Carlos Ruiz (baseball)
|Philadelphia Phillies – No. 51|
January 22, 1979 |
David, Chiriquí, Panama
|Bats: Right||Throws: Right|
|May 6, 2006 for the Philadelphia Phillies|
|Runs batted in||336|
|Career highlights and awards|
Carlos Joaquín Ruiz (born January 22, 1979) is a Panamanian professional baseball catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies of Major League Baseball (MLB) who possesses nicknames including Chooch and Señor Octubre. He grew up in David, Panama, and resolved to play in MLB after tragedy struck his family, with his father and grandmother both dying during the course of two weeks when he was seven years old. He toiled through the Phillies' farm system from 1998 until 2006, playing at each level, until finally making his MLB debut in 2006.
He spent his first full season in the major leagues in 2007, and has remained there since. In 2008, for his heroics in the Phillies playoff run, during which they ultimately won the 2008 World Series, he earned the nickname "Señor Octubre". Despite being one of its quietest players, he was subsequently called the "heart and soul" of the team. Over the next few seasons, he was a part of the core group of players that led the Phillies to five consecutive playoff appearances from 2007 until 2011. He had his best season in 2012, holding a batting average of over .300, earning his first appearance in the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, and finishing in the top 30 of the National League Most Valuable Player voting. In 2013, he began the season with a 25-game suspension for using Adderall, and ultimately played in less than 100 games for the first time in his MLB career.
Ruiz grew up in David, Panama, and was the oldest of three sons to a father who was a police officer, and mother who was an elementary school teacher. When he was seven years old, his father Joaquin was patrolling in his police jeep when a tire blew out, causing the vehicle to flip, throwing Joaquin into a ditch, and then crushing him when it fell on top of him in the ditch. At age seven, Ruiz became "the new father", beginning to work as a laborer on a coffee farm to supplement the family income, while promising his widowed mother that he would make it to Major League Baseball. Subsequently, he began attending college to earn a degree in physical education, but dropped out shortly after he began to attend the Phillies baseball academy.
In 1998, Ruiz followed his dream of playing professional baseball first by attending the Phillies Baseball Academy in La Vega, Dominican Republic, at which he played catcher for the first time, deviating from his initial position of second base. Though ready to quit because "he looked and felt like a 10-year-old among the tall, athletic prospects surrounding him at the Phillies' baseball academy where he'd just begun", his uncle convinced him to stick with it via a phone conversation. The Phillies signed him as an amateur free agent on December 4, 1998 for US$8,000, and he made his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League (DSL) with the DSL Phillies, with whom he compiled a .305 batting average, 4 home runs, and 35 runs batted in (RBIs) in 60 games. The next year, he progressed to the Gulf Coast League (GCL), playing for the GCL Phillies, and hitting .277 in 38 games. He earned another promotion in 2001, playing for the Lakewood BlueClaws of Class A. After performing commensurately to his first two seasons in 2001, he moved to the Clearwater Threshers of Class A Advanced, with whom he played over parts of the next two seasons – he struggled at the plate in 2002, compiling just a .213 batting average in 92 games, but hit .315 in 15 games in 2003, thus earning a promotion.
In 2004, Ruiz spent the entire season with the Double-A Reading Phillies, where his 17 home runs were second among catchers in the Eastern League. In addition to strong offensive numbers, he threw out 25 of 76 attempted base stealers (32.9%). Off the field, it was in 2004 that Ruiz first gained his nickname "Chooch" – though a quiet individual, Ruiz frequently muttered "chucha" ("the equivalent of the f bomb in his native land") under his breath, and teammate Anderson Machado thus began to address Ruiz as "Chooch", and the nickname's usage snowballed from there. His strong performance earned him another promotion in 2005; he played for the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons, and posted a better batting average, but fewer home runs than in Reading – .300, 4 home runs, 40 RBIs in 100 games. Before the 2006 season, he played for his native Panama in the first World Baseball Classic. His final season in the minor leagues was 2006; during 100 games, he hit .307 with 16 home runs and 69 RBIs, earning International League all-star accolades. He "shuttled between the Phillies and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre all season", and made his MLB debut on May 6, 2006.
Throughout his development in the minor leagues, Ruiz was mentored by Phillies catching instructor Mick Billmeyer. After the pair met at spring training early in Ruiz's career, Billmeyer sought to learn Spanish while Ruiz sought to learn English, and the two bonded as Billmeyer helped mold Ruiz into an eventual top prospect and ultimately a starting catcher.
Philadelphia Phillies (2006–present)
Ruiz received his initial promotion to the major league level when Phillies' starting catcher Mike Lieberthal went to the disabled list (DL) in May 2006, making his debut on May 6. Ruiz was sent back to the minor leagues after Lieberthal returned. However, when Lieberthal went back to the DL in June, the Phillies utilized Sal Fasano and Chris Coste rather than recalling Ruiz. He was recalled on July 4, and hit his first major league home run that day off of San Diego Padres' pitcher Clay Hensley. He was optioned back to the minor leagues one more time before being recalled essentially as a September callup on August 31. Overall, with the big league club, he hit .261 with 3 home runs and 10 RBIs.
Ruiz joined the major league roster on opening day 2007 permanently, having completed eight seasons in the minor leagues. He ultimately "grabbed hold of the top job (as starting catcher) and never let go". The Phillies signed Rod Barajas before the season because they had concerns about Ruiz' ability to catch, hit, and generally hold up over a full season at the major league level During the season, he honed his confidence, and earned the trust of the Phillies' pitching staff, including veteran Jamie Moyer, who commented, "I see a real assuredness to his body language. He's not cocky or brash. He just seems very confident in what's going on." On June 26, 2007, Ruiz stole home on the front end of a double steal in an 11–4 home win over the Cincinnati Reds, becoming the first Phillie to steal home since Scott Rolen in 1997. He ultimately played 115 games during the season, and from thenceforth was the Phillies' unequivocal starting catcher. Statistically, he committed only two errors (tied for second-best among MLB catchers with at least 100 games played), had 27 multi-hit games, and hit 6 home runs and 51 RBIs with a .259 batting average. At the conclusion of the season, he was named to the Topps All-Star Rookie Team.
Ruiz entered the 2008 season focused predominantly on defense, specifically helping the pitcher:
"... Ruiz invests himself in the pitcher's performance. He and the pitcher succeed or fail together. That investment is crucial to the pitcher-catcher partnership and, therefore, a team's performance. Everything starts with pitching. 'Hitting is nice, but working with the pitcher is my No. 1 job,' Ruiz said. 'I want to make him feel great on the mound. I want to feel like we are one person.'"—Excerpt from "Ruiz gives Phils the feeling they hit the lottery", March 29, 2008 edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer
Ruiz struggled to hit consistently throughout the season, specifically in the first-half of the season; from the beginning of the year until July 11, he hit .206 with 2 home runs and 20 RBIs. Nevertheless, due to his rapport with the pitching staff (pitchers' ERA when throwing to him (catcher's ERA) was 3.56, the best for any catcher in the National League), and a vote of confidence from manager Charlie Manuel, he maintained staunch job security. A couple of weeks later, he had a multi-hit game against the New York Mets, which may have helped him break out of his slump. Ultimately, during the regular season, he hit .219 with 4 home runs and 31 RBIs.
Despite his struggles at the plate during the regular season, Ruiz proved to be an integral part of the Phillies' postseason success. After the Phillies clinched the 2008 National League Championship Series, he commented that the glory of winning a crucial baseball game, which he had witnessed "as a boy in Panama" on television, "happened to me", noting the aura of the moment, and that it culminated and validated the hard work he had put in over the years.:142 In game 3 of the 2008 World Series, "Ruiz—himself only a .219 hitter during the regular season—found one piece of no-man's-land inside the crowded infield. He bounced a 45-foot dribbler toward third; Evan Longoria hopelessly flung the ball wildly to the plate. The latest start in World Series history (10:06 p.m. first pitch) ended with the first walk-off infield hit in World Series history." Ruiz noted, "I heard them cheering. And that's when I knew, 'Okay it's over' ... I'll take a win.":178 The Phillies eventually won the World Series for the first time since 1980, doing so in five games, the last of which began on October 27 and ended on October 29 after it was suspended part-way through due to rain. For his performance in the playoffs, he earned the nickname "Señor Octubre" (Mr. October in Spanish, Ruiz's native language).
Initially, Ruiz decided not to play in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, but he received a call from Martin Torrijos, the President of Panama, and subsequently, he agreed to play for the Panamanian team. Early in the season, he suffered a muscle strain in his right oblique, which caused him to miss time while on the disabled list. Also early in the season, there was debate as to who the Phillies starting catcher should be – Ruiz or Chris Coste. Rob Neyer wrote,
"It's Ruiz who has established himself as the superior hitter, almost solely because we expect him to draw more walks than Coste. Yes, Coste does have superior stats as a major leaguer, and it's surprising to me that his performance in the majors doesn't carry the day. But he is 36, and with a couple of exceptions he's not fared all that well in the high minors. Meanwhile, Ruis [sic] is six years younger and he's been relatively impressive in the high minors."—Rob Neyer, SweetSpot Blog - ESPN, May 26, 2009
Ultimately, Ruiz was the predominant starter. Over the final 24 games of the season, he hit .355 with 9 doubles, 1 home run, 11 RBIs, and a .446 on-base percentage (OBP). In late September, he missed a week of games due to inflammation in his left wrist. Despite his missed time, he started 100 games, and set career highs in home runs (9), and base on balls (47), as well as posting a .255 batting average and 43 RBIs. Moreover, he walked more times than he struck out, a rare feat among modern major league hitters. In the postseason, he led the team with a .341 batting average, and recorded a .491 OBP, having reached base in each of the Phillies' 15 games, which perpetuated the usage of his nickname "Señor Octubre". Marcus Hayes of The Philadelphia Daily News wrote that Ruiz is, "... the Phillies' Senor Octubre, a No. 8 hitter who hits like John Buck in the regular season, then turns into Johnny Bench come autumn."
In 2010, Ruiz had a season filled with "indelible moments". He caught Roy Halladay's perfect game on May 29, 2010 against the Florida Marlins and Halladay's no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds in the first game of the National League Divisional Series on October 6, 2010, the first time a catcher had caught two no-hitters in one season since 1972. On May 4, he hit a walk-off home run, the second of his career, to lead the Phillies over the St. Louis Cardinals. Ruiz spent time on the DL in late June and early July with a concussion, but according to manager Charlie Manuel returned with a more efficient swing that allowed him to hit better against power pitchers. He led the team with a .302 batting average and a .400 on-base percentage (both of those statistics also led NL catchers), and even received a few votes for NL most valuable player. During the 2010 postseason (the Phillies reached the league championship series, but not the World Series for the first time since 2007), he did not perform as well as in years' past – in nine games, he hit .192 with two home runs and four RBIs. Fans voted Ruiz the "X-Factor Player of the Year" in MLB's This Year in Baseball Awards. He also received the Pride of Philadelphia Award from the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame. Halladay called Ruiz a "rock" behind the plate, and presented him with a replica of his Cy Young Award in 2010.
Ruiz returned for the Phillies' 2011 season as their everyday starting catcher, and started 113 games, of which the Phillies won 70 (.619 winning percentage). In May, he spent time on the DL with inflammation in his lower back. A Sports Illustrated piece featuring Ruiz that was published in July encapsulated Ruiz's role as "heart and soul" of the team:
The most silent and timid Phillie might even become—by consensus of teammates and in the words of closer Brad Lidge—"the heart and soul of this team." The player who was the runaway winner in a team poll asking Phillies whom—if they were Batman—they'd choose as their Robin, proving that his effect extends far beyond his superhero pitching staff. The player who circulated in the clubhouse asking them how their families were doing, and how their hearts and minds and bodies felt. The man who went to each player in the dugout as each game was about to start to exchange a new touch: knuckles yesterday, low-fives today, fist pounds to their hearts tomorrow, so hard that they'd yearn for his chest protector. The one who tore into them when they were lax and verbalized what team leaders Chase Utley and Halladay kept tight under wraps. The one taking charge as if he has been here forever and yet still asking questions as if he has just been called up. The most endearing player to the sold-out crowds at Citizens Bank Park every night, even when his average dips to .255, as it has this season, crossing a cultural moat that Hispanic players often can't—the Phillie whom bartender Tubby Kushner impersonates every game he attends, from uniform down to the shin guards, chest protector, mask and, yes, even cup—because fans feel like he's their little secret, their little golden nugget.
— Excerpt from "The Legion Of Arms: Part II Brotherly Glove", July 18, 2011 edition of Sports Illustrated
Over the Phillies' final 36 games, he posted a .342 batting average. Overall, he finished with the best catcher's ERA in the major leagues (3.06), a .283 batting average, 6 home runs, and 40 RBIs. His batting average was second on the team trailing only Hunter Pence.
