Steve Yeager is a 37-year-old catcher with sequoia legs who thought he was going to finish his career in Los Angeles caddying for Mike Scioscia. Wrong. The Mariners had a bunch of young pitchers looking for guidance, and their catcher. Bob Kearney, was not providing it. So last December, Yeager was moved indoors after wearing Dodger blue for 19 years.
"We wanted Steve for some intangibles," says Dick Balderson, Seattle's new G.M. "Handling young pitchers. The winning background. That kind of thing." Balderson thinks his team is capable of contending, and he thinks Yeager, who will have to hit only .200, can be a significant addition. Yeager even has a chance to become the greatest catcher in Mariner history. Of course, his competition is Bob Stinson, Jim Essian and Kearney.
Balderson and manager Chuck Cottier hope that Yeager can catch 100 games and fill the only hole in their lineup. If he does, and if Mark Langston (elbow) and reliever Karl Best (shoulder) come back as expected, the Mariners can make life difficult for the AL West. Seattle won only 74 times last year, partly because seven pitchers, including staff ace Mike Moore, visited the DL.
"I'm getting a second opportunity to play, and some guys don't even get one chance," says Yeager. "Maybe I can help some of the guys here get over the humps in the season. There ain't too many humps I haven't been over."
The Mariners' regular lineup is not too shabby. Leftfielder Phil Bradley, third baseman Jim Presley and shortstop Spike Owen had productive years in '85. The Mariners expect big numbers from Danny Tartabull, the rookie second baseman who replaces Jack Perconte. Tartabull, son of Jose of '67 Red Sox fame, led all of pro ball with 43 homers last year in Triple A, but he struggled this spring. A broken wrist limited rightfielder Ivan Calderon to 210 at bats last season, but the Mariners think he will hit 20 to 25 homers this time around.
"Ever since I've been here," says Owen, "it's been 'The Mariners. Expansion team. Sixth, seventh place.' Well, you get tired of hearing that. We've got the talent now. It's time to put up or Shut up."
THE ELIAS ANALYST:
The 4th player in history to draw 90 or more walks in each of his first two seasons.
Finally had his first two-error game in his 332nd game, Sept. 15 vs. Chicago.
Hit .344 against southpaws surprising in light of .167 average against them in '84.
First since Cap Anson to hit 20 or more HRs in the year after a 300-AB season with none.
Has a career batting average of .133 (4 for 30) with the bases loaded.
Not enough ABs to qualify, but .488 OBP leading off was higher than Wade Boggs's .468.
Lowest career BA (.227) of any active player with at least 100 HRs.
Has never allowed a homer to the 296 batters he has faced in LIP situations.
A tough pitcher for both Boggs (0 for 14) and Mattingly (3for15).
Led AL pitchers (minimum: 15 starts) in walks per nine innings with 6.47.
Set Mariners club record with 24 consecutive shutout innings (June 9-July 9).