doctor to put in a Koufax fastball, but unfortunately it turned out to be Mrs. Koufax’s.

  5. jolt12 - Jul 15, 2012 at 8:55 AM

    That’s one of the most momentous “what if”s I’ve had in a while.
    Every time I google up Koufax stats to refresh my memory before going off to bore some young ‘uns with stories about his amazing career I get stopped in my tracks with the reminder of how in-his-prime he was when he walked away.
    I’d never known that his condition was of the TJ kind.

  6. 1historian - Jul 15, 2012 at 10:10 AM

    27-9, 1.73 E.R.A, 317 strikeouts in 323 innings.

    Talk about going out on top.

    • gloccamorra - Jul 15, 2012 at 2:49 PM

      I have a hard time believing Koufax could have put up those numbers with a torn UCL like Tommy John’s, and throwing 100 mph. Koufax was reported to have severe arthritis in his elbow causing inflammation, and he got tired of having a cortisone injection in the elbow every four days, 41 times his last season. Now I’m beginning to believe UCL damage is being over-diagnosed today and too many TJ surgeries might be being performed. If there’s a tear in the UCL, yes; if a partial tear, maybe; if there’s no tear but fraying/wear/another condition, hold on a minute.

      • jolt12 - Jul 15, 2012 at 5:08 PM

        That’s an good & interesting speculation. I, too, (all of us–it’s been the official story) had believed it was an arthritic condition. I have an occasion/chronic joint flare up and the cortisone shot is the single most painful thing I’ve endured. But it’s effective. The choice of skipping the shot and enduring the joint pain or enduring the shot pain for relief from the inflammation is a tough one every time.

      • professor59 - Jul 16, 2012 at 5:06 PM

        Eh, Johnny Unitas did as much with more damage.

        Basically, the economics of the game did not allow for that surgery to be used yet. Once the pitchers started getting paid millions, experimental surgeries became worthwhile options.

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