- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 28, 2013

As Jordan Zimmermann sat in Dr. Lewis Yocum’s office in August 2009, the Washington Nationals right-hander was facing a long, difficult path back to the major leagues. The ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow torn, Zimmermann visited Yocum for Tommy John surgery, unsure exactly where his career would go from there.

As the renowned surgeon tested Zimmermann to see if the ligament in his wrist would be large enough to serve as his UCL replacement, he showed him on his own wrist. Yocum’s was plenty large.

“Can I just take yours?” Zimmermann recalled asking him.

“You don’t know how many times I’ve heard that, son,” Yocum replied dryly, not once breaking character.

On Tuesday, Zimmermann chuckled at the memory. Yocum, a titan in the sports surgery world, died over the weekend after a quiet battle with liver cancer. He was 65.

“He obviously saved my career,” Zimmermann said. “I wouldn’t be here without him.”

He is not alone.

Yocum, an associate at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles, saved the careers of countless professional athletes — including many pitchers who underwent Tommy John surgery and rehab under his care.

In the process, he made a profound impact on the baseball world.

“He’s a legend,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “Been outstanding. Doctors are such a big part. Shoot, I don’t think anybody in baseball has passed through without meeting Yocum or [Robert] Kerlen or [Frank] Jobe or [James] Andrews. They’re just as much a part of the game as the players. They keep us on the field.”

Stephen Strasburg and Zimmermann, along with top prospects Lucas Giolito and Sammy Solis, are just a few of the Nationals pitchers sent to Yocum when they faced a torn UCL. Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa also visited with Yocum this past offseason. He discovered Espinosa had torn the rotator cuff in his left shoulder and put him on a rehab program to avoid surgery.

“It’s tough to hear of his passing,” Espinosa said. “I know how much he’s helped the baseball community with what he’s done for so many pitchers and so many players. You never want to hear the passing of anybody. It’s not easy to take.

“The last thing I knew of him was that he helped me out. He got me right. He got me to his best physical therapist and in a position where he could get me going again. It’s sad and a big loss for the baseball world.”

Yocum’s impact was obvious long before his death, but it was all the more evident as he was mourned by people across baseball. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said Yocum and the other elite surgeons in the field even helped alter the way teams procure players.

“He’s changed the game,” Rizzo said. “He changed how we rehab players, how we draft players and how we obtain players in free agency. Before, if a guy had that type of an injury, you wouldn’t even be thinking about drafting [him]. But because of the innovations that he’s made, it makes it a lot easier to make those decisions.”

Yocum was inducted as an honorary member of the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society in 2008, and he was only the second physician to be so honored. He was also on the Medical Advisory Committee that worked with MLB commissioner Bud Selig.

“Yocum was a giant in the field of sports medicine,” Selig said in a statement. “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.”

It was not well publicized that Yocum was dealing with health issues of his own. Over the weekend, Zimmermann had heard Yocum was in the hospital but that his wife, Beth, was reading him all the text messages sent to him. He typed one out, telling the man who made sure his career wasn’t over before it truly began to get better.

“I didn’t know how bad it really was,” Zimmermann said. “He’s fixed a lot of guys and done a lot for the game of baseball. It’s a tough blow for all the younger pitchers who have to go through it.”

NOTES: Espinosa went through a full workout Tuesday, taking batting practice and fielding ground balls. As long as the swelling in his right wrist stays down, he could return to the Nationals’ lineup Wednesday. … Outfielder Jayson Werth took a full round of batting practice, ran the bases and shagged fly balls to test his strained right hamstring. He could be ready for a rehab assignment as early as Wednesday, but the decision won’t be made until then. … Outfielder Bryce Harper sat again and is likely to miss the remainder of the Nationals’ four-game home-and-home series with the Orioles with bursitis in his left knee.