What I worry about the King

I’m like the anti-Ahasuerus, losing sleep over the King — literally: I should be sleeping right now, but instead I’m writing about Felix Hernandez. The King and I go way back (to even before that time he got me into an article on MLB.com), so I’m happy to give up a single REM cycle to fully express my concern.

This has nothing to do with the fact that Felix just gave up 7 runs in a start, and allowed the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to come back from a 7-1 deficit and win 10-9 (here’s the obligatory crazy win-probability graph). Felix will be fine. He’s Felix. The last time he gave up a big lead, he went out his next start and threw a perfect game (oh hey — you again). Seriously, check out August 10 and then August 15.

No, I’m worried about Felix’s decision to wear a Lewis Yocum memorial patch on his uniform for tonight’s start in Anaheim:

Los Angeles Angels players mourn the loss of team doctor Lewis Yocum, who died May 28, in part by wearing a patch on their uniforms that honors him. A circle shape stitched to the jersey, just above the heart, the patch is dark blue and says “Dr. Lewis Yocum 1947-2013” and “LEW” in red Angels script.

And now Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners wears it too. He was the starting pitcher against the Angels on Thursday night at the Big A, but he also showed solidarity with the opposing team:

felix yocum

When my brother alerted me to Felix’s sartorial selection, he expressed concern that Felix had done more than just wear part of the other team’s uniform. But Felix is no turncoat, and that allegation is patently preposterous. (Don’t worry, my brother was joking. We do that in my family.)

What did concern me was the article’s attempt to explain why Felix, of all people, went out of his way to honor Yocum. After all, he’s never had elbow surgery, so there’s no obvious personal relationship. Or so I thought.

[Felix] knew Yocum, having visited him recently in Los Angeles, just before Hernandez signed a rich contract extension with Seattle. Yocum, a protege of Frank Jobe [sic: it should be spelled GOB] who specializes in elbow and shoulder medicine, ensured that Hernandez’s right elbow was sound. No Tommy John surgery here! Sign your $175 million deal, Felix.

Yocum once gave Felix a physical — and because of that, Felix was the only Mariner who decided to honor him.

Wait, what? Jeremy Bonderman, who pitched earlier in the series against the Angels, actually underwent Tommy John surgery. Had he worn the patch, I can’t imagine that would have raised any red flags (especially because nobody would have been watching). But Felix? Felix doing this is weird: when’s the last time you felt particularly indebted to the doctor who performed your physical? Players take physicals all. the. time. Only Felix wore Yocum’s memorial patch.

Granted, Felix’s deal almost fell through out of concern over his elbow — before Yocum gave him a clean bill of health — and that’s precisely why I’m concerned. Was there something more to their relationship? Did Yocum decide to do a really nice player a really big favor? In exchange, did he extract a promise that Felix would one day wear his memorial patch? (So far as I know, Felix retains custody of his first-born son.) And if it all did go down as I’m speculating, should I therefore be worried Felix’s elbow might literally detach from his body by morning? After all, he did just give up seven runs.

OK, so I’m not really all that concerned that Yocum fudged the results. Until tonight, Felix was having a fantastic year, and despite pre-season concerns over declining velocity, his average pitch speed has actually been slowly increasing as the season has progressed. As I said earlier, he’ll be fine. Get tickets to his next start.

My real concern is not that Felix opted to wear the patch and Bonderman didn’t — it’s where Felix, and the Angels, decided to pin it. The Yahoo! article I’ve been quoting concludes with something of a deep thought:

You’d think they’d put the patch closer to a joint, given that Yocum was a renowned orthopedist.

And the author’s right — if they wanted to put the patch closer to a joint, the Angels should have given one to Tom Wilhelmsen. Badumpsh.


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