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"He had a peculiar thing that doesn't happen very often; he was getting water on the elbow. The joint would swell up to where he could hardly bend it or extend it. The water had to be removed on occasions, and then we used anti-inflammatory agents. Then he had the physical measures, the heat beforehand and then, after he pitched, the ice packs to reduce the metabolic strain on the local tissues.
"He pitched like that for three years, but the last year he was obviously in a lot of pain, and he wasn't pitching as well. I made no particular suggestions to him about retiring; I don't think that's up to the doctor. I think you can answer objective questions by the patient and then let him make his own decision on the basis of the answers you've given him. But sometimes they ask you questions that are difficult to answer. As he was losing some movement of his elbow, Sandy was worried about how much it would interfere with normal pursuits like golf and things like that—even washing his face and shaving—after he quit. Also, he developed spurs that couldn't be removed, and a synovitis, which is an irritation of the lining of the joint.
"The human arm isn't built to pitch a baseball. There are unnatural stresses placed on it, and some fellows place more stress than others. I know in the case of horses that some horses with the greatest ability try too hard and put out so much that they're difficult to keep sound. I think that's the way it is with some athletes, too."
Ultimately, of course, Koufax opted for retirement, and he says of Kerlan today, "The important thing about Doc is his ability to distinguish between the treating of athletes and the treating of regular patients. In our case, it wasn't so much a question of getting well as being able to perform. We can get well in the off season.
"Another thing about Doc that is important to athletes is that he is such a terrific guy," Koufax adds. "His own physical problems are far more serious than most of those he treats, and yet he is always having a good time—telling jokes, kidding people and getting kidded in return. I always liked him as a doctor, but more than that I liked him as a man."
When the Lakers moved to Los Angeles in 1960 Kerlan was soon retained by the then-owner Robert Short. His first serious job for the Lakers was Elgin Baylor's left knee, which had been injured in the first game of the 1965 NBA playoffs against Baltimore. Jumping for a rebound, Baylor had suffered a hairline fracture of his kneecap. In an extremely delicate operation Kerlan removed the upper one-eighth of the kneecap above the fracture and reattached the quadriceps tendon to the rest.
Baylor remembers waking up in the operating room while still under sedation and wondering whether he would ever play again. Kerlan, who was standing by, assured him he would. "He told me the recovery would be a slow and difficult process—one thing about Doc, he never kids you." As part of the rehabilitation, Kerlan prescribed a 37-pound weight for Baylor's shoe, which he lifted 200 times a day throughout the summer months.
When the new season began Baylor still had little faith in the strength of his knee and played cautiously for several months. Just before a game one night in January 1967, Kerlan was in his regular seat on the floor of the arena, and the thought occurred to him that Baylor might need "a little mental stimulation." So he called Baylor over and said, "You know, Elgin, you've got to test this thing one time or another. If you're not going to go out and play, if you think you can't, come on over and sit with me. I've got an extra seat here, and you can just forget about playing."
From then on Baylor went all-out, and in a matter of weeks he was again the superstar he had been in the past. It was from a similar courtside seat two weeks ago that Kerlan witnessed an injury to Wilt Chamberlain that bore a grisly resemblance to Baylor's. Going after a lob pass in a game against Phoenix, the Stilt came down badly on his right leg and crumpled to the floor. Kerlan was at his side in seconds, made a quick—and, it turned out, correct—diagnosis (a ruptured tendon) and had Chamberlain taken to the hospital. The next day Kerlan and his associate, Dr. Frank Jobe, reattached the tendon to Wilt's right kneecap in a one-hour and 40-minute operation. Kerlan was pointedly vague about Wilt's prognosis, but some observers found significance in the fact that he and Jobe came out of surgery smiling.
Typically, Kerlan disparages his own role. "It was an operation that every orthopedist in the country would have performed in the same manner," he says. "I just happen to be lucky that I'm treating athletes of that stature who make the orthopedist look good."