Opening Day, April 1, 2013 is 59 days away. There have been one hundred walk off homers in Angels history. This is the story of #59, hit by the man who was not the greatest catcher in Angels history but might have been the greatest catcher to ever wear an Angels uniform.
June 11, 1990 - Future Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven started the game for the Angels. Future Hall of Famer George Brett singled in a run in the top of the second inning to give the Royals a 1-0 lead. Future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield hit a two-run home run to give that lead back to the flying Dutchman, but a run allowed in the seventh made it a tie game into the ninth inning.
Blyleven had pitched eight complete games and five shutouts the season before for the Angels. In 1990 he would pitch only two and this was one of them. His 1989 season for the Halo produced a 17-5 record with an ERA+ of 140. He came in fourth place for the AL Cy Young and 13th place for the league MVP. But age caught up to him and his 1990 was subpar and ended early - He missed all of 1991 and came back for a last hurrah in 1992.
He was the pitcher of record in the bottom of the ninth when Lance Parrish hit a walk off home run to break the 2-2 tie.
Bert Blyleven is not the greatest pitcher in Angels history but he is one of the greatest pitcher to ever put on an Angels uniform. Lance Parrish, is not the greatest Catcher in Angels history, but he might be the greatest catcher to ever put on an Angels uniform.
In ranking great Angels catchers, Bengie Molina is the greatest Angels catcher in team history - while Bob Boone (962 games caught as an Angel) and Buck Rodgers(894) played more games behind the plate than Bengie's 685 games, Molina had far superior offensive numbers with no slouching on defense. Mike Napoli is a special case because he only really played four full seasons with the club and played a lot of first base, he would rank higher as an Angels player than Boone or Rodgers but not necessarily in a listing of just catchers. And then of course, one of the greatest Angels of all, Brian Downing, came to the team as a catcher and was great, but to save that bat, the team (wisely) sent him to the outfield.
Fortunately, advanced statistical methods makes the search for greatness among position players easy with the application of Jay Jaffe's JAWS measurement. This stat averages a player's career WAR with his seven-season peak WAR. Lance Parrish far outranks any of the long-term Angels franchise greats at catcher, save again for Brian Downing not qualifying to be measured for JAWS at Catcher because of his limited time at the position.
Lance Parrish stands as the 26th greatest catcher in baseball history according to JAWS
Bob Boone ranks 51st
Mike Napoli ranks 82nd
Bengie Molina ranks 158th
Buck Rodgers ranks 363rd
Jeff Mathis ranks 469th
For kicks, Mike Scioscia ranks 48th All Time.
While JAWS only measures offense produced at a position, the difficulties in assessing a Catcher's abilities behind the plate is one of the great mysteries of baseball. To analyze a catcher by his defensive competency risks taking a serious bat out of the lineup for defense at a position where it is probably least needed on the diamond. The measurement of using the combined Earned Run Average of pitchers for every inning a player catches those arms is called Catcher's ERA, CERA, and it is perhaps the most disputed.
The golden rule of journalism is "cover the story, don't become the story". In 2011, the reporter who covered the Angels for MLB.com became the story when he went on a campaign defending the use of Jeff Mathis as the team's primary catcher because of what Mathis brought defensively to the game. Lyle Spencer wrote passionately about the fact that Mathis handled the Angels pitching staff in a superior manner to most catchers. Spencer had covered baseball in the old print media, where fans did not talk back to their elders. He was inundated on Twitter with fans quite knowledgeable with sabermetrics and other forms of analysis that quantified what players actually did, rather than what sportswriters said they did.
When pressed, Spencer took the low road and said his proof that CERA was a good stat was that he had seen 4,000 live major league baseball games. The fans piled on and some name sportswriters, chief among them Keith Law, mocked the old school sportswriter without mercy. By the time Spencer took the high road and gave up writing about the subject his reputation was mud. He was reassigned that off-season to a general MLB beat for 2012... was his backward mentality to the new media and new ways of analyzing the game responsible? We will never know for sure, but the timing was more precise than the CERA stat will ever be.