Last Call for Carlos Ruiz

There is perhaps no moment that better encapsulates what catcher Carlos Ruiz has meant to this Phillies team than the final out in Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS. Roy Halladay was brilliant that night, untouchable in fact.

With 8 2/3rds innings of no-hit ball in the books, Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips tapped a weak grounder in front of the plate, dropping his bat perfectly in the void between Carlos Ruiz and the final out. The ball spun absurdly along the barrel of the bat, daring the catcher to make a mistake.

One misstep, one errant stab at the ball, even a poorly timed sneeze, and Phillips was safe for sure. This would have been merely a well-pitched game, a playoff victory, a silver lining with a touch of grey, but nothing of the history-making variety.

Without pomp or panic, Carlos Ruiz bound forward, deftly plucked the ball from limbo, dropped to his knees and delivered the final out to Ryan Howard at first base. It was only the second no-hitter in the annals of postseason play.

Between the Phillies and history that night crouched a soft-spoken catcher, the cool and collected linchpin in a locker room of superstars, frequently unheralded but always indispensable. The final out of Halladay’s no-hitter typifies the catcher’s career in Philly. Halladay’s name is in the books, but it could not have happened without Carlos Ruiz. Not just the no-hitter, but that whole improbable era when the Phillies were the best team in baseball.

If 2010 feels like a long time ago, then 2008 is like some kind of mid-autumn fever dream, too vivid to distinguish from real life. Did it really even happen? Well, we have a flag to show for it, but we have something else. We have Carlos Ruiz. Only two men remain from the Broad Street parade, and only one still enjoys the adoring gaze of the fans.

At 37, Ruiz is entering the final year of his contract and, more than likely, his career. The Phillies’ youth movement is officially underway and Ruiz is coming off a season in which he made his fewest starts, at 86, since converting from the infield in 2006.

With only 320 plate appearances and a .222/.290/.285 slash line last year, Ruiz is entering spring training in an unfamiliar position. Optimistically speaking, he is competing for a starting job with 27-year-old Cameron Rupp. But Rupp dominated playing time after last year’s All-Star Break, clubbing nine homers in just 66 plate appearances during August. Rupp’s small but compelling sample and Ruiz’s age make the former a lock and the latter a longshot to start.

Bottom line, this will be the last season you’ll have to explain to your out-of-town friends that the fans aren’t booing, they’re saying “Chooooooch!”

Still, there are 162 games left before we put a final stamp on Chooch’s legacy, which it bears noting includes being on the receiving end of four no-hitters. In MLB history, only Jason Varitek has called and caught as many.

Among other things, this distinction should tell us that we haven’t just benefited from Chooch’s physical abilities all these years but from his acumen as well. There is a treasure trove of knowledge in this man’s head and a small fortune of young, untapped pitching and catching talent to benefit from it.

If you want to hear elite pitchers like Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee gush, just ask them about Ruiz. Ask about his ability to size up hitters, call for pitches, and execute a game plan. Of his no-no against Cincy, the ever-humble Halladay informed reporters that he pretty much just did exactly what he was told, shaking off Carlos Ruiz only once the entire game.

It is tantalizing to imagine what a guy like that could impart to the likes of Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Mark Appel, Jake Thompson, and Vincent Velasquez as each cultivates his major league talents. Add to that what Chooch might yet teach—by action, example, and insight—to the still-evolving Rupp and a pair of prospective catching studs in Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp.

The Carlos Ruiz story may be mostly in the books, and his career slash line of .266/.351/.396 probably won’t change dramatically this season. He also won’t do anything to diminish his permanent standing in Phillies lore. A certain iconic embrace with Brad Lidge at the pitcher’s mound guarantees his immortality in red pinstripes.

But he does have an opportunity this season. With 10 years in the same uniform and an 11th on the horizon, Ruiz has been here for the full bell curve, from mediocrity to excellence and back again. There is knowledge to be had from all of it. This year, expect guys like Rupp, Alfaro, and Knapp to sidle up to Ruiz at every opportunity, to watch as he works, to listen as he speaks, to ask questions when they can. Expect this group of still-evolving hurlers to put their trust in his hands like Halladay, Hamels, and Lee did.

Ruiz has already forged an indelible reputation in Philly for the things we love most: inscrutable work ethic; fierce competitive drive; and a healthy disinclination to say anything stupid to the media. He will depart his career a Phillie hero (Adderall-related scandals be damned).

Ruiz has said that his goal is ultimately the same this year as it has been in years past: to play every day. That probably won’t happen. But before he leaves us, Carlos Ruiz could be the last and best link between that which once made the Phillies great and that which could make them great again.

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  1. Chris S.

    February 29, 2016 02:08 PM

    Chooch deserves to go out better than this, but I hope he finishes his career as a Phillie will never forget the last out of the 2008 World Series can’t think of a better baseball memory.

  2. Bob S

    February 29, 2016 03:10 PM

    For me there is not one single moment as an everlasting memory of Chooch but rather its the way he conducts himself on the field. I have never seen him showboat or come close to it. He never antagonized other players. He kept his mouth shut and just played hard. he didn’t take offense when someone tried to blow him up on a play at the plate, he knew it was part of the game. Whether the call was safe or out, he just handed the ball to the ump and went to get his mask. he didn’t let a bad day with the bat effect the way he handled his pitcher. He is all business without the grumpy face or running mouth.
    I hope there is a place for him in the organization when he retires from play, he deserves it and we deserve to see him around the Clearwater complex teaching the kids, especially from LA, what it means to be a MLB player and how to correctly go about achieving that goal..

  3. Greg

    February 29, 2016 04:24 PM

    Never forget the first time I made note of Chooch. May 2007, which I remember because it was a rare Freddy Garcia start. Phils won, chooch went 3 for 3, including a suicide squeeze bunt, then an opposite field homer. Just made an impression as a guy who could get things done.

    • Greg

      February 29, 2016 04:25 PM

      And I meant, saw him in person. Really could see his hustle.

  4. GB

    February 29, 2016 08:07 PM

    Love Chooch, but like Howard, it is time to move on this season and hopefully he plays well enough so we can get some type of prospect back at the deadline. Father Time remains undefeated.

  5. Ozzie Estrada

    March 01, 2016 04:02 AM

    Always liked how hot he would get with the bat during playoffs.

  6. 100Bucks

    March 05, 2016 07:52 PM

    Chooch is fine as our backup catcher this year and we can wish him well in retirement. Dave Tomar nailed it with the singular moment in a career full of great memories – plucking that spinner off the grass and assisting in the final out for Doc’s no-hitter. We all held our breath.

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