3:16 PM CDT, June 1, 2013
Even genius seems replaceable in sports, including baseball.
Tony Gwynn and George Brett go into the Hall of Fame, and along come Ichiro Suzuki and Miguel Cabrera. Greg Maddux retires, and up pops Clayton Kershaw. Tony La Russa steps away, and the Cardinals don't skip a beat behind Mike Matheny.
But will that be the case with sports medicine?
Science always is evolving, but will baseball players still get put back together again the way they have the last 30 years once legendary orthopedic surgeons Lewis Yocum, Frank Jobe and James Andrews are all gone?
You would think they would, but still, there's a reason agent Scott Boras calls Yocum, Jobe and Andrews "the Murderer's Row of Medicine.''
Yocum's death from liver cancer May 25 was a shock to clients around baseball. He was the Angels' team doctor, but he helped save the careers of players — especially pitchers — on all 30 teams. He repaired Stephen Strasburg's elbow in 2010 and had examined the shoulder of two-time Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay only 10 days earlier, prescribing surgery.
Those close to him say the Chicago native battled cancer for five months, causing him to lose weight, but he kept his illness private while he continued to work.
"He still wanted to help,'' Reds Vice President Bill Bavasi told USA Today. "His attention to detail and the players' interest, understanding professional athletics and a player's shelf life, was second to none. I would put his significance to sports medicine with anybody.''
Yocum is among the notable graduates of Western Illinois University and received his medical degree from the University of Illinois. He did his residency at Northwestern University's McGaw Medical Center.
Jobe performed the first transplant of an elbow ligament on left-hander Tommy John in 1974, when the Dodgers' team orthopedist was 49. Techniques have continued to advance since then, with Jobe, Yocum and Andrews the go-to guys for pitchers facing career-threatening surgeries.
Boras says Yocum turned an inexact science into one with stunningly reliable results, batting 1.000 with his diagnoses.
"He changed the paradigm of baseball and those who played it,'' Boras said.
Commissioner Bud Selig calls Yocum "a giant in the field of medicine.'' White Sox manager Robin Ventrua says Yocum was a security blanket for players.
"He was always somebody everybody went to for one thing or another,'' Ventura said. "I don't know how they do it for Hall of Fame stuff, but if you're looking at people who affected the game, he affected the game."
The Hall of Fame issues membership only to players, executives and umpires. But it created the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award five years ago to spread official recognition.
It would be fitting if it went to the medical triumvirate of Yocum, Jobe and Andrews in 2014, when it is next presented.
Passing it on: Brett, named the Royals' interim hitting coach in a true Hail Mary move, hasn't been in uniform since he retired in 1993. He thinks he knows how to do his job, however, planning to copy the style of the late Charlie Lau, who was his hitting guru as a player.
"They just have to have someone they can trust," Brett said of the hitters who had contributed to the Royals ranking 13th in runs among AL teams. "I trusted Charley Lau with my heart and soul and, hopefully, these guys will trust me. I'm basically going to be Charlie Lau's ghost. There are going to be a lot of one-on-one conversations on airplanes just like (Lau) had with me in 1974."
Brett is taking over for the tandem of Jack Maloof and Andre David, who had replaced Kevin Seitzer after last season. It's safe to say he brings rare presence to the job.
"It's George Brett, man," third baseman Mike Moustakas said to the Kansas City Star. "We're lucky to have him with us here full time for right now."
Brett asked for the interim tag so general manager Dayton Moore won't "have to fire me from the Kansas City Royals'' if things don't work. The Royals led major league teams in scoring in spring training, but the stalled development of first baseman Eric Hosmer and Moustakas has contributed to the heat on manager Ned Yost, who could be the next to go.
Bad timing: The Astros are strongly considering North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran for the first overall pick in the draft. But the Mariners just sent Moran's Tar Heels predecessor, Dustin Ackley, to Triple A.
Ackley had been hailed as a can't-miss hitter after being the second overall pick in the 2009 draft, getting to the big leagues after only 200 minor league games. But a .205 batting average this season had dropped his career average to .237.
"Obviously, we fought for the guy for quite a period of time now," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "We wanted to make it work up here and not have to do that, but ultimately, we didn't feel like we could take it any further."
To clarify: Wedge insists he didn't want to come across as a caveman when he took a widely repeated swipe at sabermetrics in regard to Ackley's stunted development as a hitter.
"It's the new generation,'' Wedge said. "It's all this sabermetrics stuff, for lack of a better term, you know what I mean? People who haven't played since they were 9 years old think they have it figured out. It gets in these kids' heads."
Huh? What did he mean by that?
Wedge says he "always has been a big fan of using the numbers'' but believes there's too much of an emphasis on working counts — which, by the way, is exactly what President Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer want to see the Cubs hitters do.
"What you can't do is play this game with fear,'' Wedge said. "You have to go out there, and when you get your first good pitch to take a whack at, you have to take a whack at it. People stress so much getting deeper in counts and drawing walks, it's almost a backward way of looking at it. … When I bust somebody's chops or make a joke about it, you can take it in a lighthearted way or you can take it personally. Quite frankly, I don't care either way.''
Like Yost, Wedge is on the big leagues' endangered-species list. But you can see why he always has been one of Hawk Harrelson's favorites.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC