Tuesday, February 28, 2017

All-Time One-Year Wonder: Catcher

I'm going to do something a little different with the One-Year Wonder posts. I have decided to go position-by-position and see if I can determine who the best player at each position would be who only spent one year with the Red Sox. This requires a lot of time and research. I am not naming every single player who spent just one season with the Red Sox at each position, but just the better-known players. At the end of the post, I will pick the single best player for each position.

In the Red Sox first season of existence, their catcher was an emerging star named Ossee Schrecongost.  Schrecongost had an impressive season in 1899 splitting time between Cleveland and St. Louis before spending a year in the minors in 1900.  Boston brought him over when they formed to be their primary catcher and he had a terrific season hitting .304/.356/.386 with 38 RBIs.  He had some decent speed for a catcher, hitting five triples and stealing six bases.  He was a decent defensive catcher and caught 45% of potential base-stealers, but committed 30 errors to lead the league.  Boston had another emerging catcher named Lou Criger though and elected to trade Schrecongost to Cleveland for Candy LaChance.  He was quickly traded to Philadelphia where he spent several seasons and became an elite defensive catcher and had some decent seasons at the plate as well.  He finished with a .271/.297/.345 line over eleven seasons.  

A long-time star with the Cleveland Indians, O'Neill had a terrific season for the team that won the World Championship in 1920.  He hit .321/.408/.440 with three home runs and 55 RBIs that season, which was the start of a three-year string in which he hit over .300 each year.  O'Neill was a very impressive hitter for a catcher for several years until he hit 30 years of age, at which point his average plummeted.  He was brought to the Red Sox after his first bad season in a deal that also brought Bill Wambsganss in return for George Burns and others.  It was not a trade that worked out in Boston's favor.  O'Neill had declined as a hitter and managed just a .238/.371/.293 line with no home runs and 38 RBIs.  He was not as effective behind the plate either, but still caught 50% of potential base-stealers.  He only played three part-time seasons after 1924 with the Yankees and Browns.  For his career, O'Neill hit .263/.349/.337.  He would manage the Red Sox briefly in the early 1950's.

A four-time All Star with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the early 1940's, Owen was known as a very good defensive catcher who set a record for consecutive chances without a fielding error.  Owen was not much of a hitter and finished his Major League career with a .255/.318/.322 line with 14 home runs and 378 RBIs, but he was well-respected and played for four teams over his 13-year career.  Owen served in the military during the 1946 season and attempted to play in Mexico upon his return.  He made it back to the Majors with the Cubs for a few seasons, then did not play in the Majors again until Boston signed him as a free agent prior to the 1954 season.  He made it into 32 games with the Red Sox and hit .235/.309/.324 with one home run and 11 RBIs.  It was his last appearance in the Majors.

Gene Oliver had some big power for a catcher in the 1960's.  He also spent a lot of time at first base and the outfield and rose to stardom with the Cardinals and Milwaukee Braves.  He had his best season for the Braves in 1965 when he hit .270/.336/.482 with 21 home runs and 58 RBIs.  It was his fourth season in a row of more than 10 home runs.  Unfortunately, it was his last really good season.  Oliver was not a very good defensive catcher, which explained his playing other positions.  After a decent season in 1967 split between the Braves and Phillies, during which he was traded for Bob Uecker of all people, the Phillies traded him to the Red Sox along with Dick Ellsworth for Mike Ryan.  That trade mostly worked out well for the Red Sox, but not due to Oliver, Ellsworth had a 16 win season.  Oliver played in just 16 games with Boston before being sold to the Cubs.  He hit .143/.250/.143.  He was very close to the end of his career.

