Remembering Eddie Yost

Eddie Yost died on Wednesday at the age of 86. Yost was a key player on the first baseball team I ever followed, the Washington Senators of the mid 1950s. Yost wasn’t our best player; that was slugger Roy Sievers. But he was the team leader and, as far as I could tell, the most popular player among adult Senators fans.

Yost is famous for drawing walks. He led the American League in this department six times and drew more than 100 walks in eight different seasons.

He accomplished this even though pitchers had no overwhelming fear of what Yost would do if they didn’t walk him. After all, his career batting average was .254 and hit a modest 139 home runs in 18 seasons.

For perspective, consider the names of the folks who led the American League in walks when, during his prime, Yost didn’t. It’s a short list: Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle.

During his playing days, Yost was recognized for his ability to draw walks and he gained the nickname “The Walking Man.” But walks weren’t as valued in the 1950s as they are today, so Yost was underrated. No longer. If I’m not mistaken, the Bill James rates Yost as one of the top 25 third baseman off all time due in large measure to his ability to get on base.

Why did Yost walk so frequently? I asked him this when he appeared before a group of students at my high school in between the 1966 and 1967 seasons (he was a coach for the Senators at that time).

Yost became animated. He grabbed a yardstick and demonstrated his technique. If he gauged that the pitch would be up, he strode downwards towards it to make it seem higher. If he gauged that the pitch would be down, he strode upwards.

Yost also explained that he stood close to the plate and actually kept his hands on the insider corner. If the pitch was inside of his hands, he knew it was a ball. If it was on his hands, he knew it was a strike. If he had two strikes, he typically would foul off that pitch off.

This approach left him needing only to exercise discretion on pitches at or near the outside corner. Obviously, he exercised that discretion well.

Yost couldn’t have been more engaging and more candid in his response to our questions (asked about one struggling player, Yost replied simply that “pitchers know how to get him out”). I wasn’t surprised. For ten years, I had heard what a good guy he was.

Rest in peace.

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