02/20/12 9:30 PM EST
Dodgers tab Yeager to work with catchers
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
Yeager, 63, will work with Dodgers catchers in Spring Training and when the team is at home during the season and will serve as a special-assignment catching instructor in the Minor Leagues when the team is on the road.
Yeager was teammates with current Dodgers coaches Davey Lopes, Rick Honeycutt, Ken Howell and Manny Mota. He won't officially join manager Don Mattingly's staff full time, but he will be back in the uniform he wore for 14 of his 15 Major League seasons.
Drafted in the fourth round in 1967, Yeager played in four World Series for the Dodgers and was a tri-MVP in the 1981 victory over the Yankees, sharing hardware with Ron Cey and Pedro Guerrero.
Although he gained notoriety in the World Series for his bat, throughout his career he was known as one of the finest defensive catchers in the game, with a cannon throwing arm, efficient mechanics and a willingness to block pitches in the dirt.
"I'm really excited to be back and looking forward to working with the kids. I can't wait," said Yeager. "I had my day in the sun and now it's about working with the kids. We just want the catchers to handle the staff, control the running game and take that worry away for Donnie."
The Dodgers have decided to go cheaper and defensive behind the plate this year. They let Rod Barajas leave for Pittsburgh and $4 million, turning the starting job over to A.J. Ellis, paid $421,000 last season, for the first time, with journeyman Matt Treanor his backup at $850,000. Tim Federowicz is the initial heir apparent after his acquisition from Boston last year, and journeyman Josh Bard will probably back him up at Triple-A Albuquerque. Young catchers Griff Erickson and Matt Wallach also will be in Major League camp.
Yeager made a cameo in Major League camp last year and was offered the job in January after bullpen catcher Mike Borzello (who had been working with the catchers) left for the Cubs.
Yeager has been in and out of the Dodgers organization as a Minor League coach over the past 13 years. In 1999 he was hitting coach at Class A San Bernardino. In 2004 he was hitting coach at Double-A Jacksonville. In 2005-06 he was hitting coach at Triple-A Las Vegas. And in 2007 he was hitting coach at Class A Inland Empire. Among his proteges was All-Star catcher Russell Martin.
Yeager also managed independent ball in 2000 and 2001 for the Long Beach Breakers in the Western League, winning a title the second year, and in 2008 for the Long Beach Armada of the Golden League. He's also been a member of the Dodgers Alumni, taking part in community relations events.
As a player, Yeager was the Dodgers' primary catcher from 1974 until Mike Scioscia's emergence in the early 1980s. He said he's eager to pass along his experience the way Roy Campanella would do during Spring Trainings at Dodgertown in Vero Beach.
"When I came up, Campy had his bullpen and all the veterans talked to the kids," he said. "They might not have told us everything, because they wanted to keep their jobs, but we all wanted to win and they helped us. All we want is for the players to improve. I've worked with A.J. for a while and a little with some of the younger guys. They work hard and want to get better and that's what you want. We're all on the same page to make the kids better. I'm just here to help them."
Asked about the recent franchise turmoil, Yeager offered a predictable reaction, considering his role during the heady days.
"It's sad," he said of the bankruptcy that will soon lead to the club's sale. "I feel sorry for everybody concerned. Nobody wanted this to happen. But we all have to pick up the pieces and go from there. Anything can be straightened out."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.