Four years ago this week, in this space, I took baseball's Hall of Fame to task. My complaint? The HOF's absolute failure by not enshrining Indiana native and one-time Chicago White Sox pitcher Tommy John and the man who made John's stellar career possible – Dr. Frank Jobe.
Tearing the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his left elbow in 1974, John, a Terre Haute native, should have been done. However, Dodgers' team physician Frank Jobe decided to try grafting a piece of tendon tissue in place of the UCL. In 1976, John was Comeback Player of the Year, would ultimately continue pitching another 13 years, and “Tommy John” surgery was born.
Without it, the successful careers of countless pitchers – including Yankee closer and HOF shoe-in Mariano Rivera – would never have happened.
In short, I argued that given what John physically overcame to become the 7th winningest southpaw in history, he and his pioneering surgeon deserved enshrinement.
However, in making that argument I committed an error of omission. Not only does the surgeon who invented the procedure belong in the HOF but so does the one who perfected it.
Dr. Lewis Yocum, a Chicago native, was hired by Jobe in 1977 and soon he was the Angels team physician and one of Jobe's partners. Now 88, Jobe is long retired as a surgeon, even as he continues to mentor his younger partners in the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic. Meanwhile, as this baseball season started, Yocum was the surgeon most MLB pitchers sought when the diagnosis was UCL tear – until last week.
Just 65, Yocum passed away on May 25, a victim of liver cancer. Until the Angels dedicated their training room to him in early May, hardly any Angels knew he was ill.
With his friend and partner's passing, Jobe was quick to give credit. “He could probably do the Tommy John operation better than I could,” Jobe admitted to MLB.com.
Ironically, one of Yocum's more recent and most famous patients, Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg was in the news over the weekend. Last year, coming off 2011 Tommy John surgery, Strasburg was shut down in the midst of a pennant race after pitching 160 innings. The decision, with which Strasburg did not agree, was made arbitrarily by Washington general manager Mike Rizzo.
At the time, Yocum told the LA Times that he supported Rizzo but added there were no scientific studies to justify the decision.
Last July, I wrote, “As good as (Strasburg) and his teammates are this year, there is no guarantee that that he or they will ever be in a pennant race again.”
This year, the Nationals are a .500 team; Strasburg may have a 2.54 ERA but his record is 3-5; and he left Friday's start after just two innings with a muscle strain in his shoulder.
Worse, he no longer has Yocum to help.
Nor does the HOF have Yocum any longer to honor in person. It's shameful, much like the way Ron Santo was mistreated. At least they still have John and Jobe. John's situation is easily remedied by an act of the Veterans Committee. Jobe, however – not having been a player, manager, executive, or umpire, is not eligible. Given his accomplishments and age, medical personnel should be added to that eligibility list and fast.
John Doherty is a certified athletic trainer and licensed physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.