Feb 19, 2020

Sal Yvars: 1951 N.L. Champion New York Giants Reserve Catcher Who Claimed He Was Key Figure In Sign Stealing (1947-1953)

Sal Anthony Yvars was born February 20, 1924 on Houston St. in Little Italy, New York. His family soon moved to Westchester County in Valhalla, New York when he was six months old. 

Yvars starred in three sports at White Plains high School in the late thirties & early forties. In 1942 he served in World War II with the US Air Force & by 1946 got signed by the New York Giants. 

He was a tough guy with a mean disposition. Brooklyn Dodger pitcher, Don Newcombe told a story, that Yvars once came to bat in the minors, picked up a handful of dirt & threw it in Roy Campanella's face. 

He hit .290 or better every year from 1946-1949 in the minors leagues. He was also considered a fine defensive catching prospect with a strong arm. The day after he was called up to the Giants, he got married to his high school sweet heart. 

Yvars would only make a handful of appearances over the next four seasons backing up the likes of Giants full time back stops, Walker Cooper, Wes Westrum & Sam Calderone. 

Although he saw limited playing time, he threw out 40% or better of would be base stealers every year of his career. Yvars was also one of the few players to ever get away with talking back to Leo Durocher. 

Although after one early confrontation with Durocher, he was sent back in the minors, only to return in Leo's dog house for the rest of the season. But by 1951, the sly, Yvars became useful to manager Durocher. He was used in a different role, this time as a sign relayer. 

Sign Stealing Controversy: Yvars resurfaced & became famous, on the 50th anniversary of "The Shot Heard Round the World" Bobby Thompson HR. He reported the controversial story that the 1951 New York Giants were stealing signs. 

The media flocked to Yvars, as the news broke, although it was received with mixed reactions. According to Yvars, the story goes that a Polo Grounds, electrician (from the Bronx) hooked up a buzzer, linked from the Giants club house to the bullpen in the outfield. The clubhouse, was located nearly 500 ft. from home plate, had a coach, Herman Franks, perched with binoculars spying on the catchers signs. 

Next, Franks, would ring the buzzer, once for a fastball or twice for an off speed pitch.

Quotes- Sal Yvars: ''If it was a fastball, I would do nothing, sit still, maybe cross my legs. If it was off-speed stuff I would toss a ball up and down''. 

Some batters used the system others refused. In any event, there was a very short amount of time to react. They would still have to hit the ball& produce.

The Giants did come back to win the Pennant, after being 10 1/2 games out in mid August. Although the stats indicate the Giants actually won with better pitching at home & better hitting on the road. 

As for
Yvars, he would play an eight year career, mostly as Wes Westrum's backup catcher. In the Giants 1951 pennant season he played in 25 games, batting .317 (13-41) with 2 HRs 2 doubles & 3 RBIs. Behind the plate he played in 23 games throwing out five of ten runners trying to steal (50%). He went hitless in one pinch hit at bat in the 1951 World Series. 

In 1952 he saw the most action with 151 at bats in 66 games, batting .245 with 4 HRs & 18 RBIs. In 59 games behind the plate he posted a .988 fielding % throwing out 18 of 27 batters trying to steal for a remarkable 67%. 

After 20 games with the '53 Giants he had already thrown out six of ten base stealers but Yvars contract was purchased by the St. Louis that June. In 1954 he played in 38 games with the Cards behind Bill Sarni as the Giants won the World Series. 

Yvars retired the next year with a .244 average 10 HRs 12 doubles 42 RBIs & a .315 on base % in 210 career games over eight seasons. Behind the plate in 176 games he threw out 39 of 70 base runners attempting to steal (56%) He posted a .987 fielding % turning 11 double playsmaking 526 put outs in 620 chances making just eight errors.

Retirement: After baseball he spent 50 years as an investment banker. He lived in a house in Valhalla, NY that he bought from his share of the 1951 World Series money. He lived there for 56 years until he passed away in 2008 at the age of 84.

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