Friday, March 21, 2014

Rosar first to go errorless as catcher

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

The other day (March 17) I shared a discovery I made concerning variations on Buddy Rosar's 1949 Leaf card while researching an item for the blog. Here's what I was looking into . . .

In 1946 Rosar became the first major league catcher to play 100+ games in a season behind the plate without an error. He compiled that perfect 1.000 fielding average over 117 games with the Philadelphia Athletics.

It was the second time he'd led the American League in fielding at his position. In 1944 he fielded .989 in 98 games. He later led the league in catcher's fielding with .996 in 1947 and .997 in 1948.  

A contemporary baseball writer commenting on Rosar's 1946 record noted that he achieved that fielding perfection while using one of the smallest catcher's mitts in baseball.

Rosar not only was good with the glove, he had a great arm, as well. He led American League catchers in the number of runners caught stealing in 1946 (37) and 1947 (38). Three times he led the league in percentage of baserunners gunned down: 61.3% in 1943, 67.9% in 1947 and 65.6% in 1948.

The Yankees had signed Rosar in 1934, but with future Hall of Famer Bill Dickey catching for the big club, Rosar spent five years climbing the organization's minor league ladder. 

In 1938, his second season at Newark, he led the International League in hitting with a .387 average, and led the IL catchers with three errors in 91 games for a .991 mark. 

Those figures eared him a spot of the big club's bench as Dickey's primary back-up through the 1942 season.

After he went AWOL for a few days in 1942 to take the police department entrance exam back home in Buffalo, Yankees' manager Joe McCarthy traded Rosar to the Indians. 

Rosar spent 1943-44 with Cleveland, then was traded to the A's (1945-49) before closing out his career with the Red Sox (1950-51). In his 13-year major league career Rosar was a .261 hitter, though he lacked the power that managers typically looked for in a catcher; he had only 18 home runs in that span. 

He was a five-time A.L. star, left on the bench in 1942-43, getting in the game in 1946 and starting in 1947-48.

Rosar's errorless season record as a catcher has been matched four times since 1997. Charles Johnson of the Florida Marlins was 1.000 in 1997 over 123 games. The Cardinals' Mike Matheny set the current record in 2003 in 138 games. In 2008, two catchers were flawless, Colorado's Chris Ianetta (100 games) and Chris Snyder of Arizona (112 games).

Looking into these errorless streaks a little deeper, by adding in games from the seasons previous to and after the 1.000 season, I came up with these figures:

Matheny (2002-2004) 253 games
Snyder (2007-2010) 245 games
Charles Johnson (1996-1997 postseason) 175 games
Chris Ianetta (2007-2009) 156 games
Buddy Rosar (1947-1947) 147 games

As far as Rosar's bubblegum card legacy . . . His rookie card is found in the 1941 Goudey set. He was in the aforementioned 1949 Leaf set. Rosar is also included in every Bowman set from 1948-51.

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