Carlos Ruiz Deserves Gold Glove

Nobody hustles like Chooch (not even Cliff Lee)

Like most sports addicts, I swap text messages with a few buddies during games. At the top of my contact list is my cousin Bill, a die-hard, Northeast born-and-bred Philly fan. He’s on a business trip in Cincinnati this week, and for five bucks a pop, his crew of work pals scored primo second-level seats behind home plate for Wednesday’s Phillies/Reds matchup. Bill was looking forward to mocking his co-worker, a Yankee fan, with constant jibes about starter Cliff Lee choosing Broad Street over the Bronx. Between breaking stones and suds, I figured he wasn’t checking his phone much, so we only exchanged notes about one player—Carlos Ruiz, who stole the show with a defensive play that will hopefully help him win a Gold Glove when the season is over.

It seemed like a simple double play, until Chase Utley’s throw sailed past Ryan Howard. But there was Chooch, who had charged up the first base line in case something went wrong. Thanks to Ruiz’s hustle, he turned what would have been an Utley error into an out, throwing back to his second baseman and stopping the Reds from stealing a bag. That’s the kind of textbook baseball effort that they teach in Little League, but isn’t always seen in the bigs. With the Phillies enjoying a comfortable lead on the scoreboard and in the standings, no one would have blamed Ruiz for not tossing off his mask and sprinting to first. (Just as no one around here seems to have a problem with Lee, who didn’t bother to leave the batter’s box on what appeared to be—and was—an easy out). That’s not how Chooch is wired. He’s head-down and hustling every day, every play, just the way we like it in this town.

Granted, as with many pro sports awards, there’s a perception that Gold Gloves—given to the best defensive players at each position—are more about reputation and popularity than stats. St. Louis Cardinals backstop Yadier Molina has won for the National League three years in a row. When you compare their numbers this season as of Wednesday, Ruiz has an edge in fielding percentage and errors, and despite having played 11 fewer games, leads in assists (61 to 53) putouts (770 to 684), and caught stealing (22-17) categories. Molina is considered by many to be the best defensive catcher in the game, so Ruiz is no shoe-in. Stats for their position are also tough to interpret without context; it’s safe to say runners are less likely to challenge Molina’s arm than to attempt a steal on Ruiz’s watch, leading to fewer throw-out chances.

What should help Ruiz come award season is all the attention he’s been getting this year as the man trusted by the Four Aces to call their games. An excellent cover story by Sports Illustrated’s Gary Smith should serve as an eye-opener for folks who don’t watch him night in and night out. For those of us who do, Wednesday’s double play was more of what we’ve come to expect from Chooch. It’s evidence that he deserves recognition beyond his bat and his handling of the best rotation in baseball. Maybe the Phils should send that highlight to the Gold Glove voters, just in case no one gave them a heads-up text.