Truth in advertising: The Charlie O’Brien biography

January 14, 2015

I had originally included this in a roundup of the upcoming new titles, but after some consideration, I decided to give this a life of its own. the “was this trip really necessary” department: A Charlie O’Brien biography? By a university press no less? Yup: The Cy Young Catcher. Yes, the statement that O’Brien “was battery-mate to thirteen pitchers who won the Cy Young Award…” is technically true.  What’s also true is that he was never a full-time player; only once did he appear in more than 100 games in his 15-year career (1985, 1987-2000).

And it’s also true that the claim is a bit disingenuous. For example, while it’s true that he caught Dwight Gooden while with the Mets, it was not during Doc’s Cy Young-winning season. Same for Bret Saberhagen, whom O’Brien caught in 1992 but who won the award in 1989 and 1995…with the Royals.

What the heck, here’s a table. Boldface = being on the same team at the same time as the Cy Young winner. Italics = O’Brien teammate not during CY season.


Year O’Brien’s Team Cy Young Winners CY Winners’ Teams
1985 Oakland As Dwight GoodenBret Saberhagen New Yorke MetsKansas City Royals
1987 Milwaukee Brewers Steve BedrosianRoger Clemens Philadelphia PhilliesBoston Red Sox
1988 Milwaukee Brewers Orel HershieserFrank Viola LA DodgersMinn. Twins
1989 Milwaukee Brewers Mark DavisBret Saberhagen San Diego PadresKansas City Royals
1990 Milwaukee BrewersNew York Mets Doug DrabekBob Welch Pittsburgh PiratesOakland As
1991 New York Mets Tom GlavineRoger Clemens Atlanta BravesBoston Red Sox
1992 New York Mets Greg MadduxDennis Eckersley Chicago CubsOakland As
1993 New York Mets Greg MadduxJack McDowell Atlanta BravesChicago White Sox
1994 Atlanta Braves Greg MadduxDavid Cone Atlanta BravesKansas City Royals
1995 Atlanta Braves Greg MadduxRandy Johnson Atlanta BravesSeattle Mariners
1996 Toronto Blue Jays John SmoltzPat Hentgen Atlanta BravesToronto Blue Jays
1997 Toronto Blue Jays Pedro MartinezRoger Clemens Montreal ExposToronto Blue Jays
1998 Chicago White SoxAnaheim Angels Tom GlavineRoger Clemens Atlanta BravesToronto Blue Jays
1999 Anaheim Angels Randy JohnsonPedro Martinez Arizona DiamondbacksBoston Red Sox
2000 Montreal Expos Randy JohnsonPedro Martinez Arizona DiamondbacksBoston Red Sox

So a quick glance indicates that yes, O’Brien, over the course of his career, did indeed serve as catcher to 11 CY winners by my count.

Aha. A quick email to Doug Wedge reveals that the other two were Pete Vuckovich (Milwaukee Brewers, 1982, three years before O’Brien made his debut), whom O’Brien caught during spring training, and Chris Carpenter, who was a rookie when O’Brien caught him in 1997. Carpenter won the CYA in 2005 for the St. Louis Cardinals, five years after the catcher retired.

So yes, according to the letter of the law, the premise is accurate. But the spirit?

One more thing: The Amazon page states, “To put that accomplishment in perspective, Hall of Fame catchers Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra each worked with only one Cy Young winner during their careers.”

Let’s do put it in perspective. The CYA was first given in 1955, by which time Berra had already won his three MVP awards. Until 1967, it was given to just one pitcher, not one in each league. Berra effectively retired as a player in 1962.  As for Bench, well, the Big Red Machine was known for its power, not its pitching. Nevertheless, during his era, Bench was considered perhaps the best defensive catcher, a 10-time Gold Glove winner. He finished in the top five in caught stealing seven times and in CS percentage 11 times, including three times as #1.

Don’t tell me anyone is advocating that O’Brien is worthy of Hall of Fame consideration by his CYA association.

If this had been marketed as the adventures of an itinerant backstop, I would have had no problem. I admired him when he was on the Mets as a gritty receiver. And naturally, since the book isn’t out yet, I can’t speak to its merits. I don’t know if he will inflate his role or downplay it; I’m still curious. But this is kind of getting of on the wrong foot, IMO.


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