Noted orthopedist Yocum dies after battle with cancer
ANAHEIM -- Dr. Lewis Yocum, the Angels' longtime team orthopedist and one of the country's most noted practitioners in the field of sports medicine, had been very sick for a while. Those in the Angels' medical staff noticed it when pitchers and catchers reported for their physicals in mid-February, but nobody knew how severe it was until the team named its training room after him in early May.
Yocum passed away on Saturday night at age 65 because of liver cancer, but nobody in the organization even found out about it until Tuesday.
For the past four decades, Yocum dedicated his life to curing others -- from superstar Major Leaguers to run-of-the-mill weekend warriors -- but he didn't want anyone to be bothered by his own ailments. And that's part of what made him so beloved.
"I think just because of his humility," said long-time athletic trainer Rick Smith, who joined the Angels along with Yocum in 1978 and became a dear friend. "He didn't like being in the newspaper, he didn't like being in the limelight, because I just believe he was so humble. He was such a gentleman."
Yocum was a protégé of Drs. Robert Kerlan and Frank Jobe, the latter of whom performed the first ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction -- commonly known as Tommy John surgery -- in 1974. By the time his career was finished, Yocum had joined Dr. James Andrews as one of the best-known and most-respected orthopedic surgeons in sports.
"He was on the front lines of sports medicine," Jobe said from Dodger Stadium. "He wasn't looking for publicity. He just wanted to do a good job and make things better."
Commissioner Bud Selig called Yocum "a giant in the field of sports medicine" and "an invaluable resource to not only the Angels franchise, but players throughout all of Major League Baseball, team physicians and the members of the Professional Baseball Athletes Trainers Society."
While the Angels played the Dodgers up the road on Tuesday, the "Big A" of Angel Stadium flashed a picture of Yocum throwing out the first pitch with the words "An Angel Forever" below it. Before their home game on Wednesday, they'll honor him with a moment of silence.
"The Angels family and Major League Baseball have lost one of baseball's finest gentlemen and truly outstanding professionals with the passing of Dr. Lewis Yocum earlier this weekend," the team said in a statement. "His talents extended the careers of countless professional athletes and provided extended quality of life for so many others he advised, treated and operated on during his distinguished career."
Yocum died while in hospice care at his Southern California home over the weekend. He is survived by his wife, Beth, his son, Donald, and his daughter, Laura.
Yocum was in his 36th season with the Angels, but he also worked as an associate out of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles and consulted countless players -- Stephen Strasburg, Francisco Liriano and Ryan Madson, among others -- throughout the Majors. On Tuesday, numerous players -- Dave Winfield, Mark Mulder, C.J. Wilson and Daniel Hudson, just to name a few -- took to Twitter to voice their appreciation for Yocum's work.
Scott Boras, using Twitter for only the second time since his corporation launched an account in December 2010, vouched for Yocum's entry into the Hall of Fame.
"Dr. Yocum was a caring genius who had a profound impact on the game and its players," Boras wrote. "His plaque in the hall awaits."
Frankly, it's hard to navigate through baseball clubhouses and find someone who doesn't have a Yocum story.
When it was time for Madson to undergo Tommy John surgery in April 2012, he asked about 10 players from multiple organizations whom they'd recommend to do the procedure.
"Everybody said Yocum," Madson recalled. "Not one person said anybody else."
Tommy Hanson saw Yocum when he was 13 years old for shin splints. Indians infielder Mike Aviles remembered how Yocum frequently buzzed his cell phone to follow up on his surgery, when most doctors would merely go through the team. White Sox starter Jake Peavy recalled how straightforward yet gentle he could be.
"When you think about baseball medicine and how far we've come in injury prevention and surgeries, you think of Dr. Yocum," Peavy said. "It's a sad day."
The Angels haven't announced plans for who will replace him as the team orthopedist, but consultant Dr. Orr Limpisvasti usually handles a lot of the workload.
"The education and guidance that Lew provided all of us will continue to be the foundation upon which our medical program is built," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a text message. "He will be greatly missed and his time here never forgotten."
"Dr. Yocum was a good friend and someone with whom I have worked and have respected for more than 30 years," Rangers CEO and Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan said. "He made a tremendous contribution to sports medicine and to the game of baseball. Ruth and I express our deepest condolences to his family at this difficult time."
A native of Chicago, Yocum received his bachelor's degree from Western Illinois University in 1969 and his M.D. from the University of Illinois in '73. He then served his internship and residency program at the McGaw Medical Center at Northwestern University.
On Aug. 3, 2002, Yocum was honored along with Smith in a pregame ceremony for his 25 years of service with the Angels. During the 2008 Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, he became the second physician to be named an honorary member of the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society. And on May 5, the Angels dedicated the "Dr. Lewis Yocum Athletic Training Room" in the noted surgeon's honor.
Angels ace Jered Weaver was the one who hung up the sign that day.
On Tuesday, he was on the verge of tears.
"A guy like that doesn't come around too often," Weaver said. "I know there are a lot of guys knocking on the door trying to fill his position, but I don't think those shoes will ever be filled."