Eddie Yost, the Nats’ “Walking Man”

One of those rare players who never spent a day in the minors, Eddie Yost was the regular third baseman for Washington from 1947 through 1958. Despite batting averages between .224 and .249 in six of those seasons in D.C., Yost walked enough to lead the American League six times. He amassed a season-high 151 in 1956, 39 more than triple-crown winner Mickey Mantle, and tied for the ninth highest season total ever.

Yost’s 1,614 career base-on-balls total ranks 11th all-time. All of those ahead of him — except for no. 1 Barry Bonds – are in the Hall of Fame. Yost’s lifetime on-base-percentage of .394 is higher than such elite hitters as Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn.

Although he became known as “the Wallking Man” during his career, the value of his extraordinary on-base percentages, given his batting averages, were just not appreciated in the 1950s as they would be today. The esteemed baseball statistician Bill James ranks Yost no. 24 in his list of greatest third basemen.

Yost’s on-base-percentage was .403 or higher in six seasons with Washington and twice more – both times leading the league—after he was traded to Detroit. His best was .440 – two ticks behind Larry Doby’s league-leading .442 — in 1950, Yost’s finest season when he hit a career-high .295. Standing close to the plate, Yost was hit by pitches 99 times in his career.

He had decent power, but the outfield dimensions at Griffith Stadium kept his home runs totals down. Yost led the league in doubles once. He stands second behind Washington Hall-of-Famer Goose Goslin in a weird statistic: most home runs hit in a season without hitting any at his team’s home stadium. Goslin hit all 17 of his homers in away games in 1926; Yost hit all 12 of his on the road in 1952. After his trade to the Tigers, Yost hit a career high 21 homers in 1959.

Casey Stengel picked Yost as a reserve for the 1952 A.L. all-star team, even though the third baseman was hitting less than .200 at the time. “Every time I look up, that feller is on base,” Stengel said in defense of his choice.

Yost was an iron-man, too. He played in every game from August 30, 1949, to May 11, 1955 – 829 consecutive, at the time the fifth longest streak ever. It’s still the ninth longest.

Had a tonsilectomy and a three-month slump not kept him out the lineup for 32 games, he easily would have topped 100 walks in 1955. (He finished with 95.)  That ended a run of five straight seasons of 123 or more base-on-balls. Yost bounced back with his career-high 151 walks in 1956, and set a somewhat dubious, yet telling, mark: the lowest batting average for a player with an on-base percentage over .400 (.412, to be exact, an amazing 179 points higher than his .233 average.)

In the field, retrospectively by advanced metrics, he was slightly better than the league average for third baseman. He led the league in range factor in 1956, one of two seasons in which he led A.L. third sackers in assists.

When he retired, he held the record for most games played at third base and most putouts, assists and chances excepted at third. (Brooks Robinson later topped those marks.) Yost’s 157 games at third in 1952 tied the A.L. record, prior to expansion.

With Harmon Killebrew ready to take over at third, Calvin Griffith traded Yost to Detroit in December 1958. Like Yost, Killebrew didn’t hit for a high average but drew a lot of walks. He’s not far behind Yost on the all-time list, but pitchers obviously walked Killebrew because of his Hall-of-Fame home-run power, rather his batting eye.

 Despite Yost leading the league in walks and OBP in each of his two years with the Tigers, Yost was left unprotected for the expansion draft and was selected by the Angels. Leading off in the team’s opening game, he was the first player ever to bat for Los Angeles.

After the Angels released him in 1962, Yost returned the next season to D.C. as the third base coach for old teammate Mickey Vernon. When Vernon was fired in May 1963, Yost managed the expansion Senators for one game – they lost – before Gil Hodges took over. Hodges kept him on and then brought Yost along as his third bass coach when the former Dodgers great took over as manager of the Mets in 1968. That earned Yost his only World Series ring the next season.

Yost coached third base for the Mets through 1976 before moving on the Red Sox, where he coached through 1984.

Eddie Yost died on Oct. 16, 2012, three days after his 86th birthday.  

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