MLB ReportBy Salute to Hanigan, all hardscrabble catchers
Remember Tom Berenger as veteran catcher Jake Taylor in the movie “Major League?” That’s Rockies catcher Ryan Hanigan. Although Hanigan is a bit crustier and more black and blue then Berenger ever was.
At age 36, Hanigan is quite a sight. With his knees iced and wrapped, and with eye-black streaked across his face like warpaint, Hanigan shuffles through the clubhouse like he’s 70. But strap on the gear, put him behind the plate and have him call pitches for the Rockies’ young staff and Hanigan is born again. He becomes a baseball warrior.
No offense to still-developing catcher Tom Murphy, but the Rockies’ decision to promote Hanigan from Triple-A was a move they needed to make. Hangian’s ability to handle pitchers, captain the infield and control the game is invaluable.
Plus, there is the added bonus of Hanigan tutoring Tony Wolters, Colorado’s promising, young starting catcher.
“Ryan brings a lot to the table in terms of experience and wisdom,” manager Bud Black said Friday. “He’s also a darn good catcher.”
I have a certain fixation regarding catchers. I think they are some of the toughest, smartest, most valuable players in sports. But then, I have a personal bias.
During my Little League days, and up through age 15, I was a catcher. At least most of the time. We played games at a field near Olde Town Arvada. I think it’s a parking lot or movie theater now. Anyway, the backstop was a big-league distance from home plate, or at least it felt that way to me.
I was terrible behind the plate, and I think I set the all-time record for passed balls. It was a brutal experience. Oftentimes, baserunners would take two bases at a time as the ball skidded around the backstop behind me.
I digress, but let me just say that that experience left me with a profound admiration and appreciation for catchers.
The late Joe Garagiola once said, “The catcher is a groundhog. He’s a guy squatting down, digging for the ball in the dirt, and sweating under a pile of uncomfortable protective gear while his knees creak.”
Or, as Hall of Famer Bill Dickey once put it, “A catcher must want to catch. He must make up his mind that it isn’t the terrible job it is painted, and that he isn’t going to say every day, ‘Why, oh why with so many other positions in baseball did I take up this one?’ “
Black has a reputation for working his catchers hard, trusting them and valuing them.
“This goes back as far as I can remember, as far was what makes a good team,” Black said. “In high school, Shawn Kaber was a good catcher. His dad, was the driver’s-ed teacher at Mark Morris High in Longview, Washington.
“But what I am saying is that you have to have a good catcher if you are going to have a winning team.”
Hanigan, who has played 611 games in the majors and caught two no-hitters for Cincinnati’s Homer Bailey, relishes his dirty job.
“I like working back there, working a staff, especially young pitchers,” he said before going out to catch Jon Gray in the Rockies’ 6-3 victory over the Diamondbacks on Friday night. “At the end of the day, working the bullpen, working the game, is the most important job of a catcher. I take a lot of pride in that.” Patrick Saunders is the president of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America: firstname.lastname@example.org or @psaundersdp