Phillies Catcher Carlos Ruiz Winding Down

Mar 12, 2016; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz (51) singles against the Toronto Blue Jays at Bright House Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 12, 2016; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz (51) singles against the Toronto Blue Jays at Bright House Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia Phillies have enjoyed a rarity, fielding the same starting catcher for the last decade.

Carlos Ruiz was never supposed to make it this far. As he begins his 11th Major League season, Ruiz, along with slugging 1st baseman Ryan Howard, enters what will likely be the final chapter of a popular and winning career in a Phillies uniform.

As we prepare to say our final farewells to one of the most beloved Phillies players in recent memory, it’s only fitting to look back and appreciate the countless times that Ruiz gave us the opportunity to bellow out “Chooooooch” in unison with 45,000 of our closest friends.

In order to tell the story of Carlos Ruiz, it’s necessary to go back to 1998, before anyone knew who “Chooch” was. Signed as an amateur free agent out of his hometown of David, Panama, for just $8,000, nobody, possibly not even Ruiz himself, could have predicted his MLB career would turn into what it has become.

Originally a 2nd baseman, Ruiz was converted to the catcher position soon after arriving at the Phillies developmental complex in the Dominican Republic. Teams often ask some of their organizational players to switch positions with the start of each new season. As fate would have it, the change would be instrumental in getting Ruiz to the big leagues.

Spending long hours out on the practice fields in Boca Chica, Ruiz spent over two years at that Phillies’ Dominican facility. He finally made his minor league debut with the Gulf Coast League Phillies in 2000, arriving in the United States with little fanfare.

Ruiz would spend six seasons in the Phillies’ minor league system before getting his big break at the age of 27 in 2006. Ruiz had entered that season as AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s starting catcher. But in May, with the Phillies in need of a catcher, Ruiz was called up to make his MLB debut.

He earned his first big league hit in a May 9th game against the New York Mets, a single off of Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez. Called up two more times that season, Ruiz finished the year batting .261 with three home runs and 10 RBI across 27 games.

The following season, Ruiz would outplay veteran catcher Rod Barajas and longtime minor leaguer Chris Coste, showing enough for the Phils’ coaching staff to hand Ruiz the job as their starting backstop.

Assuming that role, Ruiz soon developed into one of the most respected defensive catchers and game managers in all of Major League Baseball, as well as play his way into the hearts of Phillies’ fans everywhere.

He was also a big reason for the Phillies’ playoff success from 2008-2011. In 2008, ‘Chooch’ helped the Phillies win Game 3 of the World Series with a walk-off dribbler infield single down the 3rd base line against Tampa Bay Rays’ closer Grant Balfour that scored Eric Bruntlett.

Two seasons later, Ruiz caught Roy Halladay’s perfect game against the Miami Marlins, the 20th perfect game in MLB history. That fall, he caught Halladay’s playoff no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds in Game 1 of the NLDS, ensuring the final out of the no-no by throwing out the Reds’ Brandon Phillips from his knees on a tough play in front of home plate.

He would go on to catch two more Phillies no-hitters, a combined effort against the Atlanta Braves in 2014, and Cole Hamels’ masterpiece against the Chicago Cubs last summer, which tied him with Jason Varitek for the most no-hitters caught by the same catcher.

Ruiz enjoyed the best season of his career in 2012, when he batted .325 with 16 home runs and 68 RBIs in 114 games, earning his first NL All-Star selection.

However, Ruiz has seen his production slow over the last few seasons, and his playing time began to decrease a year ago with Cameron Rupp entering the fold on a semi-regular basis.

Coming off arguably the worst season of his career at age 36, and with Rupp showing promise over 81 games last season, Ruiz will probably be relegated to playing no more than a couple of games per week this season.

At this point, Chooch may not be able to provide as much on the field compared to previous seasons. But his experience and knowledge of the game will go a big way in preparing Rupp and the Phillies other young backstops for the next level.

In spring training, Ruiz took a particular interest in working with those organizational top catching prospects, Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp. While Knapp and Alfaro both have big bats, each could use some sharpening of their defensive skills, a facet of the game where Ruiz’ advice is most certainly beneficial.

For now, Chooch is just going to enjoy the ride in this final season in the city that learned to embrace him with affection.

If it weren’t for two guys named Bob Boone and Mike Lieberthal, Ruiz might go down as the best Phillies’ catcher of all time to this point. Regardless, he’ll certainly go down as one of the most appreciated players in Phillies history.

It’s safe to say that no matter what happens in his immediate future, that little 19-year-old Panamanian kid from back in 1998 surely made a name for himself that will last in the hearts of Phillies fans for decades to come. And like Howard, he too will one day find himself on the Phillies’ Wall of Fame.

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