Yeager Happy to be Back in Uniform

When Steve Yeager reflects on his playing days with the Los Angeles Dodgers, one word comes to mind - fun. Yeager had a whole lot of fun during his 14 seasons with the Dodgers from 1972-85, earning the reputation as one of the game's premier defensive catchers and being a key part of many winning Dodger ballclubs.

Now he's back in uniform with the organization, as he'll serve as a coach for Double-A Jacksonville this season, and the "fun" part of the game is something he hopes to stress while working with the young players.

"I love to have fun," said Yeager, who in 1999 was the hitting coach for the Dodgers' Single-A San Bernardino club, which won the California League championship. "How can you not have a good time while playing the game of baseball? Forget the money part of it. Most of the guys I played with in the '70s, we had so much fun that we'd have probably paid the Dodgers to let us play."

Through the many successful years playing for the Dodgers, Yeager also learned to appreciate the game, another message he wants to deliver to the minor leaguers.

"The game on the field hasn't changed from when I played," said Yeager, whose 15-year big league career ended with the Seattle Mariners in 1986. "It's still hit the ball, catch the ball, run the bases. It's a matter of showing these kids that you go out there and love the game, hustle and realize that you're doing something that millions of people don't have the opportunity to do, but would love to have the opportunity.

"You go to Dodger Stadium and there's 56,000 people in the stands and 25 guys in a Dodger uniform. How many of those 56,000 people would love to trade places with one of those guys in uniform for just one day? Being a Major Leaguer, you're in an elite position. You go out there and perform and entertain fans by doing your job. Being in professional baseball is very special. If you think baseball is a tough job, then you're in the wrong business."

While wearing the Dodger uniform, Yeager played in four World Series, including the 1981 Fall Classic when the Dodgers came back from a two-games-to-none deficit to defeat the New York Yankees and win their first crown in 16 years. During that series, Yeager hit .286 and belted a pair of home runs, including a seventh-inning shot that broke a 1-1 tie in the Dodgers' 2-1 Game 5 triumph. He was subsequently honored as the World Series Tri-Most Valuable Player, sharing the accolades with teammates Ron Cey and Pedro Guerrero. Overall in 21 World Series contests, Yeager batted .316 with four homers and 10 RBI, having also played in the 1974, 1977 and 1978 series.

In addition to the four pennant winners, Yeager played on two other division championship squads (1983 and 1985) with the Dodgers and five division runner-ups. He ranks third on the Los Angeles Dodgers' all-time list in games caught with 1,181.

Through much of his Dodger career, Yeager played with a nucleus that came up through the organization and stayed together several years, most notably the infield of first baseman Steve Garvey, second baseman Davey Lopes, shortstop Bill Russell and third baseman Ron Cey.

"We were together a long time, so we knew each other's strengths and weaknesses,." said Yeager, the Dodgers' fourth-round selection in the June 1967 amateur draft. "It helped to become a complete player because each of us would do what we were capable of doing. The other guys would pick you up, you knew each other's tendencies and were trusting of one another. Our attitude was let's just go out and play, do our job, not beat ourselves and have fun."

Those were special times for the good-natured Yeager, now 56-years-old, and he sees more special times ahead with his new opportunity of working with Dodger farmhands.

"I'm ecstatic about getting back in the organization," said Yeager, who has kept his ties with the Dodgers as a member of the club's Speakers Bureau and also as an instructor at the Dodgers Adult Baseball Camp. "It's always great to be part of baseball in any way possible and to be part of it with an organization that has meant so much to me, well I can't think of anything better.

"I'm looking forward to helping these kids do whatever is necessary to get them to the next level and also being part of a coaching staff that will help bring a different type of success to the organization. Terry Collins (Director, Player Development) is a good baseball guy. We're going to develop these kids and have fun doing it,"

What is Yeager's approach when working with the organization's minor leaguers?

"You have to be honest with them," he said "Give them the opportunity to fail. Some people take that right away from you. To me, the only way you learn in this game is to experience trial and error. When you do something good, you get a pat on the back. When you do something that wasn't so good, you need to be told that there's other options, try different things. It's a constant learning process. But the No. 1 thing is to think out there. You need to instill in these kids that it all starts between the ears."

After leaving the Dodger system following the 1999 campaign, Yeager managed the Long Beach Breakers for two seasons in the independent Western League, capturing the league title in 2000.

He'll be joined on the Jacksonville staff by Manager John Shoemaker and pitching coach Ken Howell, who Yeager caught for two seasons while they were Dodger teammates.

As a catcher, Yeager was very involved in the game, in constant communication with not only the pitcher, but everyone on the diamond. That's another key point he tries to get through to his players. This spring he'll be working extensively with the organization's catchers.

"Let's talk, let's communicate on the field and off the field. That's so important," Yeager said. "I find that people are afraid to talk, to ask questions. Believe me, the silly question that you think you're about to ask has been asked and answered thousands of times. The only way you're going to keep learning in this game is by asking questions. So don't be scared. Talk about what's going on, not just with coaches, but with your teammates. Everybody should be communicating out there."

Yeager is no different than any minor league instructor who takes pride in watching the fruits of their labor pay off.

"When you have a kid at the minor league level, watch him each year progressively get better and better and he gets a career going, hopefully a long career, that's terrific," said Yeager, who had Hall of Famer Roy Campanella among his mentors during Dodger spring training camps. "When people are talking about this individual player, the player might say, 'hey I had this guy down in the minor leagues that helped me a little bit' and he's talking about you, well, just to know that you're a little part of this kid's success is all the reward I need."