Saturday, March 08, 2014

Frank Jobe, 1925-2014

Frank Jobe, the physician who created ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction a/k/a Tommy John surgery, died this week. In the minds of man and in history, his permanent resting place should be Cooperstown, New York. How sad to say it probably won't be.

The world of baseball remains little despite the fact tens of millions of people live in it, and nowhere is that crabbed provincialism more evident than in the Hall of Fame. Its selection process reflects the blinkered worldview of a tribe that worships its history without the inconvenience of ever having a clue what history actually is.

This is not about the performance-enhancing drugs foolishness. That's a different Hall of Fame problem. This is about the sport's flawed definition of who qualifies as a contributor to baseball's story of what is was, is and will become.

There's an argument to be made that after Marvin Miller, who's also not in the Hall and won't ever get in, Frank Jobe was the most influential figure in baseball in the second half of the 20th century. He and John, his first brave patient, pioneered a surgical procedure that has altered the nature of pitching forever by saving the careers of more pitchers than I have the willingness to cite here. What was a miracle when performed on John has now become almost as routine a baseball occasion as spring training tedium, and baseball is infinitely better for it.

Sports medicine as a medical science is one of the most important developments in all sports since 1970 or so, and Jobe is a symbol of that reality. A sport which understood its history would give him its highest historic honor with grateful glee. It'd already have done so, when Jobe was still around to cherish it.

Baseball doesn't understand its history. Baseball World will spend the next six years arguing if Derek Jeter should be unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame (short answer, who cares? It's not like he's not getting in) and never give a thought to inducting Jobe.  The new and utterly unimproved Veterans Committee, which would actually have to do it, will continue its general rejection of the idea anyone but players and maybe some managers ever had anything to do with the sport. Next to a group of old ballplayers, a group of senior oil industry executives are the souls of gracious charity towards all and malice towards none.

I can think of no better way to describe the pompous arrogance which has become the Hall of Fame's stock in trade than this: Frank Jobe will probably never get in, and Bud Selig is next door to a lock;.


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