Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Random Card #18

In the late eighties and early nineties, it seems like the White Sox carried three catchers quite a bit. The Sox put themselves into a bit of a mess. They had Carlton Fisk, who was one of the best catchers to ever play the game. But Carlton was getting older and no one was sure how long he would play. It was a waiting game each off-season.

Fisk's backup catcher was Ron Karkovice. He had a better fielding percentage than Fisk, but that was about it. Karkovice couldn't hit to save his life. The Sox had always been impressed by Karkovice's ability to throw out runners, so he was already crowned Fisk's replacement. The problem was that Fisk wouldn't go and the Sox needed Carlton's bat.

There were many inventive solutions to this problem. Some of which include playing Fisk in left field or at first base to get his bat in the lineup. Karkovice had paid his dues by being behind Fisk for a number of years, so neither catcher was going anywhere for awhile.

So, what do you do with young catching talent when there are already two people blocking their positions? You stunt the growth of a promising young catcher by splitting his time between catching, first base and designated hitter. As a result of essentially filling a limited utility role, Matt's average suffered and there wasn't a comfort zone for him to develop properly.

He suffered from lower averages than Karkovice. That's really bad considering Karkovice only hit above .247 once in his career. It was a scorching .264 in 1989. It was all downhill for Karkovice's average after that.

I feel bad for players like Matt Merullo or Don Wakamatsu, who get blocked by politics of seniority. They never get a proper chance to prove themselves at the major league level. Matt Merullo was an outstanding hitter in the White Sox minor league system. He always had good defensive numbers too. Sox management were brainwashed on Karkovice and held on to Ron too long.

I guess the thinking was that once Fisk was gone, Karkovice would thrive at the top spot. That gamble never paid off and young catching prospects suffered because of it. The catcher is one of the most difficult positions to play. It never helps to move the catcher around to different positions. It throws his game off too much. A catcher needs to get comfortable with the staff and familiarize themselves with everything that happens in the game. There was no comfort zone for third string catchers on the White Sox during this time.

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