One of the greats has passed. Dr. Lewis Yocum, one of the top sports surgeons in the world, died on Tuesday according to Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times. Long the team physician for the Los Angeles Angels and a consulting surgeon to hundreds of major league players, Yocum's work at the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic in Los Angeles placed him on a high pedestal. While no sports surgeon is in any Hall of Fame, Yocum deserves consideration, along with his mentor, Dr. Frank Jobe.
The esteem he was held in was manifest in two ways. The surgeons he trained and the medical staffs he consulted with often identified themselves as "Yocum guys." The orthopaedic fellows from Yocum's Kerlan-Jobe program, along with those from James Andrews' ASMI fellows make up the majority of sports surgeons today. The legacy Yocum built through his mentorship is strong, with some of the top names in sports medicine today amongst them.
Yocum was also honored by his own team. The Angels' training room was named on May 5th for Dr. Yocum, an honor to be sure, but one even more than most realize. The training room is the holy of holies in most locker rooms, a place where no one enjoys going, but within those walls, the trust that must be shared takes on an element of the confessional. That everyone in an organization would agree that one man, one doctor, was worthy is truly notable.
The list of Yocum's patients is extensive. Returning players in recent years like Stephen Strasburg, Dustin Pedroia and Daniel Hudson barely scrapes the surface. Just the list from the last few years would be enough to fill out the rosters of a couple All-Star teams (the list is below).
Yocum's research was also groundbreaking. His work on the rotator cuff, along with Dr. Frank Jobe, led to the near universal use of the "thrower's ten" exercises which helped reduce the number of shoulder injuries. His work on shoulder impingement also led to a much greater understanding of what could be done to help baseball pitchers. His work went beyond the shoulder, with key papers on the knee and elbow to his credit as well.
Dr. Tim Kremchek, the team physician for the Cincinnati Reds worked with Yocum and sums up how so many in the industry feels. Kremchek told me "I got to know Lew over the last 15 years and taking care of high profile athletes, there was no one better. He was always calm, straight up, experienced. Always invaluable assistance. Great doctor, great human being, and a better friend. In this business, too many people are trying to keep the case. Lew was there to help the player.
The loss of Dr. Yocum is one not just for the Angels, for whom he served so long and well, but for all of baseball. As yet, there is no doctor enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but when it does, Dr. Yocum should be noted alongside the giants of his profession and the best of baseball.
Major patients: Stephen Strasburg, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jordan Zimmermann, Kendrys Morales, Ted Lilly, Robb Nen, John Lackey, Randy Wolf, CJ Wilson, Francisco Liriano, Billy Wagner, Joakim Soria, Jake Westbrook, Cal Eldred, Scott Erickson, Daniel Hudson
Others: Chris Narveson, Cory Luebke, Joe Wieland, John Lamb, Ryan Kalish, Sergio Santos, David Riske, Tsuyoshi Wada, Trevor Crowe, Anthony Reyes, Danny Duffy, Felipe Paulino, David Aardsma, Hector Ambriz, Carlos Gutierrez, Mike Aviles, Zach Miner, John Franco, Lucas Giolito, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jeremy Bonderman, Jose Arredondo
Special thanks to Dan Wade for his research assistance on this piece.