February 6, 2023

Live Man Walking

December 17, 2022 by · 1 Comment 

Eddie YostSome years ago, I was watching a Mets/Orioles spring training game in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. As is often the case, I got into a conversation with a fan sitting next to me. He was an older gentleman, and since old-timers have a longer involvement with fandom, they are usually much better conversationalists than younger fans.

Somewhere around the middle of the game, he mentioned that his brother had been a major league ballplayer. Of course, that got my attention. What was his name?

“Oh, you’ve probably never heard of him. Eddie Yost.”

Never heard of him?  Au contraire!  Indeed, I had heard of “The Walking Man.”  A more appropriate nickname was never hung on a ballplayer. Granted, a walk is not the most exciting play in baseball, but when a player excels at them over a long career, a closer look is warranted.

For the most part, career leaders in walks are a function of 1. longevity, 2. power hitting, and usually both. There are only four players with more than 2,000 bases on balls. Altogether, they account for 8,831 walks and 2,294 home runs.

Barry Bonds, who played in 2,986 games, sits atop the career totals lists for both walks (2,558) and home runs (762). Rickey Henderson is right behind him with 2,190 walks in 3,081 games. Babe Ruth is third with 2,062 walks, and Ted Williams is fourth with 2,021. Had Ruth started as a position player earlier in his career, he surely would have surpassed Henderson. The same goes for Williams, had he not lost so many seasons to military service.

Henderson is an interesting case, as he finished with a “mere” 297 home runs. Given Henderson’s 5’10” stature and his crouched batting stance, walks were pretty much assured, but his ripped physique made him a threat to go deep at any time. In fact, he holds the record for most home runs leading off a game (81). Add all the above to his all-time stolen base record of 1,406 thefts, and it’s easy to see why he is often described as the greatest leadoff hitter in baseball history.

Rounding out the Top 10 in walks are Joe Morgan, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Thome, Mickey Mantle, Mel Ott, and Frank Thomas. Of this group only Joe Morgan is an “underachiever,” so far as home runs, but when he retired, his career total of 268 was a record for second basemen. His walk total was likely assisted by his shortness of stature (5’7”).

No. 11 on the list is Eddie Yost. Admittedly, Henderson was a better leadoff hitter, but he was not the prototypical leadoff hitter. Eddie Yost would fit that mold. By prototypical, I mean specializing in getting on base. In that regard, Eddie Yost more than held his own. (It may or may not surprise you that right behind Yost at No. 12 is Darrell Evans with 1,605).

Eddie Yost drew a grand total of 1,614 bases on balls. He got an early start, as he played his first game for the Senators in 1944 at age 17. He was not signed right out of high school, but off the campus of New York University (where he played with Ralph Branca). Obviously, this opportunity arose because of the World War II situation. Yost only had 16 plate appearances in1944, but be it duly noted that his first base on balls was among them.

After Yost turned 18, Uncle Sam tapped him on the shoulder, and he did not return to the Senators till 1946. So at age 19, he was a military veteran with major league experience. He never played a day in the minor leagues. He continued with the Senators through 1958, then was traded to the Detroit Tigers (1959-1960), and finished his career with the Los Angeles Angels (1961-1962), who selected him in the first-ever expansion draft. As a leadoff hitter, he thus became the first batter in Angel history.

Yost pretty much owned the 1950s as a leadoff hitter. From 1949-1960, he never failed to finish in the American League Top 10 in walks. He led the league in walks in 1950 (141), 1952 (129), 1953 (123), and 1956 (151, his career best) with the Senators, and in 1959 (135) and 1960 (125) with the Tigers. The last two years he led the league in on-base percentage (OBP) with .435 and .414.

Speaking of OBP, he was above .400 nine seasons, his highest in 1950 (.440). His career average was .394, which places him in 87th place all-time. His lifetime batting average of .254 kept him from finishing higher on the list. The .150 lifetime differential between his lifetime BA and OBP is a testament to his batting eye and plate discipline. His biggest seasonal differential was .181 in 1956 when he hit just .231 but had a .412 OBP.

Though not a notable home run hitter (he hit 139 total), he did hit 28 leadoff home runs, 19 with the Senators and 9 with the Tigers. This was the MLB record at the time he retired.

