Apr 30, 2016

Former Mets Catcher & Helmet Inventor: Charlie O'Brien (1990-1993)

Charles Hugh O’ Brien was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 1, 1960. The six foot two Charlie O attended Wichita State University, hitting 25 HRs with 116 RBIs while leading his team to the 1982 College World Series.

That year he was drafted by the Oakland A’s in the fifth round as a catcher. Initially he hit .291 with 14 HRs at AA Albany in the Eastern League in 1983 but dropped off significantly the next two seasons. In 1985 the solid defensive catcher, got a September call up batting .273 in 16 games.

In 1986 he got traded to the Milwaukee Brewers along with two minor leaguers for pitcher Moose Hass. He played three seasons in Milwaukee and never hit like he did in college ever again, putting up a best .234 with 6 HRs 35 RBIs in 1989. In Milwaukee he was primarily B.J. Surhoff’s backup catcher, putting up strong defensive numbers. He threw out 43% of runners attempting to steal in 1989 & tossed out at least 36% every season in Milwaukee.

In August of 1990 he was traded to the New York Mets for two players to be named later, who turned out to be Julio Machado and another player named Kevin Brown. He didn’t hit much but became known around the league as one of NL's best defensive catchers. O’Brien battled Mackey Sasser & Rick Cerone for the Mets catching job in 1991. Although he did not win the starting role, mostly due to his hitting, he became Dwight Gooden’s personal catcher.

With the Mets, O’Brien would also catch former Cy Young winners Bret Saberhagen & Frank Viola, adding to a career total of eleven Cy Young winners he would call pitches for in his career. O’Brien became famous for his long curly hair over the collar look, similar to Gary Carter.

O'Brien debuted in New York on September 1st with the first place Mets catching Julio Valera who earned his first win that day, beating the San Francisco Giants. On September 8th O'Brien had a rare big day at the plate getting three hits with three RBIs in a Mets 12-2 win over the Phillies.

On September 11th he had another three RBI day in a Mets 10-8 win over the Cardinals topped off by a walk off Daryl Strawberry HR. In the month he hit .162 with nine RBIs in 28 games played. Behind the plate he threw out a league best 46% of would be base stealers 16 of 35.

In 1991 his first full season as a Met he hit .185 with two HRs, six doubles & 14 RBIs. But it was his defense that made him such a good player, in 1991 he posted a .988 fielding % throwing out 32% of would be base stealers. At the plate he enjoyed a three hit day on May 15th driving in a run against the Padres at San Diego.

Later that summer he drove in three runs in a 904 win over the Dodgers at Shea Stadium. He hit his first HR of the season on August 22nd in a Mets 6-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. On August 30th he hit a solo HR helping David Cone beat the Reds 3-2 in Cincinnati.

In 1992 as Todd Hundley's backup catcher, he threw out 46% of would be base stealers, second best in the National league while posting a .991 fielding %. At the plate he hit .212 with 2 HRs 12 doubles & 13 RBIs. On May 1st he hit a two run HR in Atlanta against the Braves in an 8-7 win. O'Brien added another HR in late August in a game against the Cincinnati Reds. On September 14th O'Brien drove in three runs with a bases clearing double in a Mets 10-8 win at Wrigley Field.

In 1993 he had his best year at the plate & hit a career high .255 with 4 HRs 11 doubles & 23 RBIs appearing in 67 games. In early May he had a three game stretch where he had seven hits while driving in runs in three straight games. On May 25th his double in the top of the 9th inning drove in two runs putting the Mets ahead for good, after rallying from being down 4-1.

Again in July he had a three game stretch where he drove in runs in each game, enjoying a four game hit streak. In August he had another four game hit streak & had two different games where he drove in more than one run. On September 22nd, he hit a two run HR in Pittsburgh scoring Jeromy Burnitz for the game winning runs. He averaged 67 games behind the plate in each of his three seasons with the Mets.

O’Brien was not resigned for 1994 as Kelly Stinnett was given the backup catcher’s role. Charlie O went to the Atlanta Braves as a free agent & became the personal catcher of Cy Young winner Greg Maddox. He also was Steve Avery’s main catcher as the Braves went on to win the 1995 World Series. O’Brien went 2-5 in the NLCS good for a .400 average and 0-3 in the World Series against the Cleveland Indians.

He became unpopular with Met fans, when he was involved in a brawl at Shea, leveling short time Met John Cangelosi . Cangelosi had charged the mound after getting hit by a pitch from John Smoltz a second time that season. Charlie O tackled the little Cangelosi from behind wrestling him to the ground.

After two seasons he moved onto to the Toronto Blue Jays backing up Pat Borders and having career highs in 1996 in HRs (13) & RBIs (44) hitting .238. In Toronto he would catch Pat Hentgen in his CY Young season adding to his list of award winners. O’ Brien had brief stints in Anaheim, Chicago & Montreal before retiring in 2000.

In a 15 year career he was a lifetime .221 hitter, with 493 hits 56 HRs 119 doubles a .303 on base % & 261 RBIs. He posted a .990 lifetime fielding % making only 47 errors in nearly 5800 innings. He threw out a career 37% of would be base stealers (265 runners) posting a .990 fielding %.

Inventor: The biggest thing Charlie O’Brien will be remembered for is pioneering the hockey-style catcher's mask used today by many catchers. While playing with the Blue Jays he invented the new style mask, and worked with the Van Velden Mask Co. of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, to develop his idea. The new design, called the All-Star MVP, was approved by MLB in 1996 and O’Brien was the 1st to use it.

Retirement: Since baseball O'Brien, a life long hunter & lover of the outdoors, now runs one of the premier whitetail deer operations in the country, Catch 22 Ranch. His hunting success and knowledge of deer hunting has led him to be one of the key members and hosts of the ever-popular hunting show Deer Thugs.

Family: O’Brien’s son was a star basketball player & catcher at his dads old college at Wichita State. In 2011 he was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 18th round.

No comments: