29 October 2009

the evolution of the catcher

i enjoyed the trip down dodger memory lane so much the first time, i figured i would do it again. so, here's a look at the evolution of the dodgers' catcher position. a quick note - this isn't just the opening day starters (sorry, chad kreuter), but rather the primary catcher over the course of a given season. we'll start in 1948, which seems appropriate enough, since that's when roy campanella took over the tools of ignorance.

roy campanella (1948-1957)campy was a three time mvp and played in the all star game in eight of his ten major league seasons. he was paralyzed in an automobile accident in january of 1958, and so never played for the los angeles dodgers. over 93,000 turned out to the la coliseum for roy campanella night in 1959 - a then record crowd for a major league baseball game. the dodgers retired the hall of famer's number 39 in 1972 - the same day they retired the jerseys of jackie robinson and sandy koufax. roy campanella died in 1993.

campy's accident gave way to john roseboro (1958-1967)
roseboro was an all star in his first full season with the dodgers, and won a couple of gold gloves as well. he hit .251 over his 11 seasons in los angeles, with an ops of .709. he hit just .157 in the 4 world series he played in with the dodgers, although he was a three time world series champion. after the 1967 season, the dodgers traded him to the minnesota twins (with bob miller and ron perranoski) for mudcat grant and zoilo versalles. roseboro died in 2002.

tom haller (1968-1970)haller was acquired by the dodgers from the giants (!) prior to the 1968 season for ron hunt and nate oliver. a two-time all star with the giants, haller made the all star team two more times with the dodgers, setting a career high in hits with la in 1968. he didn't hit with as much power for the dodgers, but did hit for a higher average (.276) than he did over the course of his stay with san francisco (.248). after three seasons as the primary catcher, haller would essentially platoon with duke sims in 1971. the dodgers failed to make the postseason during haller's four seasons with the club, and they sold him to the tigers after the 1971 season. haller died in 2004.

duke sims (1971) as mentioned above, sims platooned with haller in 1971, although duke played slightly more games (74) at the position than haller (67), so he gets a full mention here. acquired from cleveland for alan foster and ray lamb prior to the 1971 season, sims hit .274 with 6 home runs and an ops of .757 in 1971. he stayed with the club through about half of the 1972 season when he was picked up off of waivers by the tigers, and once again, joined tom haller behind the plate. while both haller and sims would go to the postseason with detroit in 1972, their successor was not so lucky.

chris cannizarro (1972) cannizzaro was picked up on waivers by the dodgers from the cubs prior to the 1972 season. he caught in 72 games for the dodgers, but the other games were split amongst the next two catchers to be featured, so cannizzaro gets the nod for this season. kind of like jesse ventura winning against two career politicians as a third party candidate. anyway, chris's time was short lived, and he was released late in the 1973 season after batting just .235 for the dodgers during his stint in la. he was picked up by the padres, and his 1975 topps card may well be the worst card ever. stay tuned to night owl's new blog to check it out.

joe ferguson (1973)ferguson was one of the players selected by the dodgers in their legendary 1968 draft. he made his debut in 1970, and slugged a career high 25 home runs as he became the dodgers' primary catcher in 1973 (although the next guy would supplant him late that same season). as a result, ferguson would also spend time in the outfield, and is perhaps best known for his assist in the 1974 world series when he threw sal bando out at the plate. ferguson had two stints with the dodgers as a player (he was traded away for reggie smith, and the dodgers later gave up jeffrey leonard to get him back), and would then return again as a coach. he currently manages in the atlantic league. btw, baseball almanac tells me that would be craig robinson, foreground lurker.

steve yeager (1974-1980, 1983)as the catcher of my youth, yeager probably could, and should, be considered as part of the longevity story that is usually applied just to the dodgers' infield of garvey, cey, russell, and lopes. he was the primary catcher for their three 1970's pennant winners (and filled in during the 1981 postseason), although he was not a major offensive threat. he was known for his strong arm, and his defense was pretty good. plus, he could call a game well. over the course of his career, yeager threw out 38% of the runners attempting to steal off of him, made just 88 errors and retired with a fielding percentage of .987. after being named the backup in 1981, yeager would reclaim the starting role in 1983 when mike scioscia went down with an injury. after the 1985 season, the dodgers would trade the 1981 world series co-mvp to the mariners for ed vandeberg. with the mariners, yeager appeared in roger clemens' first 20-k game. to his credit, yeager struck out only once that day in two at bats. yeager has managed in the dodgers' farm system, but i think he is now involved in public relations for the team.

