When you stop and think about it, Carlos Ruiz really was what Philadelphia is all about.
Chooch may not talk like a Philadelphian (that wonderful, heavily-accented English he speaks is both perfectly understandable and terrifically non-"youse-guys") or look like most Philadelphians (that short, stocky Panamanian frame is not the first image one thinks of being from South Philly). But his story is richly Philadelphian, a true rise-from-nothing, grind-it-out, claw-your-way-to-the-top tale that many in this blue collar city lap up like a man left wandering alone in the desert.
And it is why Carlos Ruiz has always been, outside of Chase Utley, the most popular Philadelphia Phillie of the last decade.
As was written by Gary Smith in his wonderful Sports Illustrated cover story on Chooch in 2011, when Ruiz was 7, his police officer father, Joaquin, was killed when his police Jeep blew a tire and flipped over into a ditch, crushing Joaquin Ruiz when it fell on top of him. That was just weeks after his grandmother died of cancer.
His mother was an elementary school teacher, and in order to help make ends meet, began working as a day laborer on a coffee farm. He made a promise to his mother, at 10 years old, that he would become a professional baseball player to support the family.
And that, he did.
Eventually, Ruiz was signed by the Phillies in 1998 as an amateur free agent. They signed him to play second base, not catcher, and brought him to the Phils for a mere $8,000.
Obviously, Chooch was not a highly regarded international prospect. He was essentially a roll of the dice, and a cheap one at that. But Ruiz did enough in the Dominican Summer League to earn the attention of Mick Billmeyer, the team’s minor league catching coordinator at the time, the man who eventually became Ruiz’ mentor.
In 2000, he finally made it to America and played for the GCL Phillies, which earned him a promotion to Lakewood the following season. But it wasn’t easy. Carlos had to learn English, a difficult task for a grown man to do. He also battled being lonely in a new country where he knew few people and none of the language.
In 2001, he made it to Clearwater, and played there for the next two seasons. Although he struggled at the plate in 2002, he did better at the start of 2003 and earned another promotion, to Reading in 2004, and hit .284 with 17 home runs. He also began to shine defensively at catcher, throwing out nearly a third of all baserunners that year.
He then was promoted to Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre in 2005, where he hit .300 in 100 games that season for the Red Barons.
That is not the path of a person whose future was carved out for him. That is the path of a person who lost dear family members at a young age, was forced to take on the role of "man of the house" at age 10, had to learn a new language, deal with homesickness, and prove himself at every different minor league level. And he was not the most talented player to ever walk the face of the earth.
Nothing was handed to Carlos Ruiz.
And when he first came to the Majors, his arrival was not trumpeted from the mountaintop. He played 27 games in 2006, and in 2007 was the team’s starting catcher, when he hit .259/.340/.396 with 6 homers and 29 doubles. That was a decent season and cemented him as the starter going into 2008.
That, of course, was the year the Phils won it all, and Chooch was the man behind the plate for every important game that season. However, it was not a productive season at the plate for Ruiz, he batted just .219/.320/.300 that year, with just 18 extra base hits.
It seemed Ruiz was overmatched as a Major League hitter, but Chooch was a clubhouse leader, he was good defensively, and pitchers liked throwing to him. That was good enough for a team that had a ton of other offensive options.
Little did we know Ruiz would soon become a legitimate offensive weapon himself.
He found his groove in the ‘08 World Series, and over the course of his career became one of baseball’s premier October performers, hitting .254/.380/.408 in 46 career playoff games. In his two World Series appearances he was even better, batting .353/.488/.706 with two of his four playoff homers coming in the 2008 and ‘09 Fall Classics.
Senor Octobre was born.
Ruiz would go on to put up a WAR of 2.6 in 2009, 4.0 in 2010, 2.8 in 2011, and a career high 4.5 in 2012, when he made his first and only All Star team and had an OPS of .935.
As the years went on, Ruiz’ offensive performance declined, and he was suspended in 2013 for using Adderall, classified as a performance enhancing drug by Major League Baseball. But that was a mere bump in the road in Chooch’s wonderful career, one which will certainly end up in a Wall of Fame ceremony at some point in the next few years.
Now, Ruiz gets one last shot at a world championship, this time with the Dodgers and his former 2008 teammates Chase Utley and Joe Blanton.
He gets one last chance to perform in Choochtober.
His story of family tragedy, overcoming obstacles, and working his way to the top is the type of story that every Philadelphian appreciates. Carlos Ruiz, like most people, wasn’t handed anything, and yet through hard work and the God-given talent he did possess, became the second-best catcher in Phillies history.
Carlos Ruiz is the quintessential Philadelphia story.