And Then There Were Three...

The catcher; he is the one that all things revolve around. Many more things are expected of him than anyone else on the field. He is expected to guard home plate and use his body to block balls with finesse. He must call for the pitch that will get the guy at bat out; he must be made of steel for the inevitable moment when he gets knocked to the ground at home plate. Fans want him to provide offense and they would love if he was a powerful team leader.

In the history of the Philadelphia Phillies one particular milestone has been reached by only three catchers, and the third occurred just recently. The three that hold the distinction of 1,000 games caught for the Phillies are separated by a few things, which include many years, fan respect, statistics...oh, and a World Series. This is them:

Red Dooin (Games Caught- 1,124) The Ohio born Charles Dooin, was known for his excellent defensive skills behind the plate and he spent almost his entire career with the Philadelphia Phillies. He played the game in a time when free agency was nowhere near a thought in anyone's mind. From 1902-1914, Dooin manned the plate successfully; he could have possibly averaged more if not for the horrendous injuries he suffered. Dooin holds the distinction of being one of the players of that time who was both a position player and manager of their team, making his lot in life even more of a respectable challenge. He suffered a particularly difficult season in 1911, when he broke his leg in one of those inevitable home plate collisions and played in only 74 games. That injury effectively ended his career as an everyday player.

Although Dooin was a resilient type player, he never had a batting average higher than .328 in his career; and for those disgusted by the OBP of one particular current catcher, take note: Red Dooin holds the catcher record for lowest career OBP in baseball history with a dismal mark of .272. Here's more: he hit 10 homeruns in his entire career, playing in different times, of course, and knocked in 344 runs. As a manager his winning percentage was .514, with a won-lost record of 392-370. But Dooin was fantastic in assists, leading the league in 1908 with 111.

There was considerable drama surrounding both Dooin and the team he played for on a few occasions in his career. In September of 1908, Dooin was reportedly offered a bribe to throw the final series with the New York Giants, but refused. The incident however, was not revealed for sixteen years, and thus never proven. Dooin never named names in the incident, and the entire story has been buried over years with little information on what might have happened.

Another story that involves the rival New York Giants is a colorful Philly-style tale. In August of 1913 the Phillies were playing the Giants (Grover Cleveland Alexander was pitching for the Phils), and came back from a 6-0 deficit when Christy Mathewson gave up eight runs to the Phils. In the ninth inning (Dooin had been ejected already) the Phillies led 8-6, when umpire Bill Brennan asked Phillies Captain Mickey Doolan to have spirited spectators removed from the centerfield bleachers; the spectators were waving hats and handkerchiefs, and apparently distracting the Giants hitters. Doolan refused this odd request and the game was forfeited in the Giants favor. Phillies fans went berserk At the North Philadelphia train station, fans tried to attack Giants players and police were forced to draw their guns. Later the forfeit is overturned in the Phillies favor, then overturned again under Giants players protests. When the game was played again the Phillies lost.

In a storied, admirable career Dooin watched Connie Mack's Athletics win four out of five pennants, including two straight in 1910 and 1911. But while he didn't catch fire offensively and was not the most successful manager, he still put in the most time of any catcher in Phillies history. Perhaps that particular record is not respected enough but he played in an era when catchers were not equipped with the guard protectors of today (he wore hand-made paper mache ones), and not many players today hold fort with one team almost their entire career. Dooin was in the best sense of the word, a true Fightin' Phil. Dooin wound up managing those hated New York Giants and retired as their manager in 1916.

Of the three Phillies catchers to catch over 1,000 games, Bob Boone is the only one with a World Series title to his credit.
Bob Boone (Games Caught - 1,095) Bob Boone - the handsome, strapping Stanford graduate who caught the only World Series the Phillies ever won - was more successful at the plate than Dooin had been; from 1972-1981 Boone hit 65 homeruns and knocked in 465. He had a career high 66 RBI in 1977, as part of what is still considered one of the best Phillies teams in franchise history. He was also part of the World Series winning Phillies of 1980, a tough, often self-serving bunch who fought like animals to win that year. Boone was no exception. But there were years when the Phillies of the 1970s looked like dead wood. In 1973 they finished dead last, though Boone put up fairly good numbers and played in 145 games. In 1979 Boone caught the catcher's syndrome, suffering a knee injury that required surgery. Boone missed 23 games that season, in a long line of injuries to the team that year.

