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The Catcher Who Sparked His Team to the Playoffs

One blogger wrote this, about the catcher who came to a new team in 2006 and helped spark them to the playoffs:

You have Lo Duca, a guy who enjoys being a Met, and has repeatedly said (begged?) that he wants to remain a Met, and that he loves being a Met and he loves the fans.

Another blogger wrote this, about the catcher who came to a new team in 2006 and helped spark them to the playoffs:

Sometimes it’s nice to know that the guys we root for care just as much about winning as we do.

Two very nice tributes to Paul Lo Duca, don't you think? Except the second one was written by Dan Lucero of Up in the Rockies [1] (link courtesy of Metsblog [2]). He's sorry to be losing the fellow we're gaining, catcher Yorvit Torrealba.

Torrealba? You mean the guy almost no Mets fan is excited about signing as a free agent [3]? The guy who isn't really known for hitting, fielding, throwing or anything outside of Denver? The first blogger above, the indefatigable Metstradamus [4], expressed his and probably all our doubts about the best/only damn Yorvit who ever played in the bigs and concluded why we're winding up with him:

[T]he only formula that the Mets are looking at is TH + E…otherwise known as the Distraction Factor. Yorvit's Distraction Factor is near zero, if not exactly zero. Lo Duca's Distraction Factor? It's about 105. TH + E, if you must know, is Tabloid Headlines + Ejections. Too high a distraction factor does not jibe with the Wilpons, who want to have a team of “oh golly gee” guys who aren't going to rock the boat…it's the Distraction Factor that is keeping Lo Duca from returning. Because heaven forbid the Mets have any players that show some emotion and actually care about baseball a little bit more than your average run o' the mill robot.

Now back to Dan in Colorado:

I’m sad to see Yorvit Torrealba go. I’ll miss the emotion and the passion he brought to every game behind the plate. It really felt like Yorvit was the representative of the die-hard Rox fan on the field. When we exulted, so did he. Some players seem almost robotic as they go about the 162-game grind. Not Yorvit, especially not during this year’s stretch drive.

Wait a second…isn't Torrealba the robot and Paulie the passionate one? Lo Duca's the heart & soul guy, right? Yorvit's just another rented stranger in a long line of rented Met strangers, right? Metstradamus says so characteristically brilliantly:

It's really no wonder that other franchises regularly have players who come out and say that in their heart they'll always be a member of that team, while the Mets regularly have players like Tony Tarasco, who teach young pitchers how to smuggle hooch in peanut butter jars.

Hold up — this is the same problem that has perpetually plagued the Rockies, according to Dan:

In past offseasons, Rockies players would come and go. They’d stop in for a year or two, put up nice numbers (if they were a hitter) or ugly numbers (if they were a pitcher), and then they’d move on. There was no time to make a connection to those players as a fan, and no real significant memories that those players left us with.

And you know how, whatever our feelings about Lo Duca's skill sets, we really don't want the intensely nondescript Torrealba? Guess what — our Rockies blogger is ambivalent about Torrealba's long-term prospects but doesn't particularly desire “one of the Barrett/Lo Duca/Kendall Triumvirate of Veteran Backstop Mediocrities”.

Geez, it's like looking in a mirror.

Part of all this quoting of these two fine bloggers is to say let's not write off Yorvit Torrealba before we have a chance to fall in at least like with him. After all, who the hell was Paul Lo Duca before he became a New York Met in December 2005 [5]? He had a little longer résumé than Torrealba does now, with a couple of All-Star selections to his credit, but otherwise, the man was no Mike Piazza. Now there was an irreplaceable [6] catcher!

Within eight months, however, your resident [7] bloggers [8] here were telling you that with all due respect to Piazza, Paul was now totally The Man when it came to Mets catchers. If we weren't exactly Mike Who?, we had definitely moved on.

And we will again. We will discover endearing qualities about Yorvit Torrealba the person and the catcher. We will perk up when we hear his music, we will groan when he takes a foul tip off the finger, we will roar when he disagrees with an ump. With any luck, we will be stuffing the ballot box on his behalf come June. When his reported three-year contract expires or his welcome is worn out, we'll look back on the Yorvit Torrealba Era and wonder where it went, why it ended as soon as it did and, of course, how come we can't get anybody as good if not better to replace him.

Both Metstradamus and Dan were in independent agreement on one item about ballplayers: we don't want robots. Yet we do tend to treat them as assembly-line models — and who doesn't love a good factory-tested Fiery Catcher? Out west, they enjoyed driving their second-hand Torrealba to the World Series; in Queens, we fell hard for our used Lo Duca. It got great mileage its first year, less so in the second. And boy did ours act up at the strangest times. But it gave us a good, fun ride there for a while, didn't it?

I'm not saddened by losing a 35-year-old catcher who did generate one too many off-field [9] headlines, did throw one too many on-field [10] tantrums and did not rub the right people right way [11] long enough to remain a New York icon. I'm not saddened to lose the games Lo Duca missed last year from injury (though all catchers lose games to injury) nor will I miss how his OPS plunged nearly 100 points — 39 doubles one year, 18 the next — from his first Met season to his second.

But I do miss the idea of Paul Lo Duca. I do miss “Volaré” and “Stayin' Alive” and even his name as ready-made chant. I miss that he wore 16 better than anyone since Dwight Gooden, that he wore a chest protector over his number as well as anyone could have after Mike Piazza and that a national magazine told us he was Captain Red Ass [12] in the best way possible.

As recent as it was and as incomplete as it may have been, I miss 2006. I miss the Intrepid Mets celebrated by Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci [13], embodied as they were by the catcher in the middle of the cover shoot and everything else:

For his part, Lo Duca seems ever in search of an argument, whether getting in the grill of his pitchers when they lose focus, spiking the baseball in a fit of anger at the feet of umpire Angel Hernandez or barking at Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez for styling too much after hitting a home run. “That's just me,” says Lo Duca, whom Wagner refers to as Captain Red Ass. “Must be the Italian blood.”

In 2007, Lo Duca spiked and barked and bled all over the place, too, but it felt old and ineffective; it felt like 2007. The sophomore version of Paul-Luh-DOO-Kuh! sounded misplaced no matter how sincere the serenade. I couldn't quite put my finger on it while I sat and chanted along gamely, but it no longer felt of the moment. I now understand why.

It's because you can't have 2006 every year.

Paul's not the first 2006 Met [14] to be kicked out of the nest, but to my mind he's the first Met I readily identify as an integral 2006 Met to be leaving us. And that's who and what I'm gonna miss. I'm gonna miss everything from that nontag [15] of Alfonso Soriano he sold on Opening Day to those two tags [16] he laid in rapid succession on Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew to start the NLDS to that ninth-inning walk he coaxed from Adam Wainwright to earn the Mets' final base of the year. That beautiful Met season was Paulie's Met season. It was a team effort, but I could swear the division title and whiff of a pennant was brought to us by Paul Lo Duca [17] just about as much as by anybody.

I assume every ballplayer prefers to win. Lo Duca, you could tell, wanted to win. There shouldn't be a difference. But there is.

2007 was not 2006, and 2008 will have to be something else altogether. Seasons do not come off an assembly line. They are handcrafted. Whether unscrewing a Lo Duca and replacing it with a Torrealba represents nifty construction or faulty workmanship is something we will learn pretty soon. I'm willing to give the new catcher a shot. I'm willing to give the roster an extreme home makeover, actually. 2007 was so far removed from 2006 that if I could, I'd dump just about everybody associated with its defining denouement. Lo Duca's certainly not exempt from my lingering and probably permanent disgust. In 2006, he was the unforgettable fire; in 2007, we could choke with or without him.

I don't know if jettisoning Paul Lo Duca makes baseball sense or if it's politically motivated [18] or if those particular clubhouse and front office politics are justified. I do find myself relieved that both 2006 and 2007 recede a little further into the past with his departure — 2007 for obvious reasons, 2006 because I sincerely believe it cast too long a shadow over 2007. Except for Godfather II and Rocky III, the sequel hardly ever lives up to the original. It's time for a new script.

2006 now really becomes New York Mets history and Paul Lo Duca a wonderful and crucial historical figure for us. I'd rather him be that than just a cranky, creaky catcher who grounds into too many double plays.