Hanging on the wall above my dresser, next to the decorative Phillies lamp, looking over the replica 2008 World Series trophy, is a framed commemoration of the great 2008 World Champions of Baseball. The multi-panel frame shows a box of infield dirt, which a hologram sticker assures me is from the actual playing surface. There’s also a picture of Cole Hamels finishing a pitch, under which is a shot of Shane Victorino leaping onto the victory dogpile. Undoubtedly, at the bottom of that pile is Carlos Ruiz.
Today, nearly eight years later and after eleven seasons in red pinstripes, Carlos Ruiz has been traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
— HardballTalk (@HardballTalk) August 25, 2016
The Phillies have acquired catcher A.J. Ellis, RHP Tommy Bergjans and a PTBNL from the Dodgers for catcher Carlos Ruiz and cash.
— Ryan Lawrence (@ryanlawrence21) August 25, 2016
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) August 25, 2016
There goes one of the two best catchers in Phillies history, in my extremely unbiased opinion. Of the 22 catchers who have logged at least 1,000 plate appearances for the Phillies franchise, Carlos Ruiz is third in bWAR, fifth in games played, fourth in runs, fifth in hits, second in doubles, sixth in homers, and sixth in RBI. His batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage rank ninth, ninth, and fourteenth, respectively. Even after setting aside the guys who played in the nineteenth century, Chooch isn’t exactly the clear offensive leader among Phillies catchers. If we had reliable defensive metrics for prior eras — let alone our own! — we might be able to more accurately demonstrate Ruiz’s place near the top of the franchise catcher list. His defensive presence, game-calling, and ability to handle some of the best pitchers in baseball were always his most important tools. The offensive outburst that began in 2009 was just the cherry on top.
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Indeed, as with many others who don the tools of ignorance, Ruiz blossomed late. In his first two seasons of full-time duty in 2007 and 2008, he managed a meager .241/.330/.352 slash line. During his four-year peak from 2009 to 2012 (age 30 to 33 seasons), Ruiz bumped that line up to .292/.380/.448. In the 2009 World Series, he hit .333/.478/.722 with a homer, a triple, two doubles, and five walks. In 2010, he scored some downballot MVP votes, finishing 17th. In his unforgettable 2012 season, Chooch made the All-Star team, hit 16 homers (more than he hit in 2010 and 2011 combined), and mustered a .325/.394/.540 slash line.
I grew up watching Darren Daulton, and loved him more than any other Phillie from that era. It’s difficult to say whether Daulton or Ruiz was the “better” catcher for the Phillies, considering the different skill sets of each player. What they share without doubt is their place at the heart of two of the most beloved teams in Phillies history. Daulton’s crew was more of a flash of lightning in an otherwise dark night. Ruiz was the backstop for the greatest collection of talent the Phillies have ever assembled. His steady presence was comforting, and the trademark “Choooooch” call from the crowd was emboldening. His calm agility is perhaps best demonstrated by the final play of Roy Halladay‘s 2010 playoff no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds. When Brandon Phillips hit a weak grounder in front of the plate, for a split second it seemed like history might have to wait…but then Carlos Ruiz pounced, and fired, and sealed the deal for Doctor October.
When Jayson Werth was allowed to leave town after that season, the wind rustled. By the time Shane Victorino was traded two years later, the writing was on the wall. As Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee saw their careers end abruptly, we became increasingly accustomed to the inevitable. The trades of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Cole Hamels were anticipated for so long that their finality felt almost refreshing. Now, with Carlos Ruiz traded as well, we’re left with just one Big Piece.
There has been time to process these emotions. The Phillies haven’t been a playoff team since 2011, and the inevitable, painful trades are over. There hasn’t been a World Series game played in South Philadelphia since 2009. Yet today, as we turn one of the final pages in the chapter of the greatest team in Phillies history, there’s still time to celebrate like it was only yesterday. Goodbye, Chooch. You will be dearly missed.