The big story of the September 4, 1978 game between the Yankees and the Tigers was all about the Yankees and their attempt to chase down the Red Sox in the AL East. They had shaved nine games off their 14 game deficit from mid-July, but they were still five back with 27 games to go.
Meanwhile, the Tigers were still mathematically in it, but considering that they went into the day 11 games back and behind four teams, it would’ve taken a miracle for them. The biggest story of the day from their standpoint probably would’ve been the major league debut of Dave Stegman.
Two years earlier, Stegman was selected second overall by the Tigers in the 1976 MLB Draft. The University of Arizona product was put right in Double-A after signing. He didn’t light the league up in that first season in the Detroit system, but in 1977, he started to put up numbers worthy of his high selection. An 1.108 OPS saw him get moved up to Triple-A, where he would start the next year. After a solid season there, the Tigers made him a September call up when the rosters expanded in 1978.
Stegman was placed in the seventh spot in the lineup and got the start at right field on September 4th. The Tigers had already put up two runs against Yankees’ starter Paul Lindblad when he stepped to the plate for his first career at-bat in the second inning. He doubled to left, getting his major league career off to a perfect start.
Less than three years later, the Padres sent Stegman to the Yankees as a player to be named later, completing a trade from April 1981.
After a really impressive first month in ‘78, Stegman started the next season back in the minors. The Tigers brought him back up late in the season in ‘79, but he didn’t quite replicate his performance from the prior year. He spent most of the 1980 season up in the majors, but his numbers really fell off, and he was traded to San Diego after the season. The Padres never called him up and eventually shipped him to New York early in the 1981 season.
Overall in his major league stint with the Tigers, Stegman’s numbers weren’t particularly good. He hit .189/.258/.331 with just six home runs. However, half of those home runs in his three seasons in Detroit came against the Yankees. He had a career 1.231 OPS against Ron Guidry. Against Dave Righetti, it was 1.571. The Yankees weren’t the team he has the best career numbers against, but they were close, and he faced them the second most of any team in his career. The fact that he hit them so well becomes especially amusing considering how the Yankees went on to use him.
After putting up some decent numbers in Triple-A Columbus the prior year, the Yankees called him up in June ‘82. He made his debut in pinstripes on June 18th. In the ninth inning, he was sent in as a pinch runner for Bobby Murcer with the Yankees down three runs to the Orioles. He was immediately erased on the basepaths when John Mayberry grounded into a double play.
The next day, the Yankees and the Orioles went deep into extra innings. In the bottom of the 16th, he was again sent in as a pinch runner after Murcer had walked. The weird thing about this appearance was that he wasn’t the lead runner. He stole 98 career bases in the minors, so he undoubtedly would’ve had the speed advantage over the aging Murcer, but there was already a runner on third. Other than maybe beating out a double play ball at second, his speed wouldn’t really have been needed. Willie Randolph immediately singled to win the game. For the second straight game, Stegman’s day lasted for exactly one at-bat in which he wasn’t the one hitting.
Those two appearances would be it for Stegman’s Yankee career. At some point after that, he returned to Triple-A. He played out the rest of that season there and became a free agent after the season. He signed with the White Sox and played a couple seasons there. He actually finished his career back in the Yankees’ organization playing in Triple-A in 1986, though his last major league game came two years prior to that.
After watching him beat up on their team, the Yankees used Dave Stegman as a pinch runner and nothing else. Funny how that works sometimes.
All historical stats and box score courtesy of Baseball Reference