May 2, 2016

An Original Met- Italian / American Catcher: Chris Cannizzaro (1962-1965)

Christopher John Cannizzaro was born May 3, 1938 in Oakland, California. He was the grandson of Italian immigrants on his fathers side & his mother was of Spanish heritage. He & his brothers were raised in San Leandro, California outside of Oakland, where his father was a police officer.

The six foot, right hand hitting catcher was signed out of San Leandro high school in 1956 by the St. Louis Cardinals.

He hit a minor league best .272 at AAA Omaha in 1958 making the All Star team. Two years later after batting .251 at AAA Rochester, he made his MLB debut with St. Louis, but was back in the minors next season. He played in seven games in 1960 then six more in 1961 after getting called up late in the year.

In that years expansion draft, Cannizzaro became an original Met for the teams first season in 1962 when he was their 26th pick.

Trivia: In Spring Training of 1962 his son Chris Jr. was born, technically becoming the first Met baby in the team’s history. The elder Chris, didn’t see his son until he was three months old. Unlike in todays times players weren’t allowed to leave camp for maternity leave.

In classic 1962 Mets folk lore, Manager Casey Stengel also used to tell the press “we have a catcher on the team that can’t catch”. Stengel couldn’t even pronounce Cannizzaro’s name correctly, usually calling him “Canzaroni” or something close to that pronunciation. This was also a sign of the times, as where in todays politically correct times, anyone with even the craziest of names, would not stand for a mispronunciation.

Quotes: Casey Stengel- “Canzoneri, He can’t hit, but a catcher like this kid, who can throw, will let my pitchers pay attention to the hitter instead of worrying about a runner on first base.”

On a road trip out west to San Francisco, Cannizzaro managed to reserve 62 free passes to the games, a rather large number for a non regular player.

Chris Cannizzaro  would have trouble seeing certain pitches at the that came out of the white Rheingold Beer sign with a white background in the Polo Grounds outfield. He made six errors on the season & dropped more than a few balls. It is interesting to note he never had that problem in any other ball park. Also it must be noted that certain umpires also complained about seeing pitches in the Polo Grounds.

He was tough to steal against, as he threw out 56% of would be base stealers, which the best average in the National League throwing 20 of 36 runners. On September 2nd, in a rare Mets win, he was brought in to the game in the 9th inning as a relief catcher (if there is such a thing). As the St. Louis Cards were threatening with pinch runner Julian Javier on first base, he attempted to steal but was nailed by Cannizzaro, preserving the one run victory.

In his Mets career he was primarily a back up or third string catcher. In 1962 the Mets used seven different catchers during the season.

Trivia: During his playing days he was known as one of the slowest runners on the base paths. One legendary Mets tale says how he once couldn’t score from second base on a double.

In 1962 he appeared in 59 games batting .241 without any HRs, two doubles, a .335 on base % & nine RBIs.

In 1963  the Mets acquired Norm Sherry & later Jesse Gonder, making it harder to compete for a catchers position. Cannizzaro also suffered an early finger injury & he was sent down to AAA Buffalo. There he played in 93 games  batting .266 with seven HRs.

He returned to the Mets in September & went 3-3 upon his return. Overall he only played in 16 games that year, five in May & the rest in September batting .242.

In 1964 as the Mets opened the new Shea Stadium, Cannizzaro returned to catch 60 games behind the plate. He shared time with back stops; Jesse Gonder & Hawk Taylor. Cannizzaro hit a career best .311 that season (164 at bats) with 51 hits 10 doubles & 10 RBIs.

In 1965 the Mets used six catchers throughout the season, with Cannizaro being their main guy. Problem was he only hit .183 with 41 hits, eight doubles, two triples & seven RBIs , posting a .270 on base %.

Behind the plate he caught 112 games (4th in the NL) & one again led the league with best caught stealing % in the NL. He threw out 53% of would be base stealers,31 of 59. He also made 12 errors behind the plate, the most in the NL. He wore uniform #8 until Yogi Berra came to the team as a player / coach, then Chris took on uniform #5.

On April 5, 1966 Cannizzaro was traded to the Atlanta Braves for Don Dillard. In his four year Mets career Cannizzaro played in 249 games, batting .236 with 137 hits, 21 doubles & 30 RBIs. After playing two years in the minors at AAA Toledo & Richmond, he returned to the majors, this time with the Pittsburgh Pirates. That season he played in just 25 games, but finally hit his first career HR, eight years after making his debut.

Then in 1969 he became an original San Diego Padre and was the clubs first player to ever appear in an All Star Game. He only hit .220 that year with four HRs 14 doubles & 33 RBIs. He threw out 41% of would be base stealers & allowed 14 passed balls (3rd most in the NL) .

 In 1970 he hit .279, then after two seasons as the Padres main catcher he was sent to The Chicago Cubs (1971) then the Los Angeles Dodgers (1972-1973).

He retired from playing in 1974 ending a ten year career. He batted .235 with 458 hits 18 HRs 66 doubles & 169 RBIs. Overall he caught 714 games with a .983 fielding % throwing out 41% of would be base stealers, 175 out of 332 runners. Cannizzaro holds a share of the Major League record for most unassisted double plays by a catcher (2).

Retirement: After baseball he has coached at various levels for the Atlanta Braves (1976-1978) & California Angels (1979-1982) organizations.

In 2006 he was named the director of baseball operations at San Diego State University. There he became a very successful coach.

Family: His son Chris Jr. played at San Diego State as freshman when Tony Gwynn was a senior at the school.

No comments: