by Clark Groome
Everybody loves “Chooch” – always have, always will.
When Carlos Ruiz was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers last week, it created a citywide reaction that was both happy and sad.
People were happy that Ruiz, the team’s principal catcher during its 2007-2011 glory years, would get a chance to participate in the playoffs and perhaps, like he did in 2008 with the Phils, win a World Series.
The sadness came from that fact that he has always been one of the most popular men on the team, both in the clubhouse and in the stands. His smile, his willingness to do whatever it took to win, his ability to handle the pitching staff and his role as a mentor for the younger players who are hoped to be the core of the Phillies next golden era made him an invaluable member of the local squad.
On the field he was a terrific player. He caught four no-hitters: two by Roy Halladay, one a perfect game and the second in the playoffs, only the second no-hitter ever pitched in baseball’s post season, one by the combined efforts of Cole Hamels, Jake Diekman, Ken Giles and Jonathan Papelbon, and the most recent one by Cole Hamels on July 7, 2015, his last start as a Phillie. Only one other catcher, Jason Varitek, caught that many.
Players past and present praised his playing and his role on and off the field.
Historically, catchers have been critical to the Phillies’ best teams. For many years Tim McCarver was Steve Carlton’s designated catcher. Bob Boone was a big part of the 1980 World Champions; Darren “Dutch” Daulton was the recognized leader of the 1993 team and Mike Lieberthal was key to many teams in the ten years or so before Ruiz arrived at Citizens Bank Park.
A couple of weeks before Ruiz was traded, the importance of the catcher was brought home at the Phillies Wall of Fame Ceremony at which Jim Thome was this year’s honoree. Of the dozen former Wall of Famers in attendance, three of them – introduced one after the other – were Boone, Daulton and Lieberthal. It’s hard to imagine that Chooch won’t also have his plaque on that wall as soon as he’s eligible.
Beyond his trade being good for him, it says something very important about the Phillies.
The selfish thing the team could have done was to keep in Philadelphia the man who was so important as a mentor and, many predict, a future coach. Instead, they did what was right for Ruiz.
Their classy move reminds me of one the Flyers made two years ago when they traded longtime leader and star defenseman Kimmo Timonen to the Chicago Blackhawks so that he could get a shot at the Stanley Cup. A blood clotting disorder had kept him on the injured reserve list for most of the 2014-2015 season. When he returned, the Flyers – who would have benefited from having his presence in their locker room – sent him to Chicago. The Blackhawks won the Cup.
As I wrote at the time, “In a hockey tradition as strong and meaningful as the handshake line, after the commissioner hands the Cup to the winning team’s captain, the captain, in this case Jonathan Toews, decides who gets to skate it next. Generally it’s a long-time colleague, an alternate captain, the MVP winner.
“Not in Chicago in 2015. Toews went immediately to Timonen – a man who had played for the ‘Hawks for less than two months, had sat out the first three games of the Finals, and played a total of 14:40 in the final three games – and handed him the Cup.”
That move said a lot about Toews and a lot about the class the Flyers showed by allowing Timonen the opportunity to have such a great ending to his magnificent career.
Let’s hope – maybe even the Dodgers haters among us – that the same thing happens for “Chooch,” who again could share a World Series victory with another Philly favorite, Chase Utley.
And one last thing: Ryan Lochte be damned – sometimes sports can do the right thing. The Phillies did just that for their beloved Chooch.