The Cincinnati Reds have released one of their most controversial players. The Personal Catcher is out of work.
Pitchers who would attempt to dictate the identity of their target are advised to peddle their influence elsewhere. Reds manager Jack McKeon is not open to suggestions on this score, and the subject is consequently closed.
If Eddie Taubensee is well enough to strap on his shin guards, he is likely to be in the lineup, no matter what the man on the mound might have to say about it. In his fifth season with the ballclub, the Reds' most productive catcher has finally caught the fancy of his superiors.
"What happened is this is the first year we didn't bring in a Benito Santiago or a Joe Oliver (to compete with Taubensee)," Reds General Manager Jim Bowden said Tuesday. "Eddie has a manager and a coaching staff who believe in him. It's a lot easier to succeed if you have someone who believes in you."
Taubensee has long suffered from a lack of confidence, but it was not always his own. Though Reds managers have always valued his bat, they have often disparaged his defense.
Davey Johnson once replaced Taubensee even as his batterymate, Dave Burba, was working on a no-hitter. Veteran pitchers such as John Smiley and Jeff Brantley much preferred to play catch with the more seasoned Oliver.
When a pitcher is throwing well, Taubensee said, it is almost as if the catcher ceases to exist. When pitchers are struggling, they are sometimes prone to seek a scapegoat.
Taubensee developed the reputation of a guy who didn't call the best game, who wouldn't frame pitches for maximum effect, and who couldn't be trusted to block the ball in the dirt with the game on the line.
Some of the criticisms were valid. Some amounted to alibis. The net effect was that Taubensee spent an unusual amount of time looking over his shoulder. Not all his fault
"Before, I felt like I had to be on my game in every aspect for me to be in the game," he said, adjusting his catcher's mitt after batting practice. "I put too much pressure on myself. When I got a chance to play, I felt I had to do something to stay in there. I feel more comfortable now. I know if I make a mistake, I'll be in the lineup the next day."
Taubensee's bat will mask a multitude of sins. Monday, his ninth-inning homer gave the Reds a 3-1 victory over Philadelphia. Tuesday, he had a double in four at-bats and his average slipped to .354.
If any of the Reds pitchers have a problem with Taubensee's play behind the plate, they had better start getting used to him. He signed a two-year contract extension this month, with a club option that runs through 2001. The fellow is starting to look like a fixture. "I just kept telling myself there'll be a time when you get your chance," Taubensee said. "It took a little longer for me than for some people, but I knew I could catch."
Eddie Scissorhands, RIP
McKeon said Tuesday he could not remember Taubensee missing a ball he should have caught. He said he was impressed with his willingness to learn. He does not consider it the catcher's job to have all the answers.
"The pitcher's the one who's got the ball," McKeon said. "If the pitchers are out there and they don't want to do any thinking for themselves, you can't go out there and blame the catcher." To illustrate his point, McKeon cited an episode from his San Diego experience. After losing a 5-0 lead, Padres pitcher Bruce Hurst told his manager he could no longer coexist with his catcher, the young Benito Santiago. He asked to be traded.
"He said, "I can't pitch to this guy anymore,' " McKeon remembered. "I asked him, "Who's got the ball?' "
McKeon told Hurst he would not be traded, and that he could not have veto power over his catcher.
"The next year, he won 18 games," McKeon said, "and he kept saying, "Benny did a heck of a job calling the game.' "