Let us all take a moment to celebrate Carlos Ruiz. Before it's too late.
The 37-year-old catcher is down to his final five weeks as a Phillie. We spent so much time this summer obsessing whether Ryan Howard would make it through this season, that no one seemed to notice the only other guy left from that 2008 championship team.
Which shouldn't be surprising. Chooch, beloved as he is, played his 11-year career in the giant shadows of Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels. He never won an MVP, or a Gold Glove Award or postseason honors. His career stats — 68 homers, .266 batting average — don't hint at greatness.
But recently, I asked former manager Charlie Manuel what Ruiz meant to those clubs that won five straight NL East titles.
"He was the heart," Manuel told me. A few minutes later he termed Ruiz, "the backbone." In fact, over the course of two beers, the Skipper glowed over Chooch being smart, clutch, tough, reliable and a grade-A leader.
But we already knew that. If not for Ruiz being able to get down in the dirt to stop everything, Brad Lidge never could have had that 48-for-48 season in 2008. This is the catcher for whom Roy Halladay had a perfect replica of the Cy Young Award built. And this is the guy nicknamed "Señor Octubre" for his postseason heroics which, yes, once included a World Series game-winning RBI hit that traveled 30 feet.
He doesn't play more than three times a week these days, which means he's down to perhaps 15 more games in red pinstripes. Cameron Rupp has been a revelation as a starter. And two catchers moving through the system — Andrew Knapp and Jorge Alfaro — give the Phils confidence for the future.
So all logic suggests ownership will take the $500,000 buyout on Chooch at season's end. I doubt he'll try to catch on as a backup somewhere else. Maybe he'll return to his native Panama, having earned $40 million in his career. Maybe he'll go into coaching. He'd certainly be excellent at it.
Or maybe the next time we see Ruiz comes when he returns to have his name etched into the Phillies Wall of Fame. He merits it more than several players who've been added recently. Chooch may not have had the power of Leiberthal, or the all-around defense of Boone or the peak prime seasons of Daulton. But no catcher in franchise history has meant so much for so long.
So raise a glass in appreciation to the undersized backstop who originally tried to make it as a second baseman. Give him a standing O at the ballpark, even if he's just walking from bullpen to dugout. Serenade your TV if he appears onscreen: