On May 6, 2006, a 27-year-old Carlos Ruiz, who had spent the prior eight seasons in the minors, pounded his catcher’s mitt for the first time. As a back-up catcher to 12-year veteran Mike Lieberthal, another homegrown talent, Ruiz played his first MLB season, taking his rightful place behind the Citizen’s Bank Park backstop.
10 years and 1,000 regular season games later, Ruiz, who is affectionately known around Philly as “Chooch”, is still pounding that mitt and is still behind the plate. Pitchers have come and gone, but the player who has long since endeared himself to the fans, has remained, and he has done so as one of the best catchers the Phillies have ever had and one of the best game-callers baseball has ever seen.
Over those 1,000 games, Ruiz has been a part of history more than once. In his first season catching future Hall of Famer, Roy Halladay, Ruiz did what no other catcher in Halladay’s career had done and that’s log 200 innings behind the plate in a single-season. The two had incredible chemistry, evident by Halladay’s 2.13 ERA in 27 starts with Ruiz behind the plate that year. It was his lowest such ERA among catchers who had handled him at least 100 innings.
And then there was the perfect game and the no-hitter. Halladay threw 219 pitches over the course of those two games and he shook off his catcher just once. That wasn’t uncommon as Halladay had the utmost trust in Ruiz and his ability to call a game.
First and foremost, Halladay credited Ruiz for his role in the perfect game. As he says in the MLB 2K11 ad below, “Every perfect game needs a Carlos Ruiz.” To his core, Halladay believed that. It was part of what made their relationship so great.
As incredible a team those two were, Halladay’s were not the only no-hitters Ruiz had the privilege to call. The third came just last season, in a game that Cole Hamels began and Jonathan Papelbon ended. It was the first combined no-hitter in Phillies’ franchise history. This year, Ruiz and Hamels, who had come up in the minors and debuted alongside each other in 2006, again teamed for that magical moment, this time for Hamels’ first career solo no-hitter.
Ruiz, in doing so, joined Jason Varitek as the only catchers to be behind the plate for four no-hitters.
In addition to that incredible history made by Ruiz, he will also always be remembered, at least as far as this fan is concerned, by the moniker given to him after an unusual play in a crucial September game: Carlos “Squeeze” Ruiz.
The Phillies hadn’t been known for squeeze bunting nor sacrificing bunting. In fact, as Charlie Manuel famously said after calling for the play, “I figured I might as well try to start being a National League manager.”
Chooch hit just .219 that year, but like the successful squeeze, it always seemed like he got the big hit exactly when the Phillies needed it.
That is where the legend of Ruiz took off, earning him yet another memorable nickname among my friends and I, Clootch, as in clutch plus Chooch. He was the guy you wanted at the plate and behind it no matter the situation.
The Chooch magic continued in the playoffs with the unforgettable game-winning walk-off dribbler that plated Eric Bruntlett, in game three of the 2008 World Series, and of course that iconic image of Ruiz, ball in his glove, running to embrace Brad Lidge, who had just struck out Eric Hinske to win the championship. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing the call.
For a catcher to play 1,000 games is not a small feat. In fact, given the toll the position takes on the body, it’s somewhat rare to see a catcher last as long in the game as Ruiz has. And he’s done it all, every moment, every last one of those 3,143 at-bats and 1,000 games, as well as 46 more in the postseason, with the Phillies.
Ruiz has caught a litany of guys from Ryan Madson, the man on the mound in Ruiz’s first game, to newly inducted Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, to each of the Four Aces, to Severino Gonzalez in the first ever all-Panamanian battery in MLB history, to Aaron Harang, the man on the mound for game #1,000, and so many more pitchers of all ages, nationalities and styles. He’s caught wicked sliders, rainbow curves, one of the most elite change-ups in baseball, a cutter inspired by Mariano Rivera, fastballs ranging from Ken Giles‘ 100 MPH down to Jamie Moyer‘s 80 MPH, and everything else in between. But while the rotations have changed and the pitches he’s called and caught, varied, Ruiz has always been the constant, the game-caller who was earned the highest praise among his teammates, among others.
Whether the 36-year-old Ruiz continues to be the backstop for the Phillies or not beyond this season, remains to be seen. What we do know however is when the day comes that Ruiz retires, it will be as a Phillie, and it will be to the loudest, most boo-sounding “Chooooooooooooch,” you’ll ever hear.
He’s played 1,000 games but really, he only needed one for Phillies’ fans to embrace him.
Because whether it is his infectious smile, his passion for the game or just the very professionalism he shows each and every time he steps behind the plate, you couldn’t help but love Ruiz.
His legacy will live on and one day, we’ll be talking about his replacement and how that man is taking over for one of the best catchers in franchise history, one who has left behind an unmatched legacy, one who will never be forgotten.