Boone was part of the almighty homegrown nucleus of Larry Bowa, Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski that was considered to be "fathered" by Paul "The Pope" Owens. Boone had been a third baseman and catcher in southern California, when Owens heard reports on him. He was also the son of Ray Boone, who'd played third base in the majors from 1948 to 1960. Ray Boone rejected an original offer from Owens for his son to play for the Phillies, instead sending him to Stanford. When Boone was done there in 1969, the Phillies took him as their number six pick.

Boone was regarded as a smart, slightly stubborn, and confident catcher that handled a pitching staff well. He became manager Danny Ozark's regular catcher in 1973. Boone's confidence got him in trouble sometimes, and that included discord with Steve Carlton and a physical altercation with Tim McCarver. Carlton apparently didn't like the way "Booney" set his glove up (in the middle of the plate, then moved it when accepting a pitch) and McCarver took issue with Boone once suggesting that Carlton stop throwing so many breaking balls.

Boone was also known for being soft spoken though, and was revered for his brainy approach to the game. He developed into one of the most respected players on the Phillies teams he played for and was an All-Star in 1976, 1978, and 1979. He handled fan pressure with dignity and toughness that was of his character for his entire playing career. Boone retired from playing with the Kansas City Royals, after an injury riddled season in 1990 kept him out of action. It was recently announced by the Phillies that he will be the newest inductee to the Phillies Wall of Fame. He earned it during his time here, with the needed guts and fortitude, as well as a fine Stanford-educated mind.

Mike Lieberthal: Earlier this week the Phillies 33 year old catcher joined the elite club of Dooin and Boone, catching his 1,000th game. The booing of late for Lieberthal, and half the team including new manager Charlie Manuel, was quiet that night as the crowd watched a man who has been a part of the Phillies his entire career, catch a milestone game. He did so in fine form behind the plate against the San Francisco Giants and the Phillies won the game. The fans were respectful, despite his poor performance at the plate and what most perceive as a lack of leadership on his part. They knew it was a big night for the guy who was chosen third overall by the Phillies in 1990, when he was an eighteen year old high school student in Southern California.

Leiberthal started his first game in 1994. Let us remember the giant "Dutch" Daulton shoes he had to step into. If Lieberthal's cool demeanor bothers anyone it might just have something to do with how fans felt about Daulton. Lieberthal is a decidedly different personality from Daulton, but has always been the cool-headed, solid type. For all the lack of emotion he shows, he doesn't expect fanfare from the crowds either. When asked about his milestone 1,000th game, he did not toot his own horn or make too much of it. He only mentioned to the press that he would call his parents after it was over.

No one scouting for young talent had a lot of faith in such a skinny kid being an effective catcher, but Lieberthal has more than proven he can get knocked around with the best of them. "Liebey" acknowledges that he plays in pain everyday, and it has affected his ability to throw and hit. But he is simply not the whining type; he's too self deprecating for that, and not one to dwell. He has undergone half a dozen surgeries to play and perhaps fans could use a reminder.

Though Phillies fans insist 2004 was a horrible year for the catcher, he was tied for homeruns among National League catchers last year and is second overall in Phillies history in hits with 1,110 second only to Jack Clements. In 1999 he hit 31 homeruns and drove in 96 runs; he also went on a 100 game errorless streak and won a Gold Glove that same year. In 2003 he put up fantastic career numbers, and was explosive at the plate once again. But he's yet to repeat those results. Lieberthal isn't a vocal leader and he has struggled terribly with runners in scoring position, especially this year.

What Lieberthal has been able to do should not be swept under the rug. The ability to keep a stiff jaw through injury and lack of fan support is admirable, and he takes it usually with a joke about himself. His difficulty with pitching Coach Joe Kerrigan was said to have been a factor in his struggle behind the plate and with Kerrigan gone Lieberthal is feeling more confident.

Earlier this season, Lieberthal reached another milestone when he accumulated enough plate appearances to have the final year of his contract guaranteed. Although fans have cried to have him traded, Lieberthal just keeps his tough and cool disposition and plays his game. He's been doing so for a decade, so let's not forget. Next year, he will most likely become the record holder for hits by a Phillies catcher, that is if he can continue to play through the pain. I think we know the answer to that.

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