Yocum epitome of class, professionalism, dignity
Jobe on Angels orthopedist: 'He was a great partner, but a better friend'
LOS ANGELES -- If Dr. Robert Kerlan and Dr. Frank Jobe are the Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig of the sports medical profession, Dr. Lewis Yocum falls right in line as the fraternity's Joe DiMaggio: pure class, total professional, beacon of dignity.
Yocum, who died on Saturday night at 65 after a battle with liver cancer, was a Chicago native true to his heartland virtues. A calm, gentle man with a giving nature, he had no interest in the spotlight.
"His goal in life was to take care of patients," Jobe said, having learned Tuesday morning of his friend's passing. "He was very concerned about everybody. He had no hidden agendas. His goal in life was to do a good job as a doctor, and I liked that.
"He's been my partner for 35 years. It's almost like losing a brother or someone in your family. He was a great partner, but a better friend."
Serving the Angels for 36 seasons as the team orthopedist, Yocum's dedication to healing extended from star athletes to housewives in the community. He touched and improved the quality of hundreds of lives with his warmth, humor and depth of knowledge.
"It's a sad day for the Angels family, Major League Baseball and his regular patients as well," Rick Smith, the team's certified athletic trainer, said. "He's irreplaceable -- a gentleman, doctor and friend who can't be replaced."
Yocum and Smith arrived together in the Angels organization in February 1978. They were together one final time -- "bittersweet," Smith called it -- on May 5 when the Angels dedicated the training room in the home clubhouse at Angel Stadium to Dr. Yocum, in front of his wife, two children and grandchild.
Recalling those early days, Smith said: "I just knew he was a protégé of Dr. Robert Kerlan and Dr. Frank Jobe, and he was quite the cat's meow. He made my career what it is today. He made a lot of athletic trainers and physical therapists what they are. He was always willing and available to share his brilliance."
The Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles for which Yocum was an associate is best known for Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery, originated by Jobe in 1974. Yocum had a role in refining the procedure and reducing it by about 15 minutes, Jobe said.
"He could probably do the Tommy John operation better than I could," Jobe said, grinning.
Surgery was Yocum's specialty.
"I asked him repeatedly what his favorite thing as a doctor was," Smith said. "He said, `Smitty, I'm a surgeon. I love surgery. I love to fix things.' He had a twinkle in his eyes.
"There were obviously a lot of other things he did, but he shined in the operating room as a world-class surgeon."
Yocum kept his condition private and continued to work "right to the end," Smith said. As recently as May 5, at the dedication of the trainer's room with his family in attendance, Dr. Yocum made the rounds, consulting with Angels players over injury rehab programs.
Angels ace Jered Weaver grew emotional as he talked about Yocum's role in his career.
"I don't think those shoes will ever be filled," Weaver said. "He could relate to younger guys; he was easy to talk to. You don't know how long this is going to last in sports. When you were feeling down, he would always comfort you. He was in it for your career, what was good for you."
Dr. Jobe had lunch with Dr. Yocum "a few weeks ago," he said. "He didn't want to talk about it, so I never discussed [his condition] in detail with him. That was a private thing."
Smith recalled how Yocum was able to project the big picture for an athlete at the end.
"They talk about Dr. Yocum prolonging a lot of athletes' careers," Smith said. "But I'll never forget what 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. He'd go, `I want you to be able to play catch with your kids when you're 40 years old or when you're out of this game.'
"He was genuine and truthful and honest. When he would say something, he would mean it. It came from his heart."
Yocum studied pictures of the right arm of Mark Trumbo, a Villa Park (Calif.) High School senior taken by the Angels in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft. The evaluation was that wear and tear on the elbow made Trumbo's future as a pitcher uncertain.
"It wasn't like I had a torn ligament," Trumbo said. "It was elbow chips. I had a fallback plan, going to USC, and I could have pitched there.
"At the time, it was difficult to deal with. You get your hopes up for something, and then you find out there are signs for concern. Dr. Yocum outlined everything for me. His reputation more than spoke for itself."
In a workout at Angel Stadium, Trumbo's power convinced scout Eddie Bane and the brass to extend the same offer they'd proposed before Yocum's examination. Trumbo signed and began the path toward stardom.
"When I broke my foot in 2011," Trumbo said, "his bedside manner was second to none. He never overcomplicated anything. He was a straight shooter; he let me know exactly what was going on."
Yocum was involved in reliever Kevin Jepsen's elbow, shoulder and knee surgeries in 2003, '04 and '11, respectively.
"He knew how to keep you loose," Jepsen said. "He'd say, `Either you're going to be fixed or not. You're going under.'
"What a great guy. He'll be missed."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.