ANAHEIM, Calif. — The passing of one of baseball’s foremost medical experts, Dr. Lewis Yocum, earlier this week drew widespread reaction from all around the baseball community.
Yocum, who along with Dr. James Andrews and his own mentor, Dr. Frank Jobe, revolutionized the game of baseball by performing the eponymous surgery named after the now infamous pitcher, Tommy John, saving the arms and extending the careers of some of the game’s most high-profile pitchers.
But it hit especially close to home in the Angels’ clubhouse, a place that was a home of sorts to Yocum. For 36 years, Yocum worked as the team’s orthopedist, but the relationship went much further than just the exam room.
“He was just a truly genuine person,” said pitcher Jered Weaver on Thursday. “Just wanted to come and hang out and be one of the guys and joke around.”
Catcher Chris Iannetta echoed Weaver’s sentiment. He forged bonds with the players easily and his absence has reverberated through the clubhouse, where he was always a fixture.
“Just sitting around the clubhouse, he was always willing to say hello,” Iannetta said. “(He was) someone who is that good at what he does and never felt like he was above you as a person or intellectually. He would have a conversation with everybody.”
Yocum passed on Saturday night at his home in Manhattan Beach. He was 65 and had been battling liver cancer. The cancer progressed very quickly, and Angels manager Mike Scioscia said the team began to notice its effects early in spring training.
It was a battle Yocum kept very much to himself. He was never someone to draw much attention to himself, instead deferring to the players he treated, letting their work showcase his.
“He was down to earth, didn’t want to be in the limelight,” Weaver said. “He was all about honesty – it wasn’t about making a name for himself, he wanted the good for the player, no matter what it was. If it was going to be surgery or if it was going to be an injection or anything like that he was truthful.”
Still, Yocum never took days off. It was just earlier this month on May 5 that the team dedicated its athletic training room to him. Yocum was at the dedication ceremony before the game and even was talking with players about their status of their injuries and MRIs.
“He worked until the last day,” Scioscia said.
The one aspect that will remain with the team is the compassion that Yocum showed for his patients. And while he was best known for treating pitchers like Stephen Strasburg and C.J. Wilson, he never discriminated and took on patients of all abilities – professional athlete or professional parent.
“He loved helping people whether it was a housewife or a man or a grandma or elite professional athletes,” Scioscia said. “Everyone that was around Dr. Yocum understood his compassion, understood his drive to help anybody he was around, whether it was an athlete or a non-athlete to get well and get back to doing what they wanted to do.
“It didn’t matter if you were a weekend golfer or you were a superstar pitcher, Yocum had the same feeling of compassion for you and I think that’s what made him a special person.”
The impact of Yocum’s work continues to be showcased every day in baseball. The mark that he left behind in Anaheim is forever cemented in the plaque above the Angels’ athletic training room. The legacy that he leaves behind is one characterized by a heart as big as his intellect.
“I’ll never forget that he would tell athletes that he perhaps couldn’t help anymore because their shoulder was just trashed or their elbow was just too trashed to help,” Scioscia said. “He’d go, ‘I want you to be able to play catch with your kids when you’re 40 years old and when you’re out of this game.’ And he meant it.”
“It’s impacted so many people across baseball and it has prolonged so many people’s careers that are not only playing now but that played before us. He took it to another level,” Weaver said. “He was one of those rare special people that come around that had a tremendous impact on the evolving of sports medicine.”