Thursday, April 6, 2006 | 6:51 a.m.
During his 15-year career as a big league catcher, Steve Yeager appeared in 21 World Series games, in which he hit .298. He was named tri-MVP of the 1981 Fall Classic, sparking the Los Angeles Dodgers to a 4-games-to-2 victory over the vaunted New York Yankees.
Yeager also invented the protective catcher's throat flap, an offshoot of being struck by a broken bat while standing in the on-deck circle.
But it was his life outside the lines that set the 57-year-old native of Huntington, W.Va., apart from most catchers.
He got married at Los Angeles City Hall with former L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley in attendance, posed for Playgirl magazine, served as a consultant for and appeared in the "Major League" movie trilogy and has firsthand knowledge of what it's like to fly at the speed of sound thanks to his cousin Chuck Yeager, the renowned test pilot.
Yet, as became obvious during a question-and-answer session at Cashman Field as the 51s continued preparations for tonight's Pacific Coast League opener against Fresno, the 51s' new hitting instructor is much more at ease discussing the present than he is his past.
OK, let's get the baseball stuff out of the way. Your career batting average was .228, yet you played in six League Championship Series and four World Series. You think Ernie Banks is jealous?
I don't know. I'd have to ask him. It was a special time to be part of a team that played in so many postseason playoffs in about nine years. It was fun.
Lou Brock said you were the best-throwing catcher in the game, yet I'm sure you weren't named tri-MVP of the 1981 World Series just because of defense. Speaking of that, who got the biggest part of the trophy? You, Ron Cey or Pedro Guerrero?
Are you saying I couldn't hit? You're getting started on the wrong foot.
OK, on to the interesting stuff. Then-Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley was the best man at your wedding. Did that have anything to do with unpaid parking tickets?
He wasn't the best man. And it had nothing to do with parking tickets. Ethel Bradley (Tom's wife) was a big (Dodgers) fan and said, "Why don't you get married at City Hall?" That marriage is long gone. But go on.
Why would a ballplayer who once posed for Playgirl want to get married in the first place?
You don't want to talk about that?
No. I thought you wanted to talk about baseball.
Not really. So you don't want to talk about any of the stuff outside the lines?
We're not talking about me. We're talking about the team that I'm helping to coach. It (his past) happened. When you're young and foolish you do a lot of things.
Well, it's not as if you have to apologize for posing in Playgirl.
I'm not apologizing. (Laughing) It was a pretty good spread if I do say so. But that was a whole different life.
So you don't want to talk about your uncle Chuck, the test pilot, either?
He's not my uncle, he's a cousin. That's a misprint. You can't believe everything you read.
I was going to ask if your Uncle Chuck - er, cousin Chuck - ever buzzed a family get-together in one of those bad boy F-15s. But seriously, do you ever see him at family functions?
I see him from time to time. Not often, but I see him.
You want to talk about the movies at all?
What's that got to do with baseball? The movies were fun. David Ward was the writer/director of "Major League" ... He got a hold of the Dodgers and they got a hold of me.
So who was the tougher out: Roger Dorn, Jake Taylor, Willie Mays Hayes or Pedro Cerrano?
Dennis Haysbert (Cerrano) could play a little bit. The other guys tried real hard and made it look good.
Did you ever warm up to Charlie Sheen? What kind of stuff did he have?
Charlie played shortstop and was a relief pitcher in high school. I had Charlie on the radar gun and he was in the mid-80s.
Wild Thing makes my heart sing. But let's talk about the important piece of equipment you invented, the protective flap that hangs from just about every catcher's mask.
That was to protect my throat after I got a bat stuck in it. The trainer, Bill Mueller, and I came up with it. It's a piece of equipment that may prevent a kid from getting hit in the throat. It was a good afterthought after what happened.
When you were playing, you would gladly interact with fans, pose for photos, sign autographs, what have you. Today's players seem a little reluctant to make themselves accessible to fans and the media.
If you can't enjoy getting up, putting the uniform on and playing baseball, there's something wrong with you. This is not hard work. Digging a hole is hard work.
All right, last question - and we'll stick to baseball. How about a career highlight?
My whole life has been a highlight. As far as baseball? I was one of 650 major league baseball players in the whole world. That's pretty good.
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