Ruiz began the 2012 season strongly, and throughout the season, was a bright spot on an otherwise disappointing team. Through June 27, he led the Major Leagues with a .364 average. This contributed to a stellar first half of the season earned him his first placement on the on the National League All-Star team. He was a reserve, though some analysts, including ESPN's John Kruk, felt his numbers warranted a starting nod (which ultimately went to the San Francisco Giants' Buster Posey through the fan voting). Shortly after the announcement that he was an all-star, a piece in The Philadelphia Daily News entitled "The evolution of Carlos Ruiz" summarized his career: "Ruiz, though, was never a major prospect. He was a reserve catcher before he was a starting catcher. He was a bottom-of-the-order hitter before he was a middle-of-the-order hitter. And now, for the first time in his career, Carlos Ruiz is an All-Star." After the all-star break, he spent over a month on the disabled list with plantar fasciitis, which hindered his statistical totals, which at the time of his injury were among the best in the National League. He led all NL catchers in doubles, en route to posting a .325 batting average with 16 home runs and 68 RBIs, all of which were career highs. He finished 28th in MVP voting, the third consecutive season he had received votes.
On November 27, 2012, Ruiz was suspended for 25 games without pay by the MLB for testing positive for an amphetamine. The suspension of Ruiz was effective at the start of the 2013 season. He used Adderall, which is a heavily used drug to treat ADHD that "is a central nervous system stimulant used to increase the attention span and decrease distractibility." Before the 2014 season, he received an exemption from MLB to use Adderall, an exemption that some nine percent (10%) of players have despite only four percent (4%) of Americans having the condition. He made his 2013 season debut on April 28 against the New York Mets at Citi Field. On May 20, he was placed on the DL with a Grade 2 strained hamstring. He had a four-hit game, which tied his career high, against the Los Angeles Dodgers on August 18, and hit .288 over the final two months of the season (commensurate with his past performance), but overall, "was another variable that didn't turn out" for the 2013 Phillies, who missed the playoffs.
Ruiz compiled a .268 batting average, five home runs, and 37 RBIs in 92 games, his lowest major league total since 2006. After the season, Ruiz became a free agent. He re-signed on November 21, 2013 to a three-year contract worth US$26,000,000 plus a club option for a fourth season. Though one writer suggested his 2013 might just have been an "aberration", most thought the Phillies overpaid to keep Ruiz, who was due to turn 35 in the subsequent offseason.
Offensively, Ruiz has developed from a "bottom-of-the-order hitter", to a patient hitter inclined to work the count, to a hitter with solid gap-to-gap power. Ruiz has strong plate discipline that helps him draw walks and avoid strikeouts; he has almost as many walks as strikeouts over the course of his career, a rarity in the modern era of baseball. However, as his career progressed and he hit more towards the middle of the lineup, he exercised a more aggressive approach at the plate, and consequently he struck out more often, but his home run totals also increased. At the prime of his career, he was among the best hitting catchers in MLB. Entering 2014, Ruiz had stolen only 16 bases over his first eight seasons; he had never been particularly fast, which initially caused his conversion from infielder to catcher, but does "hustle" on the basepaths – he won the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association Heart and Hustle Award in 2012.
When catching, Ruiz seeks to become "one" with the day's pitcher, and takes their successes and failures personally, refusing to blame pitchers, and accepting equal responsibility. Phillies pitchers trust Ruiz and his ability to call games, an ability that's improvement has coincided with his improvement in learning English. Cole Hamels attributes Ruiz's prowess in calling games to astute preparation, commenting,
"I think he's very aware of what the hitter is trying to do in each count. He gives you a good target. It's almost like he understands what you're thinking and he's speaking to you without saying anything. There can be disagreements, but he makes you believe in his decisions because he knows or sees something in the hitter's approach. If a catcher can help you, it makes your job so much easier and he can do that so well."
Ruiz realizes the importance of his role with the Phillies, opining, "It's the catcher's job to bring energy and happiness to the game." Ruiz has a good arm that has improved over the years; over the course of his career, he has thrown out 29% of attempted base stealers, which is exactly the average over that span.
Ruiz's upbringing contributed to his approach to the game:
"The son of a schoolteacher knew very well the importance of study time. According to Ruiz, as a boy, he was not allowed to play baseball unless his grades were top-notch. Several times Ruiz sat in his home sobbing because he had flunked a class. Teammates and coaches would come to his house and beg Inocencia to allow him to play because he was one of the best players, but she would not relent. Her boy had to be a good student ... Ruiz's natural leadership skills flourished. As a boy, Ruiz, who had chosen to play with baseballs instead of toy cars even as a toddler, was always the one in his neighborhood to organize pickup baseball games. It was he who brought the balls and bats, and it was he who picked the teams and ordered everyone to their positions. He had an acute understanding of the game. Ruiz was made to lead, and playing catcher eventually suited him perfectly.
He is a favorite among Phillies fans, and crossed "a cultural moat that Hispanic players often can't" to endear himself to not only the fan base, but also his teammates. Before games, he imitates teammates to help keep the team loose, furthering his role as a leader.
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