JOE AZCUE - 1969
Like O'Neill, "Immortal Joe" Azcue had several very good seasons with the Cleveland Indians.  The Cuban native was an All Star in 1968 when he hit .280/.331/.342 with four home runs and 42 RBIs.  His power was a little down, but he had a few seasons earlier on when he hit around ten home runs.  Azcue was a very good defensive catcher who regularly finished in the top ten in caught stealing percentage.  After playing in just seven games in the 1969 season with the Indians, Azcue was traded to the Red Sox along with Vicente Romo and Sonny Siebert in the controversial trade that sent fan favorite Ken Harrelson to Cleveland.  Harrelson would have a reasonably productive season to finish up the year, but Siebert had several good years.  Azcue though, would play only 19 games with Boston before being traded to the Angels for catcher Tom Satriano.  In those games, he hit .216/.273/.255 with three RBIs.  Azcue was close to the end of his career as well.

In the late 1970's, the Red Sox started churning out a lot of young catchers who would go on to have reasonably long careers in the Majors.  Ernie Whitt, who was mostly known for his time with the Toronto Blue Jays, was one such player.  Whitt made his Major League debut with the Red Sox in September of 1976 and played in just eight games.  He did hit his first ML home run and hit .222/.300/.500 with three RBIs.  Whitt was left unprotected in the expansion draft after the season due to the presence of Carlton Fisk and Bob Montgomery in the Majors and Bo Diaz in the minors.  He was taken by the Blue Jays in the draft and emerged as a full-time catcher in 1980.  He would go on to appear in the 1985 All Star Game and had several impressive seasons as the Blue Jays' primary catcher.  He hit 15 or more home runs six seasons in a row.  He later played for the Braves and Orioles.

BO DIAZ - 1977
Another young catcher who came up briefly for the Red Sox before emerging as a star elsewhere was Bo Diaz.  Diaz had some decent seasons in the minors for the Red Sox organization and played in just two games in 1977 with Boston.  He had one at-bat and struck out.  After the season, Diaz was part of the return to the Indians in exchange for Dennis Eckersley.  Diaz emerged as a star in the strike-shortened 1981 season when he hit .313/.359/.533.  He had some impressive seasons with the Phillies and Reds and was an All Star for the second time with Cincinnati in 1987.  Diaz died in a freak accident just a year after retiring from baseball when a satellite dish he was adjusting fell on him.  He was 37.

I considered leaving Rader off this post, but he had a pretty decent year in short work for the Red Sox in 1980.  He was the starting catcher for the Giants for several seasons in 1970's and finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year vote in 1972 when he hit .259/.306/.333 with six home runs and 41 RBIs.  He played for the Giants through the 1976 season then spent one year each with the Cardinals, Cubs, and Phillies before finally arriving in the American League with the Red Sox in 1980.  Rader ended up being the primary backup catcher for Boston after longtime backup Bob Montgomery retired.  Rader was acquired in a trade for Stan Papi, who was notable for being the return the Red Sox received when Bill Lee was traded to Montreal.  Rader played in 50 games for the Red Sox and hit .328/.388/.474 with three home runs and 17 RBIs.  He was expendable though with the emergence of Gary Allenson and Rich Gedman and was allowed to leave as a free agent.  He never appeared in the Majors again. 

Dave Valle was mostly known as the Mariners' starting catcher for several seasons from the late 1980's through the early 1990's.  He was a decent hitter and had three seasons of hitting more than ten home runs.  He had the best full season of his career in his final season with Seattle in 1993 when he hit .258/.354/.395 with 13 home runs and 63 RBIs.  Boston's catching situation was dire in 1993 when starting catcher Tony Pena hit .181 on the season.  Valle decent defensively and expected to be an upgrade offensively.  Unfortunately it did not work out well and he was hitting just .158/.256/.250 with one home run and five RBIs in 30 games when he was traded for offensive help in the outfield.  Valle was sent to Milwaukee for Tom Brunansky and finished the year strong, hitting .389 in 16 games for the Brewers.  He spent two more seasons as the Rangers backup before calling it quits.  

The Red Sox acquired a completely new catching platoon after the disastrous hitting in 1993 from Pena, Bob Melvin, and John Flaherty.  Along with Valle, Damon Berryhill was signed as a free agent to be the primary backup.  Berryhill was a very good defensive catcher with the Cubs and Braves for several seasons before joining the Red Sox.  He had been the Braves' primary catcher for the previous two seasons despite not being a good hitter.  Berryhill was expected to be a backup for the Red Sox but became the starter when Valle struggled with the bat.  He surrendered some playing time to rookie Rich Rowland, who was also acquired as a new catcher in 1994, but played in 82 games in the strike-shortened season.  He hit .263/.312/.416 with six home runs and 34 RBIs.  He finished fourth in fielding percentage among AL catchers.  He later played for the Giants and Reds.

After the new catching platoon did not really work out in 1994, the Red Sox brought in a new pair in the shortened 1995 season.  Longtime Royals catcher Mike Macfarlane was signed as a free agent to be the new starting catcher and Bill Haselman was the backup.  He was coming off of a season in which he hit .255/.359/.462 with 14 home runs and 47 RBIs.  He hit 17 home runs in 1992 and 20 in 1993, so the Red Sox knew they were getting a catcher with some pop.  He did hit home runs, 15 in 1995, but his overall offensive numbers declined to .225/.319/.404.  He played reasonably well defensively and had three hits in ten at-bats in the postseason.  After the season he returned to Kansas City and hit 19 home runs.  He later played for the Athletics.

Joe Oliver was the starting catcher for the Reds in their World Championship 1990 season in his first full season.  Oliver also had some pop and hit 10-15 home runs in seven seasons.  He spent the first six seasons of his career with the Reds before bouncing around from team to team.  Over the rest of his career, Oliver played for the Brewers, Reds again, Tigers, Mariners, Pirates, Mariners again, Yankees, and finally the Red Sox.  He started the 2001 season with the Yankees but only played in 12 games for them.  He signed as a free agent with the Red Sox after Jason Varitek went down with an injury, but only appeared in five games with Boston at the end of the season due to the emergence of Doug Mirabelli.  Oliver doubled among three hits and had a line of .250/.308/.333 with an RBI.  It was Oliver's final season.

One of the top power-hitting catchers of all time is Javy Lopez, who hit 260 career home runs with the Braves and Orioles.  He ended his career with the Red Sox in 2006, but was unable to hit a home run in his short stint with them.  Lopez was a big part of the Braves teams that contended every year in the National League in late 1990's.  Despite his impressive power, he was only an All Star three times in his career.  He was also suspect defensively.  Lopez's best season undoubtedly was his 2003 season in which he hit .328/.378/.687 with 43 home runs and 109 RBIs.  His monstrous season landed him an All Star selection, the Silver Slugger and placed him fifth in the MVP vote.  It was his final season in Atlanta and he signed a big free agent contract with Baltimore, which was somewhat disappointing.  Toward the end of his disastrous 2006 season, Boston sent a Player to be Named Later (Adam Stern) to solidify their catching due to injuries to Varitek.  Lopez did not help much and hit just .190/.215/.270 with five doubles and four RBIs in 18 games.  It was the end of his career. 

Pierzynski was a polarizing player.  You loved him or you hated him, but he could definitely hit.  After a couple of down seasons with the bat, he came roaring back in 2012 with a 27 home run season for the White Sox.  He spent the 2013 season with the Rangers and hit 17 more home runs with a .272/.297/.425 line.  He signed with the defending World Champion Red Sox to replace Jarrod Saltalamacchia who joined the Marlins as a free agent.  Unfortunately, he seemingly forgot how to hit upon joining the Red Sox.  He was also not well-liked in the clubhouse.  Pierzynski hit just .254/.286/.348 with four home runs and 31 RBIs in 72 games.  He was released in July and picked up by the Cardinals, but did not do much better for them.  He joined the Braves in 2015 and had a comeback season.  

It is a little disappointing that the Best One-Year Catcher is a player who does not actually have any cards with the Red Sox, but here we are.  Schrecongost is the only player in this post who was a regular player and had an above average OPS+.  He was also the WAR leader among the players in this post.  Only Macfarlane and Rader really came close.  Schrecongost had a pretty good year, both offensively and defensively, and it was enough to take the title.  


  1. Not a Red Sox fan, but that was a great trip down baseball memory lane! Looking forward to more of these posts.