30 in 30: A Chiefs Countdown to Opening Day – Day 4
We’re counting down until Opening Day with a new post on our Inside the Chiefs blog every day until Syracuse’s opener on April 3rd. Here’s what’s on tap today…
I had a brief conversation with Chiefs President Bill Dutch yesterday about Tommy John. The conversation started, bizarrely enough, because Bill was curious if the line of Tommy John underwear he saw in a store the other day was from the same Tommy John. It wasn’t, we discovered. (Though how great would that be?) But the conversation then turned to how strange it was that Tommy John’s not typically remembered for his 288 career wins – the seventh-highest total among left-handers in major-league history – but for the surgery bearing his name.
That surgery, however wasn’t performed by John – just on him. Today, sadly, we remember the man who did perform the revolutionary operation – Dr. Frank Jobe – who passed away just yesterday morning at the age of 88.
We take Tommy John surgery for granted now, but Jobe’s technique was unheard of at the time. He transplanted a tendon from John’s right wrist into his left elbow, and John pitched another 14 seasons, winning 164 more games after surgery. The torn elbow ligament that John suffered might have otherwise ended his career. And the list of players that have undergone and successfully recovered from Tommy John surgery could fill up an All-Star staff: Jamie Moyer, John Lackey, Chris Carpenter, A.J. Burnett, Adam Wainwright, Brian Wilson and Kerry Wood, among others.
Several Nationals and former Chiefs have also been connected to Tommy John surgery. Nats ace Jordan Zimmermann underwent Tommy John late in the 2009 season after tearing his ulnar collateral ligament in his rookie season. Zimmermann’s rehab took him through Syracuse in 2010, where he allowed just one run in 17 innings over four starts.
The following year, another hard-throwing Nationals right-hander by the name of Stephen Strasburg (you may have heard of him) made a return trip to the Chiefs on his return from Tommy John. Strasburg turned in a dominant performance against Rochester, retiring the game’s first 15 batters in order on seven strikeouts, seven groundouts and one fly out on an August 27th night in Syracuse, before exiting in the sixth. Since the surgery, Strasburg’s pitched largely without injury, compiling a 2.97 ERA in 63 major-league starts.
And another both former and potential future Chief – reliever Christian Garcia – has done those two one better. Garcia’s undergone not one but two Tommy John surgeries – one of a select few pitchers to do so – and made his big-league debut in 2012 as a hard-throwing, sinking reliever. That season with the Chiefs, Garcia sported a microscopic 0.56 ERA in 27 games, allowing just 18 hits and 11 walks in 32.1 innings of 38-strikeout ball. I’ve not seen a more dominant reliever in my three years of covering Triple-A baseball to date.
You don’t need to swing a bat or throw a ball to make an impact on major-league baseball. Dr. Frank Jobe didn’t come close to doing either – and yet, his impact on the game may dwarf the impact of any player or coach we see today. Rest in Peace, Dr. Frank – generations upon generations of arms will always owe you a debt of gratitude.
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