There were some big personalities on the 1993 Phillies. But they weren’t the only ones. As part of a commemoration of the team’s 25th anniversary, we’re taking a look at the back-ups, drop-ins, and less-remembered Phillies who didn’t make it into a lot of the archival footage.
Position: Back-up catcher
Stats: .287/.330/.529, 5 HR, 5 BB, 19 SO, in 27 AB and 33 G
Here’s the thing; Todd Pratt’s not really forgotten. He’s easily the highest profile member of the 1993 Phillies that we will discuss throughout this series. He was the only one of the players we will cover to hit over three home runs that magical year, and the only player to have one of his career dingers immortalized on an infamously oft-cited beer opener, featured in a Youtube post that even the owner referred to as “the world’s most boring video.”
But I figured we’d start these off with someone more familiar. So don’t worry about informing me how tightly you cling to your Todd Pratt memories; we all do. You’ll need those memories as we slog forward. Because it’s all Donn Pall’s and Doug Lindsey’s from here on out.
In any case, Pratt was an acquisition of Phillies GM Lee Thomas during the 1991 Winter Meetings. Yes, baseball had Winter Meetings as far back as the early nineties, a time when the annual summit included a Cranberries sing-off and a Skip-It tournament. But that’s it; just those two ‘90s references. Everything else was normal.
In between all the fun that year in Miami—Barry Bonds was set to be traded from the Pirates to the Braves before Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland had a full meltdown in the team president’s office—Thomas took part in the Rule 5 Draft, which also occurred back then, but to partake, you had to sign up for a “hassle-free” program that claimed participants could get “12 CDs for a penny.”
Okay, so. One more nineties thing. We’re done.
Thomas had his eye on a catcher the Orioles had left exposed; a 24-year-old Pratt, who had taken a circuitous route to get where he was: drafted by the Red Sox in the 6th round in 1985, he’d been redrafted by the Indians from the Red Sox in a 1987 minor league draft, returned to Boston in 1988, and became a free agent before signing with the Orioles in 1991. Thomas plucked him out of the draft pool less than a month later and made him a part of the future National League champions.
His first time appearing as a member of the Phillies, Pratt got three ABs just before the 1992 trade deadline. He wound up hitting .283 for those last-place Phillies, appearing in 16 games with two home runs, just one shy of starting second baseman Mickey Morandini’s season total through 127 games.
Then 1993 came around, and everything changed for everyone. Mostly for Todd Pratt. But not a lot.
Darren Daulton was installed as the Phillies catcher, and given his all-star season in 1992 in which he led the league in RBI (109), it would be hard to convince the Phillies to nudge him out of the lineup unless he didn’t want to be in it. The $18.5 million contract extension they gave him prior to the season solidified this notion. In fact, Dutch made it into more games in 1993 (147) than in 1992 (145), leaving a slim remainder in which Pratt could appear.
“I know I can hit but it’s real difficult to hit consistently when you don’t play that much and playing on the same team as Darren Daulton, I know it’s an adjustment I’m going to have to make,” Pratt told reporters. Granted, he lost out on most of May with a sprained ankle, but Pratt did adjust come August; in fact, it was probably some of the most dynamic baseball he would ever play—or at least, be a part of.
Pratt claimed that his nickname on that team on which everyone had a nickname was “Head” because of his large noggin, but this was a label he shared with third baseman Dave Hollins, who was known as “Headley,” for the same reason. You may recall that name from the well-known “Headley’s Choice,” a referendum on retribution Hollins issued to the pitching staff, should any Phillies hitters get beaned. August opened with a “Headley’s Choice” moment for reliever Roger Mason, who, despite his deeply religious reputation, sent an inside message to Pirates hitter Lloyd McClendon that got both dugouts barking. Pratt, who was catching at the time, squared off with McClendon at home plate and both wound up tossed.
Then, August 2 rolled around, and Pratt became more than a back-up backstop. He became the show.
The 1933 Phillies finished 60-92, but nevertheless, it was their uniforms that the Phillies wore as throwbacks on “Nostalgia Day,” an acknowledgement that forced the visiting Pirates into antique garments as well. The old English “P” on the Phillies’ uniforms, surrounded only by pale, baggy white, resembled, to some area children, a Tigers logo, confusing them. Also confusing was the start and full game played by Pratt, who went 3-for-4 at the plate with a pair of home runs. The first broke a 3-3 tie in the sixth, and the second added an insurance run in the eighth. Pratt finished the season hitting .418 in his last ten games, and .318 with RISP.
Granted free agency after the strike-shortened 1994 season, Pratt faded from baseball, eventually instructing at Bucky Dent’s baseball academy in Florida and managing a Domino’s Pizza in Delray Beach—the owner of twenty local Domino’s locations had told him if he was willing to smell like pizza for a year, he’d move him up the corporate ladder. His work with teenagers at the academy also granted him an unforeseen advantage, in that by instructing them, he was “learning the game all over again,” and improved his catching mechanics behind the plate.
The Mets, in need of a catcher, came calling in 1997, and after putting in some full-time catching at AAA, Pratt wound up backing up Todd Hundley and hit a walk-off home run in his first AB back in the majors, a moment potentially unrivaled in coolness for a player who had been managing a Domino’s less than a year before.
‘’If I had to go back to it, I could,’’ Pratt told the New York Times. ‘’There’s nothing wrong with managing a pizza parlor.’’
The next year in 1998, Pratt was backing up Mike Piazza, and by 1999, he was still with the Mets, who grinded their way into the NLDS against the NL West-winning Diamondbacks. Piazza hurt his thumb, forcing Pratt into action for the series’ final two games, and in the decisive Game Four, Pratt sent the Mets to the NLCS, pumping his fist as he circled the bases while the ESPN announcers called him “one of the most unlikely heroes.”
In 2001, Pratt returned to Philadelphia and remained here until he was 37 in 2004. A 23-year-old Brett Myers was on the mound on April 22, when Pratt was once again called to defend his pitcher. Mike Lieberthal was getting a much-needed day off behind the plate, but Myers got chippy after Mike Redmond of the Marlins tagged him early in the second with a solo shot. Pratt and the next batter, Alex Gonzalez, got into it, and both were ejected as Lieberthal exhaustedly applied his knee guards in the dugout.
On September 11, 2004, Pratt was a part of a benchmark in Phillies history, as the offense in an 11-9 win over the Mets broke a Phillies team record for home runs, thanks to Pratt’s second inning dinger, their unprecedented 187th of the season. The game also included the first home run of Ryan Howard’s career and two inexplicable dingers from David Bell, one of which won the game in the 13th inning. The victory was the Phillies’ fifth in a row, and to celebrate, Larry Bowa let the team shave his head.
Pratt’s career, dotted with some profound moments, can best be surmised through the pitchers he caught on his debut and in his final appearance, which do a pretty good job of summarizing the length of his career: Kyle Abbott/Mitch Williams in 1992; Jon Lieber/Ugueth Urbina/Billy Wagner in 2006. The group encapsulates several generations of history: Abbott, who was traded to the Phillies from the Angels with Ruben Amaro, Jr.; Lieber, who once owned a humongous truck; Urbina, who... well, you know; and a pair of closers in Williams and Wagner who exited Philadelphia with similar levels of vitriol from Phillies fans shouted behind them. In between the appearances that bookended his career, Pratt won a pennant, walked off a playoff series, and brought piping hot pizzas to your Delray Beach-area door.
It was a full career for a man who will never be forgotten, particularly to those who hear his name every time they open a beer.