On occasion, Big League Stew honors a birthday boy per week by taking a longer look at his career. Please join us in lighting the candles.
Steve Sax, who turns 52 on Sunday, played 14 years in the majors from 1981 to 1994. He made five All-Star teams, was the 1982 NL Rookie of the Year, and won championship rings in 1981 and 1988. (He won a ring in 1981 without losing his rookie eligibility for 1982 because he had come up for a late-season cup of coffee and stayed on the postseason roster.)
Sax had a nice career, but for most of the past 20 years, any mention of his name has been greeted with a reference to one of the greatest "Simpsons" episodes of all time.
And rightfully so.
Officer Eddie: (reading Steve Sax's license) Well well, Steve Sax, from New York City.
Officer Lou: I heard some guy got killed in New York City and they never solved the case. But you wouldn't know anything about that now, would you, Steve?
(Lou and Eddie laugh)
Steve Sax: But there are hundreds of unsolved murders in New York City.
Officer Lou: You don't know when to keep your mouth shut, do you, Saxxy Boy?
Best year: 1986: .332/.390/.441, 6 HRs, 56 RBIs, 59 BB/58 K, 40 SB/17 CS, 4.6 rWAR
Steve Sax was a five-time All-Star, but for most of his career he was just basically average. Like Steve Garvey, who celebrated his birthday a month ago, Sax benefited from being a good-looking member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, which somehow caused many fans to overrate his accomplishments. He didn't have much power, didn't draw many walks, got caught stealing too much (he was only successful on 71.4 percent of his attempts), and had below-average defense at second base.
Sax wasn't particularly good at anything, but wasn't particularly bad at anything, and he was relatively durable, so he was a mainstay at the keystone in Los Angeles. But in 1986 he had a legitimate All-Star-worthy campaign, due in large part to an uncharacteristically high batting average — his Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) spiked to .357, from a career rate of .299, and his .332 batting average in 1986 was 51 points higher than his career .281 batting average.
Worst year: 1992: .236/.290/.317, 4 HRs, 47 RBIs, 43 BB/42 K, 30 SB/12 CS, -0.6 rWAR
Unfortunately, when the end came for Sax, it came quickly. In 1991, while playing for the Yankees, the 31-year-old Sax enjoyed his third-best season, and it was the third and last time in his career that he would hit over .300. That offseason, he and his teammate Don Mattingly appeared in "Homer at the Bat," "The Simpsons" episode quoted above, and regularly considered one of the show's best episodes. ('Duk can rattle off all nine major leaguers who appeared in the episode without prompting. I'm a nerd, and I can't do that.)
It was all downhill from there. He played 207 games over the next three seasons before retirement, and hit .237/.287/.315. For a ballplayer whose value was almost entirely tied to his batting average, that simply wasn't enough to hold down a spot in the majors.
Off the field: Sax now makes his living as a motivational speaker, and he often speaks about his 1983 season, when he suffered a mental block similar to the one that Chuck Knoblauch suffered from 16 years later: crippling anxiety about throwing the ball to first base. He credits his dying father with helping him to overcome it, and stay at second base. As the Arizona Republic writes, "His throws got so unpredictable that Dodgers fans sitting behind first base donned batting helmets as mock protection." Last year, he wrote a brief book called "Shift: Change Your Mindset and You Change Your World," in which he discussed the incident.
For a number of years, Sax also worked as a financial adviser with RBC wealth management. According to an mlb.com article from 2008, "He represents a few athletes, with Kris Humphries of the Toronto Raptors and former Major Leaguer F.P. Santangelo among his nearly 100 clients... Sax also is registered as a financial adviser with the NFL and works with a few retired football players." But he appears to have left that job in 2010.
In 1994, after having played two years for the White Sox, he wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal preaching discipline for children, which he links on his website. And he got an appreciative personal reply from Chief of Staff Mack McLarty:
As you may know, Dee Dee Myers is a true blue Dodger fan and admirer of yours. Hillary, I am afraid, is a committed Chicago Cubs fan. However, I honestly believe she has a warm place in her heart for the White Sox, given her Chicago roots.