In appreciation of catchers

Fourteen years after his last game as a Dodger, Mike Piazza still has us all spoiled.

Piazza, arguably the greatest hitter in Los Angeles Dodger history, and without question the best hitting catcher of all time, will no doubt enter the Hall of Fame next year as a New York Met. Thank you very much Rupert Murdoch, Chase Carey or whomever at News Corp you want to blame for the sacrilege.

The batting skill exhibited by The Strongest Man in SoCal (still a great nickname, and one I intend to use forever), to a lesser extent by Paul Lo Duca (cheating bastard) and Russell Martin (briefly), wonderful while it lasted, is far from the norm. Because catchers don’t hit .360. They don’t homer 40 times and drive in 100-plus runs per season. They just don’t.

Piazza was an aberration beyond our wildest dreams, and you should be pissed about being cheated out of half his career. More than half, actually. I know I am.

It’s unfortunate that subsequent Dodger catchers – or catchers anywhere, really – continue to be judged against the accomplishments of a player the caliber of Mike Piazza.

With the Braves beginning a three-game series at Dodger Stadium tonight, I thought this might be a good time to talk backstops, because in Brian McCann, Atlanta has a catcher worthy of comparisons. Catchers don’t hit .360, as I said, but .270 to .300, with 20-some-odd home runs and 80 or 90 RBIs a year sure works, and that’s about what you get with McCann. Plus a smart, savvy presence behind the plate, big-game experience and clutch hitting.

The Braves have another receiver you might remember, guy by the name of David Ross. Play word association with Ross’ name and you’re liable to come up with, “oh sure, name the player who homered against ‘relief pitcher’ Mark Grace” ten years ago in Arizona. Yep, that David Ross, Lo Duca’s old backup, and someone who you might not have expected to have much of a career after leaving town.

But he did, and it’s worth a mention now. McCann plays as much as any catcher, but with two Dodger lefties (Chris Capuano and Ted Lilly) going, you might get a game’s worth of Ross in the upcoming series. And if so, why not a tip of the Dodger cap to the 35-year-old veteran, who after bouncing around with the Pirates, Reds and Padres, has made a name for himself in Atlanta.

He’s hit .273, .289 and .263 in his three full seasons there, playing in 50 to 60 games each year, with more than respectable on base and slugging percentages. Plus fine play receiving the always professional Braves pitching staff.

The Arizona home run occurred in a 19-1 Dodger runaway game, during Ross’ first call-up on September 2, 2002, at what was then Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix.

I prefer to remember Ross for a more significant L.A. highlight, from the 2004 National League West race. On September 30 at the stadium, Ross gave the Dodgers a 4-2 win in extras, with a walkoff two-run homer off Brian Fuentes. With San Francisco winning the same day, Los Angeles held a three-game lead going into their season-ending series with the Giants the following day. Some 48 hours later, of course, Steve Finley cliched the division with that oh-so-memorable grand slam of his.

You’re also going to see another catcher of distinction during the homestand, in A.J. Ellis. Compare him to Piazza, Lo Duca, or even Russell Martin, if you like, but I wouldn’t. But put Ellis up against the catchers available to the Dodgers during the winter, and realize they came out just fine.

I’m happy to go on record predicting these numbers for A.J. Ellis: .265, 10 homers, 50 RBIs and an OBP of .400, hitting in front of the pitcher all season long. Yes, batting eighth throughout 2012.

Who Knew the Subconcious Resided in the Foot?

The hits keep on coming – Gary Bennett gets placed on the DL, per the official blog, and Dodger Thoughts has the reason: “Left foot plantar fasciitis.” Let me say, the quotes could not be thicker around that. We’ve had no word of any injury problems surrounding Bennett, but tons of stories about his throwing problems, and suddenly his foot hurts? Hey, call it a bad foot, the flu, or the heebie-jeebies; whatever it takes to get this guy’s head right and get those lollipop throws off the field. Seriously, he even made Rotoworld today, which is rare for a mediocre backup catcher, and at no point is the foot mentioned:

Gary Bennett admitted that a “mental block” has zapped his confidence in his ability to throw the ball back to the pitcher.
Bennett has been making high, slow tosses back to the pitcher all season. He’s been seeing a sports psychologist since early spring training, and has been working on throwing the ball back to the mound during bullpen sessions. He says it doesn’t affect the way he throws to the bases, despite making two bad throws to first in his start on Friday.

Coming up to take his place is 33-year-old Danny Ardoin, who’s not much of a hitter (.604 OPS in 372 at-bats over parts of 4 seasons with Minnesota, Texas, Baltimore, and Colorado), but is supposedly a pretty good defender. He’s at least put up an .815 OPS with Las Vegas so far, so his bat might not be a total black hole. Ardoin’s already a part of Dodger lore: he indirectly launched Blake DeWitt’s career by launching the throw that took out Andy LaRoche’s thumb in spring training.

Speaking of Rotoworld, a golf clap for this bit of humor regarding Andruw Jones’ knee:

An MRI revealed fluid and torn cartilage in Andrew Jones’ right knee.
After Monday’s game, Joe Torre said that Jones would be out until at least Friday due to the injury. Jones painted a more dire picture: “I’m going to give it two days, and if it doesn’t get better… we’ll go ahead and scope it,” said Jones. Arthroscopic surgery would keep Jones out of the lineup until July, making “arthroscopic surgery” a potential MVP candidate for the Dodgers. “Hopefully, I can just get treatment on it, and then probably get (the surgery) done during the offseason,” Jones said.

Finally, a fond farewell to Mike Piazza, who called it quits today. Piazza was always my favorite player growing up (not hard to see why: best player on my favorite team with the same first name and Italian last name that started with a P who came from absolutely nowhere). I had a “Mike Piazza 31″ hat I purchased on a trip to Dodger Stadium in 1995 that I wore nearly everyday for three years until it just about fell apart – and probably the most heartbreaking moment I had up until that point in my life was the day he was dealt to Florida in 1998, for really no good reason at all. Even though his best season (1997) was in Dodger blue, I’m pretty sure he’s going into the Hall as a Met, unfortunately. As far as baseball goes, it’s a tragedy he was ever allowed to leave LA. Good luck, Mike.

Edit: also, the picture at Sons of Steve Garvey’s Piazza post reminds me that as always, I am an idiot. That 1996 All-Star Game in which he launched two dingers and won the MVP? I was at that game, at the old Vet in Philadelphia. I have no idea how my dad lucked into those tickets, but as if being at an All-Star Game wasn’t exciting enough, seeing your favorite player park two and win the MVP was pretty much the best thing ever.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg