Charlie O'Brien: Former Mets Catcher Who Caught 13 Cy Young Pitchers & Invented a New Catcher's Helmet (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. 

MLB Career: 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 primarily as B.J. Surhoff’s backup catcher. He never hit like he did in college but was a fine defensive backstop. In 1989 he threw out 43% of base runners attempting to steal & tossed out at least 36% of base stealers in those years in Milwaukee. 1n 1989 he hit .234 with 6 HRs & 35 RBIs playing in 62 games.

Mets Career: 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 & Kevin Brown. He didn’t hit much but became known around the league as one of NL's best defensive catchers.

Hall of Fame Pitchers: With the Mets, O’Brien would also catch former Cy Young winners Bret Saberhagen & Frank Viola. In his career O'Brien would be the back stop for a total of eleven Cy Young Award winners that he would call pitches for. Only four of those pitchers actually won the Award the season O'Brien was their catcher. O’Brien became famous for his long curly hair over the collar look, similar to Gary Carter.

1990: 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.

1991: 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.

On May 15th O'Brien enjoyed a three-hit day with a double & an RBI single in a 7-1 win over the Padres at San Diego. From July 16th through August 12, he had a six-game hit streak.

Three RBI Game: On July 21st, he hit one of four consecutive doubles against the Dodgers, with three coming off former Mets Bobby Ojeda. O'Brien's two run double came in the Mets six run 3rd inning of the 9-4 win. Earlier he had driven in a run with a sac fly to complete his three RBI game. 

On August 22nd Charlie hit his first HR of the season, it came off Bob Tewksbury in a 6-0 Mets win over the St. Louis Cardinals. On August 30th he hit his second HR, a solo shot off Randy Myers helping David Cone beat the Reds 3-2 in Cincinnati.

In Charlie's 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, as he posted a .988 fielding % making just four errors while throwing out 32% of would-be base stealers. That year the Mets went into decline as they finished fifth 77-84.

1992: This season as Todd Hundley's backup catcher, Charlie threw out 46% of would-be base stealers, second best in the National league while posting a .991 fielding %. 

In his first game of the season, he hit two doubles in a 7-1 win at St. Louis. On May 1st he hit a two run HR off the Braves Kent Merker in Atlanta in an 8-7 Met win. 

O'Brien added another HR in late August in a 12-1 crushing of the Cincinnati Reds at Shea. 

Three RBI Game: On September 14th O'Brien came into a game at Wrigley Field in the 8th inning replacing Todd Hundley who had been pinch hit for. The Mets were down 8-7 when he came to bat in the top of the 9th inning with the bases loaded & two outs. O'Brien doubled off Jeff Robinson clearing the bases leading the Mets to the 10-8 win.

On the season he batted .212 with 12 doubles 2 HRs & 13 RBIs. The Mets dubbed the worst team money could buy finished fifth under manager Jeff Torborg.

1993: O'Brien would have his best year at the plate for the seventh place Mets that won just 59 games for Managers Jeff Torborg & Dallas Green.

On April 17th, he hit a two-run 9th inning double off the Reds Rob Dibble in a 4-2 win at Shea Stadium.

At the end of May he had a three-game stretch where he had seven hits while driving in runs in three straight games. On May 26th his two run double in the top of the 9th inning off the Phillies Dave West, put the Mets ahead for good in a 5-4 win after rallying from three runs down to that years NL Champs.

In July he had another three-game stretch where he drove in runs in each game, enjoying a four-game hit streak. 

Game Winning HR: On July 19th he came into a 1-0 game in San Diego as a defensive replacement in the 9th inning. The Padres tied the game on Tony Gwynn's RBI base hit off John Franco. In the top of the 10th, Charlie hit a leadoff HR off Gene Harris leading the Mets to a 2-1 win. He hit a HR in his next game two days later in a 5-2 win at San Diego as well.

In August he had a four-game hit streak & had two multi-RBI games.

Three RBI Game: On September 22nd in Pittsburgh, O'Brien singled in the 2nd inning bringing in Joe Orsulak with the Mets first run. In the top of the 10th inning, with the score tied at 4-4, he hit a two run HR off Joel Johnston] giving the Mets the winning runs over the Pirates. 

That season he hit a career high .255 with 4 HRs 11 doubles & 23 RBIs appearing in 67 games. 
O'Brien averaged 67 games behind the plate in each of his three seasons with the Mets.

Post Mets Career: 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 multi Cy Young winner Greg Maddox. He also was Steve Avery’s main catcher as the Braves went on to win the 1995 World Series. 

1995 Post Season: In the NLDS win over the Rockies, O’Brien caught Game #1 & the final Game #4 for Greg Maddox. Maddox was not his best but the Braves won both games, beating Bret Saberhagen in the final game.

In the NLCS Game #3 he hit a three run HR off the Reds David Wells helping Maddox in a 5-2 win. He returned for Game #4 catching Steve Avery as he & the Braves bullpen shut out the Reds to sweep the series.

1995 World Series: In the World Series he was behind the plate with Greg Maddox in his Game #1 win & his Game #5 loss. Charlie went 0-3 at the plate in the series win over the Cleveland Indians. 

Brawl At Shea Stadium: 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 Braves pitcher, John Smoltz. It was the second time that season Smoltz had plunked Cangelosi. The 6'2" O'Brien tackled the 5'8" Cangelosi from behind, wrestling him to the ground.

After two seasons in Atlanta, he moved onto to the Toronto Blue Jays (1996-1997) 

There he was backing up main catcher Pat Borders. In Toronto O'Brien would catch pitcher Pat Hentgen in his CY Young season adding to Charlie's list of Ay Young award winners. In 1996 he had career highs in HRs (13) & RBIs (44) hitting .238.

O’ Brien then went to the Anaheim Angels (1998-1999) Chicago White Sox (1998) & Montreal Expos (2000) before ending his career in 2000.

Career Stats: 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 first to use it.

Author: Charlie wrote a book on his experiences catching 13 Cy Young pitchers.

Retirement: Since baseball O'Brien, a lifelong 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. O'Brien continue to live in Tulsa.

Family: Charlie & his wife Tracy have two sons, both of them played college baseball. 

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

His other son Cameron attended different schools & was undrafted playing two years at the low A-ball level. Both their careers were over when they were suspended for using amphetamines.


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