Yost’s career slash line was .254/.394/.371. For most hitters, those numbers would increase from left to right, but since Yost drew so many walks, there is a bulge in the second figure.

Yost appears in 93rd place in the Times on Base career list with 3,576. The fact that he appears this high on the list is because of walks; the fact that he didn’t appear higher is because of his mediocre batting average.

Also worth a look is the list of the 100 highest season totals for walks. Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth appear 10 times each on the top 100 list. Right behind is Ted Williams and his renowned batting eye with 8 appearances. Next comes Yost with 7 appearances.

Yost’s total of 151 walks in 1956 tied him with Barry Bonds for 9th highest total of walks in a season. In 1950 he walked 141 times (31st place); in 1959, 135 times (a tie for 46th place); in 1954, 131 times (a tie for 60th place); in 1952, 129 times (a tie for 68th place); in 1951, 126 times (a tie for 92nd place); and 125 times (a tie for 100th place) in 1960.

Unlike Bonds, Ruth, and Williams, Yost has never been tagged with the “slugger” label. In fact, he never hit .300. His best season was 1950 when he hit .295 based on 169 hits (his highest season total) in 573 at bats. His career total of 1,863 hits places him in 365th place in baseball history. That averages out to just a bit more than 100 per season.

Yost had but one All-Star selection. In 1952 he played in every Senators game and led the league with 734 plate appearances and 129 walks. Yet he hit just .233. At the time Casey Stengel selected him for the game (played at Shibe Park in Philadelphia), he was hitting just .196. Yost did not play in the game, but since the game ended after five innings due to rain, he had plenty of company on the bench.

Obviously, Stengel was impressed by Yost’s ability to draw walks. Getting hit by pitches was a minor part of Yost’s career, but he was pretty good at it. Currently, he ranks in a tie for 99th place (with Elmer Flick and Bucky Harris) with 99 plunks.

For his career, Yost scored 1,215 runs (177th all-time), which seems like a low total for someone who was on base so much. The explanation is that he spent the bulk of his career with the lowly Senators. He did his job by getting on base; the batters behind him rarely did their job by knocking him in.

In Yost’s 14 seasons with the Senators, they finished above .500 only once – and just barely (78-76) – in his All-Star year of 1952. While Yost was on the roster, the Senators finished in the first division just once (a fourth place finish in 1946) and finished last five times.

One wonders how he felt about his trade to the Tigers at age 32. Doubtless he was sad to leave after so many years with the Nats, but in a sense he was liberated, even though the Tigers were not contenders in those days.

In 1959, Yost’s first season with the Tigers, he led the league in both walks (135) and runs scored (115). Of note, he hit a career-high 21 home runs, which raises a big “what if” concerning all the plate appearances he amassed at spacious Griffith Stadium. During his lengthy tenure with the Senators, he hit just 23 home runs in that venue.

Yost was hardly a one-dimensional player, however. As a third baseman, he held a number of career fielding records before Brooks Robinson was the gold standard. As the first third baseman in MLB history to appear in more than 2,000 games, he finished his career with 2,356 putouts, 3,659 assists, and 6,285 chances, all records at the time he retired. He led the league in double plays, putouts, and assists numerous times thanks to his skill set and durability.

In fact, Yost was the epitome of durability during the early 1950s. He played 829 consecutive games (the 9th longest streak in MLB history) from August 30, 1949 till May 12, 1955. Given the woebegone Senators, a cynic might suggest he was a glutton for punishment.

Senators’ owner Clark Griffith appreciated Yost’s talents and rebuffed a number of trade offers. By the standards of the day, Yost was well paid, which probably made his stay in the second division more bearable.

Had Yost come along a half-century or so later, the monetary rewards would have been enormous. He could have been the poster boy for Moneyball which sung the praises of on-base percentage. Before Yost died in 2012, he probably took some satisfaction in being a one-man avant-garde.

They called him “The Walking Man” but his career was anything but pedestrian.

Comments

One Response to “Live Man Walking”
  1. RJT55 says:

    Oh “The Walking Man”. While not the age of your old timer friend, I remember Eddie Yost as third base coach for the New York Mets, With Ralph Kiner as one of the broadcasters, stories of Eddie Yost and other coaches were told so often it was almost as if I’d seen them play, Often thought Yost, with his quiet demeanor and knowledge of the game,would have made a helluva manager,

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