Carlos Ruiz and his former teammates won a World Series together, beat a lot of teams together, and thrilled a generation of Delaware Valley baseball fans together. They also declined together, lost together, and have scattered to different teams (not together), and now, together, as they climb in age and lower in productivity (in baseball), those who have not stepped away into civilian life to author children’s books (Ryan Howard), be with family (Jimmy Rollins), or construct a new society among the tree tops of rural Arkansas (Cliff Lee), face the annual question of whether or not they will return to the sport for another go.
Last we heard, Howard is still hoping to catch on somewhere. Rollins, back in July, told Jon Heyman he would “love to be playing.” Shane Victorino hinted at retirement without embracing it last October, but hasn’t played since 2015. Chase Utley and Jayson Werth are still active players (and Werth is an organic farmer, which I did not know).
But it’s inevitable, as every great has had his muscles gnawed and reflexes chewed by the slow mastication of the sport. That goes double for catchers, whose bodies take some of the sport’s most brutal abuse over the course of their careers. And yet, Carlos Ruiz is reportedly not ready to surrender to this awful sport.
Carlos Ruiz, the irrepressible Chooch, wants to return for a 13th season in 2018 even though he turns 39 in January. Ruiz is currently working out at home in Panama. He keeps himself in terrific shape, and pitchers still like throwing to him. Potential backup for a contender.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) November 30, 2017
Ruiz’s post-Phillies career has moved swiftly. After he graciously waived his no-trade clause, the Phillies swapped him with the Dodgers in 2015, giving A.J. Ellis a brief Phillies career. Out in L.A., Chooch appeared in 14 games and hit .278 before being traded to the Mariners, whose GM Jerry DiPoto verbalized the premiere value Chooch probably has going for him:
"First and foremost, Carlos brings us a veteran presence with outstanding leadership qualities and a winning pedigree. His combination of strong on-base skills, situational awareness and game-calling ability are a welcome addition to the Mariners."
With Seattle, Chooch slashed .216/.313/.352 in a back-up role. But despite some of the inglorious numbers of his post-Phillies career, in Game Three of the 2016 NLDS against the Nationals, Ruiz hit a pinch-hit two-run shot off Gio Gonzalez. Last year with the Mariners, he entered a game as a pitcher for the first time in his career and recorded a strike out.
This year, as Roy Halladay’s passing hit the Phillies family hard, Ruiz’s account of how he learned of his friend’s death is as excruciating as anyone would expect.
Carlos Ruiz cried as he told us this story of how he learned Roy Halladay had died: pic.twitter.com/8NqXgfJXa3— Matt Gelb (@MattGelb) November 15, 2017
He wasn’t an all-star until he was 33 (and got MVP votes for the third straight year, too). The drop-off since then has been steep, but he’s a catcher who’s been hit by almost 80 pitches and is ready to dive into the stands for a foul ball even when playing wildly out of position in an MLB career spanning over a decade (18 years if you include the minors). Muscle strains, plantar fasciitis, and concussions were all part of his job; and it’s probably hard to get any sleep when your knees won’t stop screaming.
It’s not often an eight-hole ground ball-machine used hitting prowess and baseball IQ to tap into a reservoir of undetected production, spiking his value by becoming the engine of a high-functioning Phillies pitching machine (The man has caught four no-hitters; the only backstop to do so in the history of the NL) and adding to it with upgrades in offense.
So it makes sense that Ruiz is still at it; not just because of the standard addiction to baseball that a lot of older players have to shake before they can call it a career, but because his own career has unfolded over through unorthodox talent arcs. He debuted when he was 27. It seemed like his ceiling had been reached when he was a non-prospect with a missable slash line. And then he became one of the most valuable catchers in the sport, somehow. That’s not quite his status anymore, so when he laces up again in 2018 for whoever can use a veteran back-up to impart wisdom, keep people loose, and occasionally help you win a playoff series, who the hell knows what’ll happen.
Baseball’s a tough game to quit. Or as somebody else once put it, “To be able to go out there and know that it's probably not going to feel very good and I'm probably not going to be able to do things the way I want to is very frustrating.” Pitchers will probably always want to throw to him, as long as his knees can stand it.