Dr. Lewis Yocum, the longtime Angels team physician and nationally renowned orthopedic surgeon who saved or extended the careers of hundreds of major league baseball players, died Saturday after quietly battling liver cancer. He was 65.
Yocum, who was in his 36th season with the Angels, consulted and operated on players throughout baseball. He was considered, with noted Alabama surgeon Dr. James Andrews, a leading expert on the elbow reconstruction procedure known as Tommy John surgery.
Among Yocum's recent prominent pitching patients were Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann of the Washington Nationals and John Lackey of the Boston Red Sox.
"He obviously saved my career," said Zimmermann, who had elbow surgery in 2009 and is now 8-2 with a 1.71 earned-run average, the second-best ERA in the National League. "I wouldn't be here without him."
An associate at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles, which was founded by Frank Jobe, the physician who pioneered Tommy John surgery in 1974, Yocum also sat on MLB Commissioner Bud Selig's medical advisory committee.
"Dr. Yocum was a giant in the field of sports medicine," Selig said in a statement. "He was an invaluable resource to not only the Angels but players throughout baseball, team physicians and athletic trainers. All of our clubs relied on Dr. Yocum's trusted opinion and judgment."
Yocum cut back on his work after his cancer diagnosis, but few in the Angels organization knew of the severity of his condition until May 5, the day the Angels training room was dedicated to him.
"That was the first time he opened up," said Tim Mead, Angels vice president of communications. "I'm not sure anyone really knew outside of his family. He was a very proud man, and fiercely private."
Yocum was hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles last week and died in hospice care at his Manhattan Beach home.
"The Angels and MLB have lost one of baseball's finest gentlemen and a truly outstanding professional," the team said in a statement. "His talents extended the careers of countless pro athletes, and he extended quality of life for so many others he advised, treated and operated on during his distinguished career."
Said Angels pitcher Jered Weaver: "I don't think those shoes will ever be filled."
Born Nov. 8, 1947, in Chicago, Yocum received his bachelor's degree from Western Illinois University in 1969 and his medical degree from the University of Illinois in 1973.
In addition to the 75 to 100 Tommy John surgeries he performed each year, Yocum operated on the shoulders, knees and ankles of numerous players. He was an invaluable resource for front-office executives, broadcasters and sportswriters seeking advice for injury treatment.
"You never knew he was the orthopedic surgeon of the stars," Mead said. "His notoriety was from the pro athletes he took care of, but his impact was greater on the general public he treated."
Yocum is survived by his wife, Beth, and two grown children, Donald and Laura. A memorial service will be held in June.