Nationals react to death of Dr. Lewis Yocum

News that noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. Lewis Yocum died Saturday of cancer was greeted by sadness in the Nationals clubhouse before Tuesday night’s game against the Orioles. Dr. Yocum had performed Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on Nats pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman, consulted last winter on second baseman Danny Espinosa’s shoulder injury and was a presence in the Los Angeles Angels clubhouse when right-hander Dan Haren pitched in Anaheim.

“He’s been unbelievable with the Tommy John surgeries and he’s done a bunch of our guys. He’s a legend,” said manager Davey Johnson. “He’s been outstanding.”

Dr. Yocum performed Tommy John surgery on Zimmermann on Aug. 19, 2009 and the right-hander reached out to the surgeon last week upon hearing that his health was quickly deteriorating. Yocum, who was 65, died Saturday night and his death was announced this afternoon by the Angels.

“I heard a few days back that he was in the hospital and wasn’t doing well,” Zimmermann said. “I sent him a text and from what I heard, his wife was reading him all the texts and everything. ... I found out 10 minutes ago. He saved a lot of guys’ careers. He’s fixed a lot of guys and did a lot for the game of baseball.”

Zimmermann remembered Yocum having a dry sense of humor that helped put his patients at ease.

“He was a great guy,” Zimmermann said. “Obviously, he saved my career. I wouldn’t be here without him.”

When the Nationals needed to develop a plan so that Espinosa could rehab his shoulder weakness last offseason, they sent him to see Dr. Yocum, who laid out a rehab schedule so that Espinosa could avoid surgery. Yocum had also treated Espinosa’s brother Brandon for a fractured elbow and shoulder problems.

“It’s tough to hear of his passing,” Espinosa said. “He did my brother’s surgery - my brother’s a ballplayer. How much he’s helped in baseball, the community - what he’s done for so many pitchers and so many players. You never want to hear of the passing of anybody, so it’s definitely not easy to take. ... He helped me out, he got me right, he got me to his best physical therapists. He got me in a position where he could get me going again. It’s definitely sad, a big loss for the baseball world.”

While Dr. Yocum was known as one of the top orthopedic surgeons in the country, he also served as the Angels’ team physical. That’s where Haren came to known him, during 2 1/2 years in Anaheim.

“He was almost at every game,” Haren said. “Just a really nice person. Obviously sad to see him go. He was great with the guys over there and there’s not another doctor I’ve trusted as much as him. He helped me when I had some back and hip problems. I saw him in the offseason because I live out there. He’s definitely going to be missed by his family, but the baseball world is his family, too. He touched so many people in the game. It’s really sad.”

Haren recalled a famous surgeon who had an old-fashioned family doctor’s personality.

“You knew you were going to get the best opinions, the best treatment plans when you went to see him,” Haren said. “In the offseason, I stubbed my toe and broke my toe and he made himself available right away. ... He was kind of like a family doctor. He’s really going to be missed.”

Baseball commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig issued the following statement on Dr. Yocum’s passing:

“Dr. Lewis Yocum was a giant in the field of sports medicine. 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. 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. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to his wife Beth, their children, their friends and his many admirers.”

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