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June 27, 2012

HOVG Heroes: Eddie Yost


Walks are a funny thing. Sitting in the stands at a ball park, is there anything less exciting than a base on balls? Yet over time, we’ve come to realize that drawing walks is not only the subtlest baseball art form, but are invaluable at the top of your lineup if you’re serious about creating runs.

With this in mind, how about a big Hall of Very Good vote for Eddie Yost?

Now that we know how valuable walks really are in the offensive scheme of things, how can we deny the free pass-crazy career of Edward Frederic Joseph Yost, aka “The Walking Man”? For 18 years, he was the poor man’s speedless Rickey Henderson, a leadoff man with a .394 on base percentage, leading the American League in walks six times, and finishing 11th on the all-time walks list. In 1956 he had a .412 OBP despite a .231 average, the lowest BA ever for a guy with an over-.400 OBP.

But there’s more. At third base, he set AL career records with 2,356 putouts, 3,659 assists and 6,285 total chances. All-time, only Brooks Robinson and Jimmy Collins have more third base putouts. He once played 838 consecutive games until tonsillitis knocked him out of the lineup in May of 1955.

The guy was a rock.

He was also completely shafted by spending 14 of his 18 years playing third for the Washington Senators—and not because the team was bad. Like a similar fate suffered by the Houston Astros’ marvelous Jose Cruz, Yost’s hitting stats were doomed by the cavernous yard he played in. Between 1944 and 1953, he hit 52 home runs on the road and just three at Griffith Stadium. When he finally got sent to power-friendly Tiger Stadium for the 1959 season, he bashed 21 that year, a season in which he also led the league in OBP (.435), walks (135) and 115 runs scored. The next year, he led the league in OBP and walks again.

He was a pest alright, but many times a powerful one.  He led off games with home runs 28 times, a record Bobby Bonds finally broke in the 1970s. His playing time dwindled when he was drafted by the expansion Los Angeles Angels, though naturally, he led the team their first year with a .412 on-base percentage.

His batting eye was extraordinary. In 1953 he once fouled off 13 consecutive pitches, then seven more his next time up. He still ranks tenth all-time in walks with 1,614. On the dreadful 1958 Washington Senators in my Mystery Ball Strat-O-Matic replay, the man puts himself on base when I go to the kitchen for a drink.

After he retired, in an interview with Sports Collector’s Digest, Yost explained his method.

“I hit from a slight crouch and during my swing I was able to make my strike zone even smaller by dropping my right shoulder.  Back then a lot of pitchers threw rising fastballs and I found that if I could lay off them and didn’t swing, they’d be called balls. And after a while I got a reputation for walking a lot and it seemed like the umpires began to give me the calls on the close ones.”

There’s no question that for years, walks were the bastard stepchild of baseball stats. It still takes a lot to convince the non-statheads among us how important they are, how they make non-walking .300 hitters like Enos Cabell and Juan Pierre seem less valuable all the time, but bases on balls are slowly, finally coming into their own, and Eddie Yost should be celebrated for being a modern pioneer.

Yost became a third base coach for the expansion Senators in 1963, before moving on to do the same for the Mets and Red Sox, finally hanging up his coaching cleats after the 1984 season.

He may have been raised in Brooklyn, but retired with his family to Wellesley, MA, where he still lives and works on antique clocks—a perfectly appropriate hobby for a man who took his sweet time in a batter’s box.


Jeff Polman is the author of four “fictionalized replay” blogs, 1924 and You Are There, Play That Funky Baseball, The Bragging Rights League, and the current Mystery Ball ’58, a San Francisco-based murder mystery he calls a “season-long whowunit”.  His “1924” blog has also been published as a book by Grassy Gutter Press, and is available on Amazon in print and Kindle versions.

You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @mysteryball58.

1 comment:

The OCP said...

"He may have been raised in Brooklyn, but retired with his family to Wellesley, MA, where he still lives and works on antique clocks—a perfectly appropriate hobby for a man who took his sweet time in a batter’s box."

Very ironic. It's also ironic that his name is eerily similar to the guy who holds the ML record for career WHIP (HOF'er Addie Joss).

Great piece.