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Wieters debut stacks up to the greats

May 30, 2009, 2:34 PM EDT

So Matt Wieters made his debut last night. It was a rather
uneventful one: 0-for-4 (fly out to right, grounder back to the box,
weak grounder to 3rd, and a backwards K), and the poor Orioles fans
couldn’t even watch him take BP because of rain. Surely there will be
some highlights to come for the top prospect in baseball, but an 0-fer
debut, in a twisted way, actually puts him in some good company. Let’s
take a look at how some other Hall of Fame catchers fared in their
first game.

Johnny Bench made his debut on August 28th, 1967 at Crosley
Field as the Reds hosted the Phillies. Less than 10,000 people were in
the stands. Hitting 7th in the lineup, Bench popped up to short in his
first at-bat against Dick Ellsworth. But Bench had already had his “Welcome to the Majors” moment in the top half of the inning, when the opposing catcher, Gene Oliver,
stole third. The oppposing catcher! Ouch. Two innings later,
Philadelphia’s Don Lock tried to take second, but Bench gunned him
down.

Unfortunately, his first caught stealing didn’t translate to success
at the plate. In the bottom of the 4th, Ellsworth struck him out
looking, and in the 6th, against Turk Farrell,
Bench went down swinging with the tying run on third base. In the 9th,
trailing 3-2, Bench was lifted for the batting prowess of Chico Ruiz,
who was hitting .227 with a .577 OPS at that point (and was a career
.240 hitter with 2 HR). Ruiz flew out to left and the Reds eventually
lost. It would get much better for Bench after that.

A little more than 2 years later, on September 18, 1969, Carlton Fisk was behind the plate at Fenway Park for the first game of a doubleheader. With Mike Cuellar
on the mound for the Orioles, Fisk grounded out to third in the in 2nd
inning and then gave the shortstop some work in the 4th. Cuellar got
him swinging in the 7th and then to pop up to second the end the 8th.
No one tried to steal off of Fisk, although he did have a passed ball.
About a month later, those same Orioles would fall to the Amazin’ Mets
in the World Series in five games.

What about Gary Carter? He was a late September call-up for
the Expos in 1974, and made his debut on September 16th on the back
half of a doubleheader against the defending NL Champion Mets at Parc
Jerry in Montreal. This was the battle for 4th place, and only 9,166
people (assuming they all hung around) were there when The Kid stepped
in face Randy Sterling leading off the 3rd inning. He grounded out to third, and then flew out to left in the 5th. Tug McGraw
was on the hill when Carter batted in the 7th, but he fouled out to
first. he had the chance to be a hero in the bottom of the 9th though.
The tying run was on first with two outs, but Carter grounded into a
fielder’s choice to short, and the Mets held on. 0-for-4, but at least
he put it in play every time, unlike Bench or Fisk.

Didn’t any all-time catcher have an auspicious debut, you ask? Well of course. We just haven’t spoken about one Michael Joseph Piazza.

It was 73 degrees and sunny on September 1st, 1992, but the Cubs
must’ve really been awful because only 14,981 showed up to Wrigley
Field that day. Too bad, because a few thousand more people could’ve
been able to say, “I was there when the greatest hitting catcher of
all-time played his first game.”

Batting 6th in the Dodgers lineup, Piazza drew a walk in the 2nd inning off of pitcher Mike Harkey.
In the 4th, he didn’t give Harkey a chance to pitch around him, lining
a double to right-center, the quintessential Piazza hit. In the bottom
half of the inning, Dwight Smith attempted to steal second.
Maybe you could get away with that stuff in 2002, but not on this day:
Piazza gunned him down. In the 6th, he singled between third and short,
and then did the same off Paul Assenmacher in the 8th. After that, he was lifted for pinch runner Eric Young.
The game would last 13 innings, but in Piazza’s 8, he went 3-for-3 with
a walk, double, and threw out the only baserunner who tried to steal.
Not too shabby.

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