Cubs doctor Stephen Gryzlo remembers Dr. Frank Jobe
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter March 7, 2014 11:31PM
FILE - In a Saturday, July 27, 2013 file photo, Dr. Frank Jobe, known for the development of the historic elbow procedure known as Tommy John surgery, is honored during a ceremony at Doubleday Field, in Cooperstown, N.Y. Jobe, a pioneer in the field of sports medicine, died Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 in Santa Monica after being hospitalized recently with an undisclosed illness, according to a spokesman for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was 88. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)
Maybe it was because he was left-handed. Or maybe it was his rare calm and self-control in the operating room that never seemed to waver.
Whatever it was, Dr. Stephen Gryzlo recalled, Frank Jobe made it look easy.
“It was amazing,” said the Cubs’ team orthopedist. “Seeing how skilled, how humble and how generally precise he was in the [operating room] and how he commanded a respect that very few surgeons really ever do.”
Baseball suffered a symbolic loss with the death Thursday night of surgeon Frank Jobe, the who invented “Tommy John” surgery – but a loss more personal for Gryzlo than for many others in the game.
“I was very saddened,” Gryzlo said of the death of his one-time mentor.
Jobe left a legacy that includes the handiwork of orthopedic surgeons around the world who shadowed and assisted Jobe during year-long fellowships at the famed Kerlan-Jobe clinic – a legacy that has long served Gryzlo with the Cubs.
Well into his 70s, Jobe continued the program that guided young surgeons in training like that 31-year-old aspiring sports orthopedist from Chicago 23 years ago.
“Every year there were six or seven fellows in sports that saw him work,” Gryzlo said, “and his nuances and his little pearls, and just the way he handled himself in the O.R. was passed down to all of us.
“I was very fortunate to have gotten that fellowship. It was one of the lucky things that happened to me. All the guys that year feel the same way, how blessed we were to get to do it.”
Back then, Jobe still performed shoulder and elbow injuries “the old-fashioned” way, said Gryzlo, with fully opened incisions that required more anatomical expertise and precision than arthroscopy used now.
“He was a brilliant anatomist,” Gryzlo said.
Which, of course, probably had a lot to do with his ability to conceive of a way to repair pitchers’ blown out elbows well enough to allow them to continue their careers.
But it was his demeanor, poise and ease that influenced Gryzlo even more.
“He was just a true gentleman,” Gryzlo said. “He never swore in the O.R. He was kind and articulate and quiet and precise. Some surgeons are amazingly poor mannered in the O.R., throwing instruments or reaching for things, or extremely chauvinistic if they’re male. He was an amazing gentleman and never frazzled.”
It left an impression with the Cubs doctor, who became closer over the years with the late Dr. Lewis Yocum, a Jobe partner and a Chicago native, but who also stayed in occasional contact with Jobe.
The seven Kerlan-Jobe fellows from Gryzlo’s year still get together for reunions.
Gryzlo estimates he does seven to 10 Tommy John surgeries a year on minor leaguers now, one of countless surgeons carrying on Jobe’s legacy.
A legacy that many expect will one day lead to a place in the Hall of Fame.
“Frank Jobe was not one of those guys to stand on a soapbox and proclaim how great he was,” Gryzlo said. “He shied away from attention. He just let his results and his success stories – which were numerous, and really amazing – speak for themselves. And he didn’t mind that.
“If he was more vocal or an individual who was me-first, it could have easily been called the “Frank Jobe” procedure. … But I don’t think he was angry in any way it wasn’t named after him.”