Pride of Philadelphia
Philadelphia beats with the pulse of a blue-collar town, straight from the collective heart of a fan base that treasures athletes who work hard to make the most of the talent they’ve got.
The Phillies signed 17-year-old Carlos Ruiz from Panama as a second baseman. But after they saw the accurate and powerful rifle in his throwing arm, they moved Ruiz to catcher. Simultaneously changing positions and cultures (including learning a new language) required a great deal of hard work and patience. In May 2006, Ruiz finally made it to the big leagues, at age 27.
It may be mere coincidence, but the Phillies’ current string of four consecutive postseason runs began in 2007, when “Chooch” (a nickname not even Ruiz understands) became the team’s regular catcher. He compiled a .997 fielding percentage that first full season as a starter, committed only two errors in 744 chances, and was named to the 2007 Topps Major League Rookie All-Star Team.
In 2009, Ruiz allowed only one passed ball all season, and posted a higher fielding percentage (.996) than National League Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina, who allowed more passed balls than Ruiz, too. At the plate, the Phillies catcher posted career highs in on-base percentage (.335) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.780) in 2009, while serving as the consummate number eight hitter – he consistently put the ball into play, and struck out only 39 times.
Even better, the catcher considerably raised his game for the 2009 postseason: He hit .308 and drove in three runs in the Divisional series; hit .385 with a .579 on base percentage, including a home run, and drove in four runs in the National League championship series; and hit .333 with two doubles, a triple, and another home run, in the 2009 World Series, though the Phillies fell short to the New York Yankees.
In fact, from 2007 through 2009, Ruiz batted below .300 in only one of the Phillies’ seven playoff series: He hit .333 in the 2007 Divisional playoff; in 2008, he hit .313 in the National League championship series, and posted a .375 average, and hit his first postseason home run, to help the Phillies win the World Series over Tampa Bay. Although surrounded in the Phillies’ lineup by more acclaimed sluggers, Ruiz’s combined .353 batting average led all Phillies hitters through the 2008 and 2009 World Series. As a result, Ruiz has also become known as “Choochtober” and “Senor October” (another Philadelphia Sports Hall of Famer – Reggie Jackson – already owns “Mister October”) for his postseason prowess.
Even so, Ruiz’s most valuable contributions to his team cannot be justly quantified. Phillies hurlers simply love pitching to him. “When he’s catching, you don’t ever have to question what’s going on,” says closer Brad Lidge. “You know he knows what’s best.”
The Phillies’ front office seems to know what’s best, too: In January 2010, on the day after his 31st birthday, Ruiz agreed to a three year, $8.85M contract to remain with the Phillies. “He’s probably the most valuable position player that we have,” says Ryan Madson. Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel simply says, “He’s a leader.”
You can find catchers who can run faster, throw stronger, or hit the ball harder. But you won’t find many who more cleanly field their position, or have earned more trust from their pitching staff and other teammates. And you won’t find any who make more of their talent, or raise their game better under the playoffs’ unforgiving glare, than “Chooch.” For all these reasons, the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame presents the 2010 Pride of Philly Award to Carlos Ruiz.