May 16, 2011

Card Spotlight: 1954 Topps Mike Sandlock

It may look upside down now, you just have to turn your head a bit.

Backup catchers are one of the most overlooked and yet, highly regarded positions on a baseball roster. They're overlooked in the sense that the position is usually filled by someone who's lacking in one of the major skills (hitting for average/hitting for power). They're highly regarded because their most important skills are knowing how to handle a pitching staff and fill in when called upon to don the tools of ignorance.

It can be a veteran reaching the end of the line such as Brian Schneider or Ivan Rodriguez or a guy who has been a backup catcher for most of his career such as Matt Treanor or Ramon Castro. They're described as grizzled, beaten up, inexperienced, slow-footed, strong-armed, resourceful, conqueror of pitchers' souls, and controller of games. Generally, they don't make pinch-hitting appearances unless there's an injury to the first catcher during that game. So, they're always waiting with the pitching charts in hand until the time when the chest protector is needed.

They can also be called daytime catchers. Whenever it's a day game after a night game or a split doubleheader, they make an appearance.  Mike Sandlock seemed to have filled a similar role with the Pirates in 1953.  He played in 64 games with 202 AB and was not a strong hitter that year (42 OPS+).  He had spent the previous 6 years in the minor leagues, perfecting his art.  It was amazing that he reappeared in the majors at the age of 37 playing a position he had only played for 64 previous games in his career.  He had a similar number of games in the infield (SS and 3B).

Ironically, though he appears with the Phillies on his 1954 Topps cards, he only appeared with one game within the organization in AAA.  He finished the season with San Diego of the Pacific Coast League, finishing his career, trying to capture the backup catching role one last time.

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