Dr. Lewis Yocum, the Anaheim Angels of Anaheim's longtime team orthopedist, died Saturday night. He was 66.
Members of the organization did not find out until Tuesday. But, according to the Halos' website, coaches and players figured something was up when Yocum, who was starting his 36th season with the club, missed spring-training physicals.
Then came the bigger giveaway: the team's training room was named after the physician earlier this month. By then Yocum was being for complications from liver cancer. He died at home with family members and hospice caregivers by his side.
The Angels did manage to offer a tribute to Doc Yocum after getting the news. As the Angels were losing to the Dodgers in Chavez Ravine Tuesday evening, the Big A at Angel Stadium flashed a picture of Yocum throwing out the first pitch with the caption "An Angel Forever."
Before tonight's 7:05 game against the Dogs at the Big A, Yocum will be honored with a moment of silence. It's also fitting that scheduled to be on the mound is Jered Weaver, the Angel' pitching ace returning from injury.
Weaver was the one who hung up the "Dr. Lewis Yocum Athletic Training Room" sign May 5. Upon hearing the news of the physician's passing Tuesday, the pitcher was on the verge of tears, according to the Angels' official website.
"A guy like that doesn't come around too often," Weaver reportedly 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."
"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."
"Lewis Yocum was a giant in the field of sports medicine," baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement of his own. "He was 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 Athletics Trainers Society. All of our clubs relied upon Dr. Yocum's trusted opinion and judgment."
Yocum is forever associated with Tommy John surgery that extended the careers of ballplayers who before 1974 would have retired due to arm problems. He was as an associate of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles, where co-founder Frank Jobe performed the pioneering procedure.
Tommy John, who was an All-Star pitcher with the Chicago White Sox in 1968, was on his way to a stellar year with his new team the Dodgers before the lefty damaged a ligament in his pitching arm. Jobe replaced the ligament in John's left elbow with one from his right forearm, and the crafty starter went on to become an All-Star with LA in 1978 and hold the distinction of pitching with either the Dodgers or the Yankees when those teams faced each other in the World Series of '77, '78 and '81.
Jobe, Yocum or Dr. James Andrews have performed nearly all the Tommy John surgeries on professional baseball players since John went under the knife. Stephen Strasburg, Francisco Liriano and Ryan Madson are among the players who consulted Yocum.
"He obviously saved my career," said Washington Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, who had Tommy John surgery performed by Yocum in 2009, according to City News Service.
Added Manager Davey Johnson of the surgeon: "He's been unbelievable with the Tommy John surgery. He's done a bunch of our guys. He's a legend.''
Back home, members of the Angels staff are stuck today by how Yocum saved so many experiencing pain while never openly talking about his own recently. The physician certainly shunned attention.
"I think just because of his humility," long-time athletic trainer Rick Smith, who joined the Angels along with Yocum in 1978, says of his dear friend on the Angels' site. "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."
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Jobe, reached at Dodger Stadium, added: "He was on the front lines of sports medicine. He wasn't looking for publicity. He just wanted to do a good job and make things better."
Yocum was a Chicago native who received his bachelor's degree from Western Illinois University in 1969 and his medical degree from the University of Illinois in 1973.
He is survived by his wife, Beth, his son, Donald, and his daughter, Laura. Funeral plans were not immediately announced.