Tom Pagnozzi

That mitt is the size of his torso.

Why we like him: The late 1980s and early 1990s was an era when a catcher's defensive ability was valued much more than their offensive production.  Catching (or "hind-ketchin'" if you're 8) was a dirty, thankless job that was both necessary and difficult, and it was especially tough during those years. Rickey Henderson was still swiping bases at record-shattering pace, Tim "Rock" Raines was in the midst of a very impressive yet relatively obscure career in Montreal before escaping to Chicago in 1991, Vince Coleman was turning singles into doubles and triples via steal, and even Willie Wilson was a threat to steal a bag at his advanced age.  This was the era that saw the last wave of the great base-stealers.  Catching a good game and controlling the basepaths was imperative.

From 1990 to 1994, Tom Pagnozzi was a guy who kept that that vicious National League kleptomania on the bases under control.  That five-year stretch saw him win three Gold Gloves and and receive an All Star spot.  He never batted .300 or even .290, but anything Pagnozzi did at the plate was a bonus for the Cardinals.  All the runs that he couldn't produce at the plate he saved behind it.  He was a team player that did his job and didn't worry about anyone else's.

Pagnozzi spent 12 seasons in the majors, all of which were spent in St. Louis.  The Cardinals never really contended during his career except for 1996, when they lost to the Braves in the ALCS, and 1987, when he was rookie backup to Tony Pena and part of the team that lost the World Series to Minnesota.  A big reason for the lack of St. Louis success was that Pagnozzi never caught a pitcher better than John Tudor or Bob Tewksbury, but a lot of the guys he caught, especially Tewksbury, overachieved with the Cards simply because of Pagnozzi's ability to call a game and handle a pitcher. I vividly remember the commentators on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball gushing over his ability do those things.  Those skills are invaluable and yet overlooked by many of today's clubs.  There's a reason that Greg Maddux pitched to Charlie O'Brien, Paul Bako, and Eddie Perez.  He had a relationship and trust with those guys and knew Javy Lopez couldn't call for a pizza, much less a changeup.

It's a shame that guys like Tom Pagnozzi have disappeared ever since catchers like Mike Piazza, Jorge Posada, and Victor Martinez came into the league.  The position has become another lineup spot to fill with a big bat, and defensive quality has become the bonus instead of the other way around.  Personally, I miss the days when a catcher's job was just to control the basepaths and make his pitchers better than they really were.  Tom Pagnozzi did both.  He even sprinkled in the occasional RBI single.

Ladies and gentlemen, Tom Pagnozzi, Ballplayer.

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