mike scioscia (1981-1982, 1984-1992)scioscia took over for yeager in 1980, some might say, but didn't claim the majority of the playing time until 1981. like yeager, scioscia wasn't the biggest offensive threat, but he was a smart catcher who called good games, and man did he know how to block the plate. he also became the first dodger catcher to start an all star game (in 1990) since roy campanella. the dodgers made the postseason three times with scioscia behind the plate, and won two world series, with scioscia hitting a crucial home run in the 1988 nlcs against dwight gooden. good times. some would say that the dodgers' all time leader in games caught went on to play for the padres and rangers, but i choose not to believe that since it doesn't show up in his career stats. of course, the dodgers did allow him to go to orange county and manage a different team - that we know for sure.

mike piazza (1993-1997) perhaps the greatest offensive catcher since roy campanella was inexplicably traded by the dodgers early in the 1998 season. this after winning the rookie of the year and posting 5 top ten mvp finishes in each of his first 5 seasons with the club, leading them to the postseason twice. the should-have-been 1997 mvp (no disrespect to larry walker intended - walker beat piazza in pretty much every offensive category, but he played in coors field and piazza played in dodger stadium and was a catcher for goodness sakes!) had a .331 average with 177 home runs and an ops of .966 over his career with the dodgers. piazza, dubbed by then radio schmuck jimmy kimmel as the 'italian-american superstar slugger, mike piazza' also became only the second person to hit a ball out of dodger stadium. willie stargell was the other. stupid fox.

charles johnson (1998)cj was one of the guys the dodgers got for piazza. he had been one of the heroes for the 1997 world champion marlins, and had finished 11th in the league mvp voting that year. he didn't do much in la, though, hitting just .217 with an ops of .638 in his one (partial) season with the dodgers. perhaps realizing that they had dealt away a huge part of their offense, the dodgers sent johnson to the mets after the 98 season (with roger cedeno) for todd hundley.

todd hundley (1999-2000)hundley had, in fact, hit over 40 home runs as a catcher for the mets before he was injured. while he was out, they traded for mike piazza, and hundley, now without a position, made an ill-fated attempt at playing the outfield. he came to the dodgers and was inserted as their primary catcher for 1999. that year he hit only .207 and had the strange statistic of 24 home runs with just 55 rbi. the following year, he rebounded nicely, hitting 24 home runs again but with 70 rbi and a .284 batting average in just 90 games. he signed with the cubs as a free agent after the 2000 campaign, but would return to the dodgers for the 2003 season when he was traded with chad hermansen for eric karros and mark grudzielanek.

paul loduca (2001-2004)loduca burst on the scene in 2001, putting up career highs in home runs (25), rbi (90) and batting average (.320) in his first full season. of course, we know now that he was using peds. anyway, paulie made us forget all about todd hundley, and to some extent mike piazza, until he followed in piazza's footsteps and got traded to the marlins in 2004. the trade (loduca, guillermo mota, and juan encarnacion for brad penny, hee seop choi, and bill murphy) was lambasted in the press by the la columnists (plaschke) and even mourned by the manager (jim tracy) who traded in his number 12 jersey to wear loduca's number 16. if i recall correctly, the dodgers still won the west in 2004, even if paul depodesta forgot to line up a decent catcher to replace the traded 'heart and soul' of the team.

jason phillips (2005)
i kind of wish that 2005 would have belonged to dioner navarro, but jim tracy didn't see it that way. in fact, if you look at who the primary position players were in 2005, you might think tracy was trying to get fired. anyway, phillips didn't perform that badly, and the mets did agree to take kaz ishii off our hands in exchange for him. a free agent after the 2005 season, phillips signed with the blue jays, allowing the next guy to take over.

russell martin (2006-present)
although sandy alomar, jr started the 2006 season at catcher, martin quickly took over and we haven't looked back since. in his four seasons, martin has a .276 average and an ops of .774. here's hoping russell nathan coltrane jeanson martin rebounds from a subpar year in 2010. after all, next year is his '27' year...


SpastikMooss said...

I had never even heard of Norihiro Nakamura. Apparently he walked away from a 10 million/2years deal to play for peanuts in the MLB. He then hit .128 at 3B and ended up in AAA before heading back to Japan. Weird...he was only a Major Leaguer for 17 games.

MattR said...

That Ferguson card rocks.

The Campy card is also a good one to have.

Why on earth did the Dodgers trade Piazza?

night owl said...

Yes, why on earth did the Dodgers trade Piazza? TV people, sheesh.

The more I look back on the Jim Tracy era, the more I wonder whether Tracy was all there. He did some wacky stuff.