The Catcher and the Shortstop
“Not bad,” he said. “Ain’t heavy like a catcher’s mitt.” He flexed his hand. “Good leather.” He swept the glove across his chest, one way, then the other. In the movement you could see, if you had ever seen baseball close, that the old hand in the new glove was phenomenal.
Roger Kahn on Billy Cox in Boys of Summer
On April 24, 1994, at the Ballpark in Arlington, Indians pitcher Jack Morris hit Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez with a pitch to lead off the seventh inning. Manny Lee then dropped a bunt.
Indians catcher Sandy Alomar picked up the ball and threw to shortstop Omar Vizquel for the force at second. Rodriguez – perhaps still stinging from getting hit by the pitch – slid hard into Vizquel. The Indians weren’t happy with the slide. The collision was real. Vizquel suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for six weeks. His teammates vowed retribution.
Vizquel and Rodriguez cross paths again tonight at the Ballpark. Rodriguez will catch for the Astros and Vizquel will start at shortstop for the Rangers.
Rodriguez will set a Major League record for most games caught. Vizquel will be looking for two hits. He needs one to tie and two to set a new record for most hits by a native Venezuelan. He will pass Luis Aparicio, who is in the Hall of Fame.
Vizquel will one day be in the Hall of Fame. So too should Rodriguez. Their offense over the years has been good. Their defense? Well, “if you had ever seen baseball close, that the old hand in the new glove was phenomenal.”
If you watch baseball in the American League for 21 years, you see many phenomenal hands. Such as:
Pitcher: Kenny Rogers. He won five Gold Gloves. He should have won more. He got almost everything back to the mound and more. His pickoff was the best. Rogers and Rodriguez together? No chance to steal.
Catcher: Ivan Rodriguez. 1997 World Series. Florida Marlins and Cleveland Indians. The catchers were Charles Johnson and Sandy Alomar. Kenny Lofton was asked if these were the two best catchers in the game. Said Lofton, “Pudge Rodriguez is the best catcher in the game.
First base: Don Mattingly. He could turn the 3-6-3 better than anybody. Mark Teixeira and Rafael Palmeiro were good but nobody was as smooth and fluid as Mattingly.
Second base: Roberto Alomar. Can still see him diving into the hole between first and second on the artificial turf in Toronto taking a hit away from somebody.
Shortstop: Omar Vizquel. Cal Ripken was good and loved watching Orlando Cabrera when he was at his best. Very underrated.
Third base: Eric Chavez. Didn’t see Gary Gaetti in his prime but remember Rangers coach Tim Foli standing behind the batting cage reminding his hitters to drop their bunts to first base because, “You know who is playing third tonight.”
Outfield: Ken Griffey Jr. It’s a tossup on who stole more home runs from Juan Gonzalez, him or….
Outfield: Kirby Puckett. By the way, the Orioles had a great defensive outfield circa 1990 with Brady Anderson, Mike Devereaux and Joe Orsulak. All three could go over the wall at the old Memorial Stadium.
Outfield: Rusty Greer. All right, all right, somebody might say Torii Hunter. Or Bernie Williams, who stole a home run away from Greer in Game 3 of the 1996 ALDS. But I’ve seen Greer make more great catches than anybody. Some might say too many but….
Best outfield arm: Mark Whiten. Nelson Cruz has an impressive arm but Whiten’s was the best I remember.
One week after Vizquel went down at second base, the Rangers faced the Indians at Jacobs Field. In the seventh inning, with the Indians leading 4-3, Indians pitcher Charles Nagy drilled Rodriguez with a pitch in his shoulder/biceps area. Rodriguez simply picked the ball up, flipped it back to Nagy and went to first.
He then stole second base.
“Harvey Kuenn gave it an honest pursuit, but the only center fielder in baseball who could have caught it hit it.” – Bob Stevens in the San Francisco Chronicle (July 8, 1959) on Willie Mays