BREITBARD HALL OF FAME : BOB BOONE : He Was the Catcher Who Endured--and Endured . . .


He was the Dom Perignon on the shelf with $1.89 bottles of Andre. He was the Mercedes-Benz in the parking lot with rusted Ford Escorts. He was the Georgio Armani suit on the rack with K mart leisure suits.

In an era when star catchers are as difficult to find as high-yielding passport savings accounts, there was Bob Boone.

The catcher time forgot.

Boone played the game until he was 42. He spent 19 years in the big leagues, catching a record 2,225 games. He’s the only catcher in the game who has caught at least 100 games in 15 seasons.


The resume includes seven Gold Gloves, four All-Star selections, six playoff appearances, and a World Series championship with the 1980 Philadelphia Phillies.

Boone, a San Diego native who graduated from Crawford High, will be honored Tuesday when he’s inducted into the Breitbard Hall of Fame. It could be Cooperstown’s turn next.

“I’ve never played this game for the glory,” Boone said, “and I certainly never played it for the statistics. Let’s face it, if I’d have had to make a living with my bat, I would have starved to death by now.”

Boone, who almost gave up baseball for medical school in 1975, didn’t enter the major leagues until he was two months shy of his 25th birthday. He never even intended to be a catcher, but the Phillies already had a fine third baseman in Don Money and converted Boone from third base to catcher in 1970. It was the best move of Boone’s career. One year later, the Phillies signed a third baseman named Mike Schmidt.

Boone never was much of a hitter during his 18-year career. It took him 16 years to hit 100 home runs. He finished with a career batting average of .254, never driving in more than 66 runs in a season.

But, oh, how he could catch.

While others couldn’t keep up the frenzied pace, when their knees no longer could tolerate the constant squatting, there was Boone. Johnny Bench stopped catching when he was 33. Gabby Hartnett and Bill Dickey were part-timers by the time they were 35. Boone was just getting started in his mid-30s, joining Carlton Fisk as the only men in baseball history to catch 100 games in a season after the age of 36.


“He had the highest pain threshold and the most mental toughness of anyone I ever managed,” said Gene Mauch, who managed Boone for six years with the Angels.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Boone’s entire career is that it wasn’t until his final season, in 1990 with the Kansas City Royals, that he went on the disabled list. He was roaming behind home plate, trying to catch a pop-up by Carlos Quintana of the Boston Red Sox, when he broke his right index finger.

Boone had played with plenty of injuries before. When he tore cartilage in his right knee in 1975, he kept playing. He tore cartilage in his left knee during the 1984 spring training and still caught 137 games. He once broke the fourth finger on his throwing hand, taped it to the middle finger and played the next day.

This time, it was different. He couldn’t throw the ball back to the pitcher, much less second base. And when his finger mended nearly three months later, and the Royals were out of the pennant race, Manager John Wathan decided it was time for Boone to say goodby.

“He told me, ‘I’m taking you off the disabled list, but you’re still not going to play,’ ” Boone said. “You know what, he didn’t lie.”

Boone finished the season playing only 40 games, the fewest of his career. The Royals told him they weren’t inviting him back, believing that age had finally discovered Boone.

Turns out, the rest of baseball felt the same.

The only team willing to give Boone a shot at playing again last season was the Seattle Mariners. They invited him to camp as a non-roster catcher, vowing that even if he made the team, he would only be their backup.

Boone had different ideas. He believed once he made the team, he’d eventually be their starter. He never got the chance. He was provided only three at-bats in “A” games with the Mariners, and was unceremoniously dumped in spring training.

The playing career of Robert Raymond Boone was over.

“I think it’s hard for people to believe this,” Boone said, “but I went out exactly the way I wanted. I told myself years ago I was going to wring it out until the absolute end. And the end is when I can’t get employment.

“Some guys want to dictate how their career ends. They want their farewell tour. But I never wanted a Mike Schmidt press conference, the tears, and all that. You’ve got to understand, I was never in it for the glory.

“I was an aberration. God blessed me with skills that didn’t deteriorate. And now, I can leave with a certain satisfaction that I did my job for a long time, and I did it well. I did it the right way.

“And I take great pride in that.”

Boone was watching a game on TV this past summer with his sons, Aaron and Matthew, when Minnesota Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett stepped to the plate. Boone’s mind started racing, as if he were behind the plate.

“I was watching this catcher trying to set up Puckett,” Boone said, “and he was so dumb, it was driving me crazy. Finally, I said, ‘Look at this idiot. He’s trying to set Puckett up where they’re going to come inside on him. I’ll tell you what, he’s going to get that pitch and line a double over the second baseman’s head.’

“Sure enough, two pitches later, they come inside, and Puckett lines a pitch over the second baseman’s head, and the game’s over. I started yelling, ‘See, see, see.’ I stormed out of the room. I couldn’t take it anymore.”

As his kids and wife, Sue, will attest, that’s how Boone watched most of the games this summer. He watched a few pitches here, a few innings there, only to become so frustrated he felt like tossing his remote control through the TV set.

“Just like the World Series,” Boone said. “Everybody kept saying what a great World Series it was. I thought it was awful. There were so many stupid mistakes made, I don’t know how anyone could enjoy it. People liked to credit the pitching. Come on, it wasn’t as if (Sandy) Koufax and (Don) Drysdale were out there.

“How can anyone say that was a good World Series.”

It perhaps was best that Boone was so busy this summer he hardly had time to watch any big-leagues games. The family spent a week with son Bret Boone, who played for the Seattle Mariners’ double-A Jacksonville team. They took a month to leisurely drive to Canada with family and friends to attend the Olympic Festival, in which his son, Aaron, played. He coached Aaron’s Connie Mack team, and helped out with 12-year-old Matthew’s Pony League. He hardly even had time to get exasperated.

“It was a long year for him,” said former big leaguer Ray Boone, Bob’s father. “He enjoyed being with his family, but he knew he should have been out there.”

Said Bob: “It bothered me more than I’d like to admit because I thought I should be playing. There’s no doubt in my mind I could have out-played catchers that were in the game last year, the majority in fact.

“But I wasn’t bitter. I wasn’t moaning or groaning. The biggest thing I got tired of was people saying, ‘What are you doing?’ I always said, ‘Nothing.’ ”

The inquiries finally began to subside when Boone accepted a job to become manager of the Orlando, Fla., franchise, contingent on whether they were awarded an expansion team.

“I knew we didn’t have much of a chance to get a team,” he said, “but at least it gave me a good excuse.”

When the expansion teams were announced during the summer, and Orlando was bypassed for Denver and Miami, Boone decided he still wanted back in the game. He wanted to manage. He was willing to start at any level. He just didn’t know how to ask.

“I was really resistant to call and ask for jobs,” Boone said. “I had the attitude that I’d just sit by the phone and wait for them to call me. I didn’t feel comfortable calling a lot of friends, and putting them in an awkward position by asking for a job.”

So Boone called a stranger, Sandy Alderson of the Oakland Athletics. Boone believes the Athletics are the best organization in baseball, anyway, so why not go with the best? Ironically, the same day he applied for the job, the Mariners also called, asking if Boone wanted the double-A Jacksonville job.

Boone decided to stall, waiting for the Athletics. They responded a week later. They offered Boone their triple-A Tacoma job. In two weeks, Boone will be wearing a green and gold cap.

“I’m going to love it,” Boone said. “I know I’ll be back on the buses again, and there’ll be a ton of travel in the Northwest, but that doesn’t bother me in the least. The way I look at it, I’ll be able to get a lot of reading in.”

Royals catcher Mike Macfarlane, who was tutored by Boone, said: “Let’s put it this way, I learned so much from him when he was in Kansas City, I feel I owe much of my career to him. The way his mind works, the way he works with people, he’s going to be a great one.”

America loves awards. We honor Girl Scouts who sell the most cookies; airlines that have the fewest delays. Some of us compete to be Time magazine’s Man of the Year, others McDonald’s Employee of the Month.

There are the Grammys, Oscars, Nobels, Pulitzers, Golden Globes, Golden Gloves and Golden Oldies. There are the All-Stars, Silver Sluggers, Gold Gloves, MVPs and Cy Youngs.

Yet, in many respects, there’s only one true award in baseball. It’s the ultimate in all of sports. It’s called the Hall of Fame.

“Whether I’m in there or not,” Boone said, “I’ll get to be talked about with Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Johnny Bench. The fact that it’s thought about is reward enough for me.”

Ray Boone, who spent 13 years as an infielder for the Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Braves, says he never has discussed enshrinement with his son. Sure, Ray believes his son belongs. He knows it would be a sin if he’s somehow bypassed. Yet the father and son have yet to share their secret desire.

“There’s no way Bob would ever utter a word of that to me,” Ray said, “and I don’t talk about it to him. I know he belongs. And I’m sure he believes he does, too.

“But Bob doesn’t want to hear about that. His philosophy has always been that anything he doesn’t have control over, he refuses to let enter his mind.”

Despite all of the individuals awards and accomplishments, the greatest memory in Boone’s career remains the day the Phillies won the World Series, four games to two over Kansas City. He hit .412 during the World Series, and finished his career with a .327 postseason average in 33 games.

Nothing could be more satisfying, he says.

Except maybe four years down the line, when the Hall of Fame distributes its ballots.

“I’m not real optimistic because what I did well was part of the intangibles of the game,” Boone said. “You can’t quantify it. If you can’t quantify it, you can’t rate it. And if you can’t rate it, how can you compare it in the realm of the Hall of Fame?

“But I know in my years with the Phillies, I was as important or played as big a part as Mike Schmidt. No one can tell me differently. But when you vote for the Hall of Fame, who gets the look, Mike Schmidt or me?

“I was never in this game for the glory, anyway.”

No, he just made it a better game.