LOS ANGELES (AP) — Renowned orthopedic surgeon Lewis Yocum, who extended the careers of many big leaguers by repairing injuries that once would’ve ended their playing days, has died. He was 66.

Yocum had been the team orthopedist of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for 36 years. Team spokesman Tim Mead said Tuesday that Yocum died on Saturday in Manhattan Beach.

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Yocum had been ill with liver cancer.

“I wouldn’t be here without him,” Washington Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmermann said. “He’s fixed a lot of guys and done a lot for the game of baseball.”

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig called Yocum “a giant in the field of sports medicine.”

“All of our clubs relied upon Dr. Yocum’s trusted opinion and judgment,” Selig said in a statement. “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.”

Yocum specialized in sports medicine, shoulder, elbow and knees, according to the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic Web site. The Los Angeles clinic was founded by Frank Jobe, a doctor who pioneered elbow ligament replacement surgery, popularly known as Tommy John surgery, in 1974.

Yocum, Jobe and James Andrews became the key surgeons for big leaguers.

“They’re just as much a part of the game as the players, keeping us on the field,” Washington manager Davey Johnson said.

Nationals pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Zimmermann were among the players operated on by Yocum.

“He’s saved a lot of guys’ careers,” Zimmermann said.

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Zimmermann recalled Yocum’s dry sense of humor when the doctor checked him to see if the pitcher had a ligament that was big enough in his wrist.

“Obviously, it wasn’t,” he said. “He told me what to do and his stuck out about a half-inch. I said, `Can I just take yours?’ He didn’t smile one bit and said, `You don’t know how many times I’ve heard that?”‘

Angels starter C.J. Wilson was among dozens of players tweeting reaction to the news of Yocum’s death.

“He was the sole reason a lot of pitchers and I had a chance at a career in baseball,” tweeted Wilson, who signed a $78 million, five-year contract eight years after having Tommy John surgery in 2003.

The Angels remembered Yocum as “one of baseball’s finest gentlemen and truly outstanding professionals.”

“His talents extended the careers of countless professional athletes, and provided extended quality of life for so many others he advised, treated and operated on during his distinguished career, including 36 years with the Angels,” the team said in a statement.

“His contributions and impact in the medical field will long be remembered across the country. He represents the standard for others in his profession to attain.”

A native of Chicago, Yocum earned his bachelor’s degree from Western Illinois University in 1969 and a doctorate from the University of Illinois in 1973. He served his surgery internship and residency in orthopedic surgery at Northwestern University. He served his fellowship in sports medicine at the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic in 1977.

Yocum was just the second doctor to be inducted as an honorary member of the Professional Baseball Trainers Society in 2008.

Yocum is survived by his wife, Beth; son Donald; and daughter Laura.

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