In a recent article, ESPN Writer and Philadelphia native Jayson Stark wrote about the most underrated players in baseball at each position. He named Ruiz as the most underrated catcher and he talked to a MLB scout about Ruiz and here is what the scout said. “I think he's the best catcher in the game -- other than [Joe] Mauer who's on a different planet. The confidence his pitchers have in the fingers that go down is invaluable."
Its amazing the progess he has made as basball player over the last few years. While I was attending a Phillies games last season, I overheard a conversation between two fans who were sitting behind me. The one asked the other, “Why are they booing him?” Each time number 51 is announced by Dan Baker at the Bank, there is a familiar sound coming from the Philly Phaithful. No, they are not booing their believed catcher, they are all yelling CHOOOOOOOCH!
Phillies Catcher Carlos Ruiz has slowly become a phan phavorite in Philly. Ruiz will never hit 40 home runs and amaze the fans with flashy plays, he will quietly do his job and make the play when needed. Chooch has become one of the best catchers in all of baseball and might be the most underrated player in the game. After a Phillies pitcher pitches a gem, he almost always gives credit to the man behind the plate. In addition to the nickname Chooch, Ruiz’s clutch play in the postseason has earned him the nicknames of Senor Octobre and Choochtober by the phans.
So you might have asked yourself before, when and why did Ruiz every get his nickname and what does it mean. It is a strange story and the translation might not be the most flattering thing. It all started with former Phillies reliever Antonio Alfonseca, who oddly was born with six toes and six fingers on his hands and feet. During an interview in 2008, Alfonseca referred to his catcher as “Chucha” on numerous occasions, after that the Phillies beat writers and journalists started to refer to Ruiz as Chooch. Then over some time, as the phans heard the writers and players referring to him as Chooch, the nickname was born. So what does Chooch actually mean? Oddly enough the world “Chucha” is a Columbian slang term which means “under arm odor.” It was originally meant as a joke but it has since been embraced by the entire phan base.
So how did Ruiz evolve into one of the best and most respected catcher’s in the game. Chooch was born in Panama in 1979 and signed as an amateur free agent with the Phillies in 1998. Then about 8 years later in May of 2006, Ruiz got his chance to play in the big leagues. During that season he spent time between he Phillies and the minors and only played 27 games with the Phillies. After the 2006 season the Phillies signed “fan favorite” Rod Barajas to the be the starting catcher. But his inability and unwillingness to block the plate and hit the ball quickly led him out of favor with the phans and the coaching staff. After an injury to Barajas, Ruiz was given an oppuritinty to be the starting catcher and hasn’t looked back since.
During both the 2007 and 2008 seasons, Ruiz failed to fully earn the respect and appreciation from the Phans. His rise to fame came in the postseason of the 2008 season. After a solid NLCS series where he batted .313, he came up with the game on the line in game 3 of the World Series. It was the first World Series game in Philadelphia since 1993 and the game was delayed an hour and 31 minutes by rain. Jamie Moyer left the game with the lead but the bullpen was not able to hold the lead. Ruiz came up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, bases load and no outs. The Rays brought an outfielder into the infield to have a 5th infielder. Ruiz had a swinging bunt down the third baseline that Eva-n Longoria couldn't get to fast enough scoring Bruntlett from third. It gave the Phillies a 2-1 lead in the series on way to their 2008 World Series Championship. After that Ruiz has had a knack for showing up in the postseason. In his 2 World Series appearances, he has batted .353 with a .488 OBP! Last season, among all the all stars and MVP’s, Ruiz lead the team in batting average and on base percentage.
Now it’s obvious that Ruiz is not the best hitting catcher in baseball, but that’s not what makes him the player he is. Because of his knowledge and hard work, he has earned the confidence of some of the best pitchers in the game. When Ruiz is not behind the plate for Closer Brad Lidge, he is a completely different pitcher. To be effective Lidge needs batters to chase his devastating slider in the dirt and without Ruiz back there, he doesn’t always of the confidence to throw it. Lidge’s splits with and without Ruiz are drastic. Ruiz also was behind the plate on both Halladay’s perfect game and his no hitter. When you listen to Halladay talk about his perfect game in his post game interviews, he continually uses the word “we” when he talks about the game. Doc has complete faith in Ruiz to let him call the game and rarely shakes him off.
Carlos Ruiz is exactly the type of player that Philadelphia loves, he is a hard working player who comes up clutch in the big moments. Last season he was the Phillies best hitter in the tough spots and became one of the team’s most dependable hitters. He capped off the Phillies huge comeback win against the Dodges with a walk off double. With all the stars, aces and nationally know players on the Phillies roster, the man we call Chooch has slowly became one of our favorites! Every time you go to a game and hear Dan Baker say, Now bating number 51 Catcher Carlos Ruiz, it will soon be followed by 45,000 simultaneously yelling CHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOCCH!