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Jeff Torborg

May 20, 2008
  
How much does a catcher contribute to a pitcher’s success? There was an attempt to quantify the answer to this with a statistic called catcher ERA, but the numbers for catchers varied too much from year to year for the stat to be trusted as an accurate statistical tool. If anything, the statistic suggested that catchers are pretty much going along for the ride, and catcher ERAs merely mirror the relative merits of pitchers.

If that’s the case, Jeff Torborg was a particularly lucky guy, but not as lucky as Jason Varitek, who last night surged ahead of Torborg and eleven other catchers to become the all-time leader in no-hitters caught. (As Gordon Edes points out, one of the other catchers with three no-hitters caught, Ray Schalk, was for many years credited with being a part of four no-hitters, but one of those was a game in which his pitcher lost his no-hit bid in extra innings; in 1991 such games were no longer considered no-hitters.) I was actually surprised to hear that there were so many catchers who had been a part of three no-hitters, since the first and only guy I think of when I think of multiple no-hitters caught is Jeff Torborg. This may be because of this card, which includes, on the back, Torborg’s tepid major league statistics (.214 lifetime batting average with 8 home runs in 1391 at bats) along with a couple lines of text at the bottom: “Jeff caught 3 no-hitters in his career . . . by Sandy Koufax (1965), Bill Singer (1970), and Nolan Ryan (1973).” I didn’t know much about Bill Singer, but I did know that there were no more impressive names from the pitching world than Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax, and Jeff Torborg had been on hand to collaborate with them at their most superhuman. Though this did rescue Torborg in my mind from total anonymity, I doubt I gave him much credit for his feat. All he had to do was catch immortal fastballs.

I’m sure it’s bias that makes me want to give Jason Varitek credit where I gave Jeff Torborg none. But bias aside, Varitek does have the list of names of the no-hitter pitchers he’s worked with (a fading Hideo Nomo, an erratic Derek Lowe, and two talented but very young pitchers in Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester) as a mark supporting the claim that he had something to do with their success. Also, throughout his career both pitchers and coaches have remarked at length about Varitek’s ability to positively influence pitching performance. Maybe everyone saying it has made it a fact. All I know is that as I sweated out the last few outs of the game last night I was glad the captain was behind the plate.

As for Torborg, shown here at the beginning of his long and mostly featureless managerial career, I no longer think first of him as an extra in stories of no-hitter greatness. This changed for me around the time Ray Schalk was dumped back into the pile of three no-hitter catchers, in the early 1990s, when Torborg became the manager of the New York Mets. He ended up presiding over a colossal Mets failure that season, but what I remember most is the defining moment of his bright and hopeful first press conference. The phrase he uttered, about a newcomer to the team, came to loom over the ruin of the season like a curse.

“Just wait’ll you see Bill Pecota,” Torborg proclaimed.

28 comments

  1. 1.  My favorite Jeff Torborg fun fact is that his son, Dale, is a baseball trainer (currently with the White Sox) and former professional wrestler. His most infamous gimmick (or character, if you will) was that of the KISS Demon, a ham-fisted attempt at cross-branding by Gene Simmons and now-defunct World Championship Wrestling.

    http://www.obsessedwithwrestling.com/profiles/d/dale-torborg.php


  2. 2.  1 : Good lord.


  3. 3.  I was at Dodger Stadium when Singer threw his no-hitter. It was not exactly a masterpiece and I’m pretty sure Don Money actually got a hit but was called out. Being in the bleachers we thought he was safe or maybe they called it an error. At the time I was a big Bill Singer fan so I was happy he got the call.

    My Uncle and cousins lived in the same city but it was the only time I think we went to a Dodger game together. Now my cousin works as private dick and is seen on TV in LA all the time showing how to nail workman comp frauds. It is amazing how stupid people are who are trying to pretend they are hurt.


  4. 4.  You forgot the Schilling game where he shook of Varitek in the 9th. Should have been 5 no-no’s.


  5. 5.  3 : Lucky you! I’ve never been at a game that was even close to being a no-hitter, probably because I always start thinking about it immediately. I do remember as a kid prayerfully listening to the radio as Bob Ojeda carried a no-hitter through several innings against the Yankees, but as soon as my brother came into the room and asked how things were going somebody–I think Roy White–got a hit.

    4 : Right! Good call. Never go against the Captain.


  6. 6.  I’ve attended two no-hitters in Oakland: Nolan Ryan’s #6, and a late-season, four-pitcher affair by the Orioles. I also saw the Mariners’ Brian Holman get one out away from a perfect game, but Ken Phelps broke it up with a home run.

    The thing that struck me about no-hitters, particularly when you’re there in person, is how quickly they go by. There isn’t much time to savor them before you’re heading back home, wondering what it was you just saw.


  7. 7.  6 : That’s an interesting observation about the quickness of the game. The same dynamic was in effect in miniature the one time I saw a guy do a straight steal of home (the Mets’ Roger Cedeno pulling it off against the Yankees). It ain’t like the movies with the swelling music and slow motion. I’m sure a triple play is like that, too.

    But two no-hitters! You must have a great handle on how to not offend the gods during such a developing event. What’s your secret?


  8. 8.  No-hitter?

    What’s a no-hitter?


  9. 9.  I was at a game in 1983 when Milt Wilcox came within one out of a perfect game. It was a cold, miserable night in what we thought was going to be another cold, miserable White Sox season. Seeing a perfect game would have been nice, but it turned out to be just another White Sox loss. Thanks Jerry Hairston!


  10. 10.  7 The only key I can think of is to be willing to root against your team.

    I started rooting for Nolan Ryan to throw the no-hitter in the fourth inning. By the seventh inning, the whole crowd was totally into it, cheering wildly with each out.

    The Orioles one, on the other hand, was really weird–it was a game nobody cared about, the O’s had changed pitchers three times, so the crowd didn’t even seem to know there was a no-hitter going on. My wife and I got up to stand and applaud with two outs in the ninth, and we nearly completely alone in doing so.


  11. 11.  8 : One of the most painful ongoing fanbase subplot in baseball has got to be that of the Mets fan waiting and waiting for the Great Pumpkin of a first no-hitter in franchise history while former Mets rack them up again and again and again.

    10 : Did the Orioles at least mob the reliever who got the final out? I have to think the downbeat multiple-pitcher no-hitter is going to become more common. I wonder if Lester had walked a couple more guys if they’d have taken him out. As it is he threw way more pitches (130, I think) than the organization would have wanted him to throw.


  12. 12.  Torborg and Buck Showalter go together in my mind. Managers who could get a team to a point, but no further. I am wondering if Willie Randolph is in the same category. Ironically, he has that same everything’s fine/no need to panic/we’re a happy family style that Torborg had. When the Mets hired Torborg I couldn’t understand why the White Sox were so willing to let him go, after having piloted their ascension. Then we found out why. The Mets eventually had to go in a completely different direction and hired Bobby V. I think there is a lot of sentiment among Mets fans to bring Bobby V. back. I don’t know that the Wilpons share that enthusiasm.


  13. 13.  10 I can understand getting no-hit by one pitcher. If you run into a pitcher whose complete command is coupled with some great fielding plays and even some luck it can happen. Failing to get a hit off 4 different pitchers is a monument to ineptitude.


  14. 14.  12 : There was a documentary on Bobby V on ESPN recently. I haven’t seen it, but from what I’ve heard Valentine is pretty happy in Japan. They love him there and he loves and respects Japanese baseball and the culture in general. Though he never seemed to have a problem with the pressures of New York (actually, he seemed to relish it), I wonder if he’d give up what he’s got in Japan for another ride on the volatile NYC rollercoaster.


  15. 15.  Thanks for getting my back on The Juice, Josh. I’ve always though that Dylan quote on Garcia’s death is about the most soulful and articulate eulogy I’ve ever read. The linking of the Carter Family and Buddy Holly and Ornette Coleman — man, it makes me appreciate Garcia — and Dylan — all the more.

    “What can you say about anybody? He was some kind of man.”

    — Marlene Dietrich, Touch of Evil


  16. 16.  I believe that this post gives me the last post in three recent threads. I kill conversation when I walk into a room. I’m a Demolition Man.


  17. 17.  15 : You can’t convince people to like something they don’t, but I thought maybe hearing Branford Marsalis and Bob Dylan on the Dead might convince a detractor or two to take another listen to the music. It probably didn’t, but who knows.

    16 : Alas, you couldn’t quite slam the door on this one, Ennui, and Joe Romano also recently eclipsed your last word in the Woodie Fryman post.


  18. 18.  I made it to Doc Gooden’s no hitter in 1996, courtesy of Yankee Fan Festival free tickets.

    I had just returned from college for summer break in 1998, when I was planning to see Yanks-Twins. Seeing as it was beanie baby day, I declined because I really didn’t feel like dealing with the crowd that day. That’s why I missed David Wells’ perfect game.

