By Guy F. White
“You have to have a catcher because if you don’t, you’re likely to have a lot of passed balls” – Casey Stengal
With that wisdom, catchers have played a large part in painting the Mets persona over the years, almost from day one. In the 1961 expansion draft, the Mets drafted their very first player. Hobie Landrith. A catcher from the San Francisco Giants. Who, like the 1962 Mets, sucked. The Mets have been chasing catchers ever since – even obtaining catcher Harry Chiti in 1962 from the Cleveland Indians for a player to be named later. A little more than two months later, the Mets announced that the player to be named later was in fact, catcher Harry Chiti, making Chiti the only player in baseball history to be traded for himself (the harsh New York media accused the Mets of getting screwed over in the deal).
Catchers do more to create a team’s cohesion than any other position. The only player that faces all his teammates on the field and the only player who can position himself out of bounds in ANY sport, the catcher is the leader and field general. If you have a good catcher with balls, then you have a tough team on the field. When Jason Varitek told Alex Rodriguez that the Red Sox don’t throw at puny .260 hitters, you have to believe that the rest of Red Sox Nation did a collective “Hell Yeah!!!” I even remember John Stearns of the lowly Mets knocking the crap out of Dave Parker on a home plate collision in 1979. The Mets still sucked, but they were tough about it. Casey was right, you need a tough, bad-ass catcher to set the tone for you team.
Never mind the pitching, every time the Mets have been in the postseason, it has come at the capable hands of an outstanding, if not Hall of Fame, catcher. In 1969 and 1973 it was Jerry Grote (who no less than Johnny Bench said, “the rest of us are hitters who catch; Grote is a catcher who hits). Fast forwarding to glorious 1986 . . . Hall of Famer Gary Carter. The Kid. Two home runs in Game Three? Take THAT Boston!! Fast forwarding yet again to 1999 and 2000, the idea of Mike Piazza shaking that shattered bat at Roger Clemens in Game Two of the Subway Series thrills me while the spectre of Piazza hitting that first home run after 9/11 makes me want to cry every time. Paul LoDuca was an all star in 2006 who could tag out not one, but two LA Dodgers at the plate on the same play. You gotta love that. And time will tell whether the Travis d’Arnaud of 2015 and 2016 reaches any prominence to speak of.
There aren’t too many other teams that have a catching heritage the Mets have. The Yankees of course with Yogi, Bill Dickey, Elston, Thurman, and Jorge. The Dodgers with Roy Campanella and the aforementioned Piazza. Or the Reds with Bench and Ernie Lombardi. But very few other teams, and even fewer expansion teams can touch the Mets in this area. The Houston Astros who joined major league baseball the same year as the Mets? Oh please. Hell, even the Red Sox don’t have too many catchers worth a darn once you get past Carlton Fisk. Giants? Nope.
I must admit that I was sad to see Kevin Plawecki go. There aren’t too many Purdue alumni (Go Boilers!!!) in the majors and it always did my heart good to see him in the line up. But with Plawecki’s departure and with Wilson Ramos’s arrival, it occurred to me just how special catchers have always been to the Mets. Ladies and Gentlemen, with Ramos, once againthe Mets have a special catcher. A really special catcher. Maybe, just maybe, some more postseason drama will follow.
LET’S GO METS!!!!!!