Yocum dies at age 65

LOS ANGELES — Renowned orthopedic surgeon Lewis Yocum, who extended the careers of many big leaguers by repairing injuries that once would’ve ended their playing days, has died. He was 65.

Yocum had been the team orthopedist of the Los Angeles Angels for 36 years. Team spokesman Tim Mead said Tuesday that Yocum died on Saturday in Manhattan Beach.

“I wouldn’t be here without him,” Washington Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmermann said. “He’s fixed a lot of guys and done a lot for the game of baseball.”

Yocum had been ill with liver cancer, something that he chose to keep private.

“We totally understood that,” Angels All-Star pitcher Jered Weaver said. “He just wanted to deal with it with his family and didn’t want to have to put that on us. When we heard that he was going through liver cancer, it was tough to hear that. A guy like that only comes around in this world every so often.”

Frank Jobe, a doctor who pioneered the elbow ligament replacement surgery popularly known as Tommy John surgery in 1974, said he last spoke with Yocum a few weeks ago.

“I knew it was serious, but he didn’t want to talk about it,” Jobe said at Dodger Stadium before the Angels played the Dodgers. “It just makes me so sad because he’s not here anymore. It’s not like it was before, when I could ask Lew what he thinks about this or that. I can’t do that anymore.”

Yocum specialized in sports medicine, shoulders, elbows and knees, according to the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic Web site. The Los Angeles clinic was founded by Jobe, who shared the workplace and a close friendship with Yocum for 35 years.

Yocum, Jobe and James Andrews became the key surgeons for big leaguers.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig called Yocum “a giant in the field of sports medicine.”

“All of our clubs relied upon Dr. Yocum’s trusted opinion and judgment,” Selig said in a statement. “Throughout the last 36 years, the lives and careers of countless players benefited from his pioneering expertise, and he made our game on the field better as a result.”

Zimmermann and Nationals Stephen Strasburg were among the players operated on by Yocum.

“He’s saved a lot of guys’ careers,” Zimmermann said.

Zimmermann recalled Yocum’s dry sense of humor when the doctor checked him to see if the pitcher had a ligament that was big enough in his wrist.

“Obviously, it wasn’t,” he said. “He told me what to do and his stuck out about a half-inch. I said, ‘Can I just take yours?’ He didn’t smile one bit and said, ‘You don’t know how many times I’ve heard that.'"

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