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Steve Yeager

Steve Yeager

Position(s):
C
Born:
November 24, 1948
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
6'
Weight:
190 lbs
Major League Debut:
8-02-1972 with LAN
Allstar Selections:
1981 WsMVP

Longtime Dodger Steve Yeager was well-respected behind the plate, and Lou Brock called him "the best-throwing catcher in the game." He was an intelligent game-caller and a team leader on six Dodger division winners. He shared the three-way MVP award in the 1981 World Series, largely due to his home run off the Yankees' Ron Guidry that won Game Five.

In an extra-inning game on August 8, 1972, Yeager tied a NL record for catchers with 22 putouts and set another with 24 chances accepted. In 1974 the Dodgers won their first 24 games in which Yeager started behind the plate. He never batted more than .256 as a regular, but he reached double figures in home runs six times.

Yeager introduced the neck protector, the flap attached to the catcher's mask, first donning it after a freak 1976 accident; he was hit with the jagged end of a broken bat while in the on-deck circle, and had nine splinters removed from his neck. The nephew of legendary pilot Chuck Yeager, Steve became accustomed to notoriety. He gained attention by posing for a Playgirl centerfold. The best man at his wedding was Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley.

Minor League career
Yeager once hit two grand slams in one high school game at Meadowdale High School (Ohio) in Dayton, Ohio.[1] Yeager was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 6, 1967, in the 4th round of the 1967 Major League Baseball Draft. After one game with the rookie level Ogden Spikers of the Pioneer League, Yeager was sent to the Dodgers Single-A affiliate, the Dubuque Packers of the Midwest League. The following season, in 1968, Yeager played 59 games for the Single-A Daytona Beach Dodgers of the Florida State League. In 1969, he played 22 games for the Bakersfield Blaze, the Dodgers' Single-A affiliate in the California League, where he threw out 26 runners from behind the plate.

Yeager was promoted to Double-A before the end of the 1969 season, playing in 1 game for the Albuquerque Dodgers of the Texas League. He spent the next two-and-2/3 seasons with the Double-A franchise. In 162 games played over the 1970 and 1971 seasons, he hit .276, with 77 RBIs in 490 at bats. He threw out 84 runners (second in the Texas League) and was named to the Texas League All-Star team as a catcher in 1971.

With the Dukes becoming the new Pacific Coast League Triple-A affiliate for the Dodgers in 1972, Yeager was promoted while remaining in Albuquerque for another season. With the Triple-A Dukes, he played 82 games, batting .280 with 45 RBIs in 257 at bats.

Major League career
Yeager made his Major League debut with the Dodgers on August 2, 1972. He started 34 games that season, backed up Joe Ferguson in 1973, and split time with Ferguson for the pennant-winning 1974 club. Thereafter, Yeager was the starting catcher for the Dodgers and became an integral part of the Dodgers' success in the 1970s and early 1980s. Yeager helped the Dodgers to the World Series in 1974, 1977, 1978, and 1981. In the '81 Series against the New York Yankees, he shared the World Series Most Valuable Player award with teammates Pedro Guerrero and Ron Cey. Yeager, who was backing up Mike Scioscia by that time, did not have overwhelming stats for the Series, as he went 4-for-14 (.286), but three of his hits were a double and two home runs. One of the homers, off Ron Guidry, turned out to be the game-winner in Game 5.

In 1982, Yeager injured his knee and broke his wrist a year later, severely limiting his playing time. He was traded to the Seattle Mariners for Ed Vande Berg following the 1985 season and retired after hitting only .208 in 1986.

While with the Dodgers, Yeager caught Jerry Reuss' no-hitter on June 27, 1980.

Characteristics
Lou Brock called Yeager "the best-throwing catcher in the game." His specialty was defense and his command of the game on the field. In one nationally-televised game, he made a putout to second base – and the radar gun in place to record pitches caught his throw to second (from a crouch) at 98 mph. He was very good at managing the game from his position and was even more highly regarded for his abilities with young pitchers. In 1974, he led National League catchers in putouts with 806. This compensated for his overall subpar offense, as illustrated by arguably his best offensive year occurring in 1974 when he batted .266 in fewer than 100 games. Despite this reputation, Yeager was still somewhat of a clutch hitter as he had an average of .321 when hitting with the bases loaded during his career, as well as hitting 4 homeruns in 21 World Series games. He also had success hitting off pitcher Ken Forsch. While never hitting more than two home runs off any other pitcher, he managed to hit 5 against Forsch in his career.

With the Dodgers, whenever knuckleballer Charlie Hough pitched, Yeager would use a special enlarged catcher's mitt and would hold it in a cupped style, palm facing upward, instead of the normal upright "target" position.

Throat protector
In 1976, Yeager was injured when teammate Bill Russell's bat shattered and a large, jagged piece hit him in the neck while Yeager was in the on-deck circle, piercing his esophagus. He had nine pieces of wood taken out of his neck in 98 minutes of surgery. After the incident, Dodger trainer Bill Buhler invented and patented a throat protector that hangs from the catcher's mask. It was soon worn by most catchers around the Majors and other leagues.

Minor league coaching career
In 1999, Yeager was the hitting coach for the Dodgers’ Single-A San Bernardino Stampede, which won the California League championship. In 2001, he managed the Long Beach Breakers in the independent (now-defunct) Western Baseball League, where the team won the league championship in their inaugural season that year beating the Chico Heat 3 games to 2. He was hitting coach for the Jacksonville Suns in 2004 when the team went on to win the championship, and in 2005-06 he was the hitting instructor/coach for the Dodgers AAA farm club, the Las Vegas 51s. He later became the A Dodgers affiliate Inland Empire 66'ers and became the hitting coach in 2007.

Yeager was instrumental in the conversion of Russell Martin from third base to behind the plate.

In 2007, he became the manager for the Long Beach Armada of the independent Golden Baseball League.

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Tagged:
1981 World Series, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, Steve Yeager

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