Cubs reflect on career saves leader Dr. Frank Jobe
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter March 7, 2014 9:01PM
Updated: March 8, 2014 12:00AM
MESA, Ariz. — Cubs pitcher Tommy Hottovy was on a treadmill Friday morning when he saw the news on TV.
“We all owe a thank-you in appreciation of what he’s done and what he did for the game,” Hottovy said of Dr. Frank Jobe, the inventor of the reconstructive elbow surgery that saved Hottovy’s career in 2008 and countless others since Tommy John had the first operation of its kind in 1974.
“I don’t know where we’d be without it. . . . I’d be in an office somewhere probably working.”
Hottovy, who reinvented himself as a side-armer during his rehab, is one of at least seven players in the Cubs’ camp — including catcher John Baker — whose careers were saved by the ligament-replacement method pioneered by Jobe, who died Thursday night at 88.
Players, managers and executives from Florida to Arizona paid their respects Friday to the man whose medical contribution rivaled free agency for seismic impact on the game in the last 40 years.
“We don’t really know any different,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said of a procedure that was so successful by the late 1980s that more than 500 players underwent the surgery since lefty David Wells became the third to have it in 1985.
“I started in baseball in ’92, and it was established then, and it’s only gotten better with time,” Epstein said. “It’s a testament to how brilliant an idea it was in the first place to see how routine it seems now.”
So routine that the Cubs have been one of the most aggressive teams under Epstein in rolling the dice on Tommy John rehab guys for the buy-low, high-value potential, citing a “95 percent” success rate.
Rehabbing Scott Baker got a $5.5 million deal from the Cubs last season and suffered a setback before finishing with three starts, then moving on to the Seattle Mariners — apparently fully recovered — this year.
One dice roll that looks like it could pay off is Arodys Vizcaino, who was acquired from the Atlanta Braves in the Paul Maholm trade in 2012 while still recovering from his surgery.
Vizcaino, who has been one of the most impressive pitchers in camp, pitched a 1-2-3 inning Friday against the Cleveland Indians with two strikeouts and an upper-90s fastball.
Before that, former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry took a buy-low flyer on Ryan Dempster coming off Tommy John surgery and got a closer who eventually became an All-Star playoff starter.
Both of Kerry Wood’s All-Star selections came after his 1999 surgery.
“It’s been five years for me now, and it’s almost like it never happened,” said Hottovy, whose surgery came as a minor-leaguer in Epstein’s Boston Red Sox system.
“That’s the thing here. They know that especially if you have a good rehab program, you know if you get a guy, even if he’s had the surgery, all you’re getting is the same guy with a fresh arm, and now you get to get your hands on him, get him into your rehab program and your routine. You can control that.
“I was with the Red Sox when Theo and those guys were there, and that’s the program I was on, so it was real similar to what they’re doing here.
“It’s an amazing, amazing surgery and just the way it’s evolved over the years, too. It used to be a death sentence, and now it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s all right. I’ll be back in eight or nine months.’ ’’