Steve Sax wasn't a household name but was a fixture as identifiable with the 1980s Dodgers as just about anyone. Sax had big shoes to fill, taking over for Davey Lopes as both second baseman and leadoff man, and Sax filled them ably. His 1,070 games at second base are second most in franchise history behind the 1,150 for Lopes, and those two accounted for 77% of starts at the leadoff spot for the Dodgers from 1973-1988.
The 1988 season turned out to be final year for Sax with the Dodgers, and he went out with a typically solid season.
How acquired: The Dodgers drafted Sax in the ninth round of the 1978 draft out of Marshall High School in Sacramento.
Prior MLB experience: Sax was the first member to break up The Infield, as he took over for the departed Lopes at second base in 1982. Sax was the full-time second baseman for the Dodgers for six years prior to 1988, and from 1981-1987 hit .283/.342/.359 in 931 games, with 248 stolen bases and 504 runs scored. Sax made three All-Star teams (1982, 1983, and 1986) with the Dodgers, including one start (1983), and was National League Rookie of the Year in 1982. He hit .332 in 1986, finishing second to(.334) for the batting title.
Sax also had a penchant for throwing the ball in the stands earlier in his career, a psychological challenge he eventually got over and about which had a good sense of humor. That sense of humor showed in 1986, when comedian Don Rickles roasted Sax, Pedro Guerrero, Bill Russell, and Bill Madlock with some, let's say off color jokes:
1988 age: 28
1988 stats: Sax was a rock for the Dodgers, as he led the team with 156 starts, all at second base. Sax led off in 142 games, hit second 13 times, and batted eighth once. He hit .277/.325/.343, a 94 OPS+ in 160 games, and stole 42 bases in 54 attempts. Though despite getting on base at an above average clip (the National League on-base percentage, adjusted for Dodger Stadium, was .317 in 1988) and all those stolen bases, Sax scored just 70 runs. Perhaps the Dodgers' collective .243/.287/.308 line and league-worst 74 OPS+ out of the second spot in the batting order contributed to Sax's low run total.
Or perhaps it was his second-half slump. Sax was hitting .303/.352/.389 with 53 runs scored through 104 games by the end of July, but hit just .225/.270/.254 over the final two months of the season, with 17 runs in 54 games.
Regular season game of the year: Sax hit the first pitch the Dodgers saw in 1988 for a home run, off Dave Dravecky of the Giants on Apr. 4, but Sax's best game came on May 26, when he hit two home runs and a double in a 10-8 win over the Phillies and Veteran Stadium in Philadelphia. Sax, who had 28 career home runs in 972 games before that day, joked about the only two-homer game of his career.
"That's not the first time," Sax told Sam McManis of the Los Angeles Times. "Little League, 1972. Sacramento. I hit two off Roger Matsumoto. I swear. I'm not making it up."
NLCS performance: Sax had one hit and scored one run in each of the first five games of the NLCS against the Mets, then walked twice against David Cone in the Game 6 loss. Sax had three hits in the decisive Game 7, including a two-run single in the third inning against Ron Darling that pushed the Dodgers' lead to 4-0. With seven runs scored in the NLCS, Sax tied Ron Fairly (1965 World Series), Reggie Smith (1977 World Series), and Davey Lopes (1978 World Series) for the most runs scored by a Dodger in a single postseason series.
World Series performance: Sax was hit by a Dave Stewart fastball to lead off the first inning of Game 1, then scored on Mickey Hatcher's home run for a quick 2-0 Dodgers lead. Sax had at least one hit in all five World Series games, hit .300 with a .364 on-base percentage and scored three runs.
Post-1988 playing career: Sax was a free agent after the 1988 season, and turned down the Dodgers' reported offer of two years, $2.3 million plus an option for a third season. He ended up signing a three-year, $4 million contract with the Yankees.
"The offer we made to Steve would have made him the highest-paid second baseman in the major leagues," general manager Fred Claire told Ross Newhan of the Los Angeles Times.
Sax made the All-Star team his first two years in the Bronx, and signed a four-year, $12.4 million extension that wiped out the final year of his original deal with the Yankees. But after 1991 Sax was traded to the White Sox, for whom he played 200 games in two seasons. Sax played in seven games for the Athletics in his final season, in 1994. Post 1988, Sax hit .278/.327/.360, a 93 OPS+, with 154 steals in 678 games.
Where he is now: After his playing career, Sax was a commentator for ESPN and Fox Sports, then turned to motivational speaking. He wrote a book in 2010 entitled Shift: Change Your Mindset and You Change Your World. But in 2013 Sax will return to baseball, as he was named the first base coach of the Diamondbacks on Dec. 19, joining manager Kirk Gibson, his former Dodgers teammate.