- 2B, 3B, LF, OF, DH, RF
- January 29, 1960
- 5' 11"
- 185 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 8-18-1981 with LAN
- Allstar Selections:
- 1982 ROOK, 1986 SS
In 1982, Steve Sax became the fourth consecutive Dodger to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award. A California-native, Sax nearly won the batting title in 1986, when he banged out 210 hits. He swiped 40 bases six times, and was one of the most aggresive runners in the league. Early in his career, he developed a problem throwing the ball to first base, but was still named to five All-Star teams. He left the Dodgers as a free agent after the 1988 World Series title season, hit .300 two times for the Yankees, but never had the same success elsewhere.
Sax was born in Sacramento, CA, and went to high school there. He was signed as a 9th round pick in the 1978 amateur draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers and scout Ronnie King.
He spent 1978-1981 in the minors, before coming up for 31 games with the Dodgers in late 1981. Moving his way up the Dodger minor league organization, he was at Lethbridge, Clinton, Vero Beach, and San Antonio, hitting between .283 and .346, with little power but stealing more bases each year as he got older.
In 1981, he broke in with a .277 batting average, and showed good range in the field. He took part in all three post-season series the Dodgers played in that year as a back-up infielder. 36-year-old Davey Lopes was the second baseman at the time, but the Dodgers traded him after the off-season, making room for Sax to become the starter at second base.
He hit over .300 only once with the Dodgers, in 1986 when he hit .332, which was good for second in the league behind Tim Raines who hit .334. He did hit .300 in the 1988 World Series. He also hit over .300 twice with the New York Yankees.
In terms of offensive statistics, though, his most notable accomplishment was 444 stolen bases, with a peak of 56 in 1983. That 1983 season is notable in that Sax is the only player since 1920 to steal less than 90 bases and get caught more than 30 times in a season. His 444 steals put him # 50 on the all-time list. In spite of that, he never once scored 100 runs in a season.
He was one of the few mainstays of the Dodgers who were on both the winning 1981 and 1988 teams, along with Mike Scioscia, Mike Marshall, Alejandro Pena, and Pedro Guerrero (who was traded in mid-season of 1988, though). He experienced a well-publicized bout of defensive ineffectiveness in 1983, when he made numerous errors on routine throws to first base. He committed 30 errors that season, easily a career-high. It was often described as a psychological problem, but after a while he seemed to master the problem and was fine again. For the rest of his career, his defensive play was correct, although his strength was always his bat. Another strange blip in his record appears between the 1985 and 1986 seasons: in 1985, he hit only 8 doubles in 488 at-bats, an extremely low total for a regular player; the next year, he hit 43, the second-most in the National League...
Yankees, White Sox, and Athletics
Sax became a free agent after the 1988 season and signed with the Yankees; he played well with them, stealing a lot of bases and hitting over .300 twice. He made the All-Star team in both 1989 and 1990 as a member of the Yankees. By the time he joined the Chicago White Sox and Oakland Athletics late in his career, he wasn't hitting much anymore. With the White Sox, he played on the 1993 division-winning team, when Frank Thomas won the MVP award. The White Sox used him as an outfielder and DH, with only one appearance at second base during the season.
In 14 years in the major leagues, he came close to 2000 hits, getting 1949.
"Steve Sax Syndrome"
Though never regarded as one of the top fielding second basemen in the league, Steve Sax inexplicably became incapable of making routine throws to first base in 1983, committing 30 errors that season. This is referred to in baseball terminology as "Steve Sax Syndrome", the fielder's variant of "Steve Blass disease", named after the Pirates pitcher who suffered a similar breakdown of basic mechanics. As his accuracy suffered, fans sitting behind the first base dugout began wearing batting helmets as mock protection. (Teammate Pedro Guerrero, an outfielder pressed into service at third base in 1983, once reportedly stated that his first thought whenever he was in the field was "I hope they don't hit it to me," while his second thought was "I hope they don't hit it to Sax.") By 1989, however, Sax seemed to be completely "cured", leading the American League in both fielding percentage and double plays.
Other Players Who Debuted in 1981
Cal Ripken Jr., Gary Gaetti, Chili Davis, Brett Butler, Ryne Sandberg, Steve Bedrosian, Tom Brunansky and Kent Hrbek
His older brother Dave played five seasons as a utility player, usually earning a late season call-up. Steve and Dave were teammates on the Dodgers briefly in 1982 and 1983.
Quotes About Steve Sax
"First I think, 'I hope they don't hit it to me.' Then I think 'I hope they don't hit to Sax.' " — third baseman Pedro Guerrero, when asked what went through his mind when the ball was hit.
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- 1981 World Series, 1988 World Series, All-Star, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, National League Rookie of the Year, New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, Steve Sax