GLENDALE -- Steve Yeager is often called by Tommy Lasorda the finest defensive catcher he ever saw, and played 14 of his 15 MLB seasons with the Dodgers. Yeager was known for many things in his career, including his defense and the inspiration for a catcher's throat protector.
But stealing bases was not one of Yeager's main traits. He stole just 14 bases in his 15-year career, and was caught 18 times.
One of the daily rituals of spring training is walking by Yeager to get into the Dodgers clubhouse in the morning. Yeager, in his third season back in the organization as a catching instructor, is often outside smoking a cigarette. Last week Yeager was talking with Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, who covered him as a player.
They were talking about a specific game but couldn't remember the details. Apparently a couple of Dodgers coaches didn't believe Yeager when he boasted about stealing home. Thanks to the amazing Baseball-Reference.com, I was able to find the game in question.
It was April 30, 1976 against the Cardinals. Yeager, then in his fifth season at age 27, homered in the second inning to tie the game against St. Louis starter John Curtis.
The Dodgers added single runs in the third, fifth and seventh innings for a 4-1 lead. In the eighth inning Yeager led off with a fly ball botched in center field by Bake McBride, allowing Yeager to reach second base. He advanced to third on a ground out by Rick Auerbach.
Then, with pitcher Rick Rhoden at the plate, magic happened. Per Paul Hagen of the San Bernardino Sun-Telegram:
"Tommy (third base coach Lasorda) said go ahead and try it," Yeager said, laughing out loud. "He said, 'What the hell have we got to lose?'"
As St. Louis reliever Mike Wallace came set, Yeager broke for the plate. A hurried throw by the startled pitcher was too late as Yeager's slide caught the inside of the plate.
"The guy wasn't lookin' at him," Lasorda explained. "Skip (Manager Walt Alston) told me to be alert, so I told him to go ahead and try it."
Gordon Verrell of the Long Beach Press-Telegram had more:
"Tommy told me to go if the pitcher didn't look over at me," Yeager said of his daring mad-cap dash to the plate in the eighth inning. "The pitcher didn't look away and I went."
But Yeager contends he got more kick out of his homer in the second inning than he did the steal of home.
"That got us even after they got that run in the top of the second," he said. "It gave us a little lift and, besides, I don't hit that many home runs."
It was Yeager's 32nd career home run. He would end his career with 102 homers in 15 seasons.
Since 1916 there have only been 30 games in which a Dodgers catcher had a home run and stolen base in the same game. In only three of them did the catcher steal home. Yeager was the only one to do it since the franchise moved to Los Angeles; the others were Roy Campanella on June 7, 1954 and Bruce Edwards on July 21, 1948.
I told Yeager of his unique place in Dodgers lore and he said with a smile, "I guess me and Campy have something in common."