    I did manage to make it to the stadium a year later to see David Cone pitch a perfect game.

    in 1993, I had made just about every weekend game at the stadium. My boss wasn’t too happy about that, because I would show up late for work (this despite the fact that I had cleared it with my coworker, and he was cool with me coming in late). Anyway, to placate him, I decided to skip Yanks-Indians, and show up to work early. That’s the reason I wasn’t in attendance when Jim Abbott pitched his no-hitter.


  19. 19.  10, 11 : I was also in attendance at the Orioles 4-pitcher no-hitter, wearing my Orioles hat in hostile territory. I believe the starter (Bob Milacki) was taken out due to an injury, so after replacing him the O’s just trotted out a new reliever each inning. After the final out (which yes, the crowd was rather ambivalent about), the Orioles just shook hands and congratulated each other like it was another win.

    Of course no-hitters were commonplace then. There were 7 no-hitters in 1990 and 7 more in 1991, including El Presidente’s perfect game.


  20. 20.  3 Hey, I was at the Bill Singer no-hitter, too, courtesy of the LA Times A-Student program.


  21. 21.  Hey, maybe Torborg is a visionary who was talking about the projection-system PECOTA, and not the infielder.

    Wait…I’ve heard Torborg as a color commentator on baseball broadcasts. Forget the visionary thing.


  22. 22.  19
    My twins were 13 months old on July 28, 1991 and I couldn’t hold out any longer to take them to a ballgame. We had club level seats on the Sunday afternoon — easy in, shade on a warm day, the quiet level at Dodger Stadium. I would be happy if they’d not melt down for five innings. With a perfecto underway, we hung on until the seventh, but couldn’t subject the other fans to any more wailing. I wanted to scream too and still can’t believe I had to leave early.


  23. 23.  My Dad saw the first no-hitter Jeff Torborg caught… It was also a perfect game.


  24. 24.  Torborg’s first two no-hitter battery-mates were each quotable, although in vastly different ways:

    “In the end it all comes down to talent. You can talk all you want about intangibles, I just don’t know what that means. Talent makes winners, not intangibles. Can nice guys win? Sure, nice guys can win – if they’re nice guys with a lot of talent. Nice guys with a little talent finish fourth, and nice guys with no talent finish last.”—Sandy Koufax

    In the meantime:

    Bill Singer: “What are you doing here?”

    (Dodgers assistant GM Kim) Ng: “I’m working.”

    Singer: “What are you doing here?”

    Ng: “I’m working. I’m the Dodger assistant general manager.”

    Singer: “Where are you from?”

    Ng: “I was born in Indiana and grew up in New York.”

    Singer: “Where are you from?”

    Ng: “My family’s from China.”

    Singer: Nonsensically mock Chinese, then “What country in China?”

    Evidently Singer is now the Asian scouting coordinator for the Senators. Here’s to redemption.


  25. 25.  21 Torborg’s baseball commentary is as exciting as Marty Schottenheimer’s football commentary. I’d rather watch paint dry. The best thing about Schottenheimer having a coaching gig is that it keeps him out of the studio.


  26. 26.  A lot of Met fans feel inadequate that the team never had a no-hitter but they’re so random, I find it infinitely more interesting to have had none than than to have had one or two or whatever.


  27. 27.  Having been what I describe as “an accidental witness” (a friend had an extra ticket that he couldn’t convince his son, daughter nor his girlfriend to use) to Jon Lester’s Monday night no no, listening and watching the Fenway faithful has convinced me of one thing, a no-hitter is NEVER about the catcher.


  28. 28.  A couple of weeks ago my girlfriend and I were at a Dodger game where Kuroda had a perfect game going into the 8th inning. I was very aware of the situation and in good faith to the superstition, myself and the other guys around us didn’t mention it one bit. Of course, as the 8th inning is about to start, my girlfriend wants to switch seats so her crossed leg isn’t in the aisle. “No” I say. “What’s your problem?” she asks. “Nothing,” I say, “I just don’t want to jinx anything. This can be a very historical night.” This tyope of conversation goes on for a few moments until she recognizes that Kuroda hasn’t given up a hit and mentions it. My stomach drops and my soul is deflated. I just look at her and say, “you are not supposed to say anything,” and leave it at that. The inning starts and Kuroda gives up solid double to Mark Texiera. That is the only batter to reach in the whole game. I want to get pissed and yell or something, but just look at her and say, “it wasn’t your fault.” She says, “I am sorry I talked.” I am sure others in the ball park mentioned it long before we did, but I can’t help but to live with the guilt that we broke up that chance at history. Sigh.



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