Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Steve Yeager – Lucky to be Alive

Steve Yeager, right, shown with Dodger catcher Russell Martin

Steve Yeager is a right-handed former major league catcher who had a brush with death on the baseball field. He played for the Los Angeles Dodgers for most of his career.

It happened on September 6, 1976, while playing the San Diego Padres. Yeager was in the on-deck circle in the 7th inning at Dodger Stadium with Bill Russell at bat. A piece of Russell's bat shattered and hit Yeager in the neck, piercing his esophagus. He had nine pieces of wood removed from his neck in 98 minutes of surgery.

Because of this injury there was some concern whether Yeager could continue his career as a catcher; he couldn't risk getting hit in the neck again. To protect himself Yeager invented the catcher's throat protector flap that hangs from the catcher's mask.

Yeager was born in Huntington West Virginia on November 24, 1948, and spent 14 of the 15 seasons of his Major League Baseball career, from 1972 through 1985, with the Dodgers. His last year, 1986, he played for the Seattle Mariners. Yeager once hit two grand slams in one high school game at Meadowdale High School (Ohio) in Dayton, Ohio.

Major League Career
In the beginning of August 1972, Yeager got "the call" to the majors, and made his major league debut on the 2nd. In his first-third of a season he would make 106 plate appearances in 35 games, bat .274, and drive in 15 runs on 29 hits, while scoring 18 total runs.

He contributed to four national league pennants with the Dodgers, helping take them to the 1974, 1977, 1978, and 1981 World Series. In the final one, Yeager shared the World Series Most Valuable Player award with Dodger teammates Pedro Guerrero and Ron Cey.

Lou Brock called Yeager "the best-throwing catcher in the game." His specialty was defense and his command of the game on the field. 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 subpar offense, as illustrated by arguably his best offensive year occurring in 1974 when he batted .266 in fewer than 100 games. He did, however, bat .321 with the bases loaded during his career. Four of his last five hits against Ken Forsch were home runs; he did not hit more than two home runs against any other pitcher in his career.

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 2000-01 he managed the Long Beach Breakers. He was hitting coach for the Jacksonville Suns in 2004, and in 2005-06 he was the hitting instructor/coach for the Dodgers AAA farm club, the Las Vegas 51s. In 2007, he serves as the hitting coach for the Inland Empire 66ers.

Minor League Career
Yeager was drafted by Los Angeles on 6 June, 1967, in the 4th round of the amateur draft. After one game with the Ogden Spikers, in the Rookie Level - Pioneer League, Yeager was sent to the Dubuque Packers - Single-A -Midwest League for 14 games. The following season, 1968, he played 59 games for the Daytona Beach Dodgers - Single-A Florida State League.

In 1969 he played 22 games in Bakersfield - Single-A - California League, throwing out 26 runners, and 1 game in Albuquerque - Double-A - Texas League. He spent the next two-and-2/3rds seasons in Albuquerque. 1970 and 1971 in "AA" - Texas League, for 162 games, where he batted .276, with 77 RBIs in 490 at bats.

For 1971 he threw out 84 runners (second in the Texas League), and was named to the All Star team as a member of the Texas League, or Dixie Association - Western Division, catching for the Albuquerque Dukes (67-75), along with teammates Lee Lacy (2B) and Paul Johnston (OF). The following season, 1972, he played 82 games in Albuquerque (Triple-A - Pacific Coast League), with 45 RBIs in 257 at bats, while hitting .280.

Outside Baseball
--Yeager is a nephew of pilot Chuck Yeager.

--Known for his flashy lifestyle as a player, when he got married on the steps of LA's City Hall, then Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley was best man at his wedding.

--Yeager was famous for having posed nude for Playgirl magazine in their October 1982 issue.

--Yeager served as technical advisor and also had a small role, as Coach Duke Temple, in Major League, Major League II, and Major League: Back to the Minors.

--In September 1979, he and his family appeared on Family Feud with Richard Dawson. They played for a total of 6 days.

--After his playing career, Yeager converted to Judaism.

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