Remember the last time we talked about having a “guy?” If you’re new or perhaps don’t recall the parameters of “guyhood,” feel free to refer to the linked piece above to get caught up on what makes one eligible for the title. In our previous outing, we discussed the electric Brandon Barnes. This time, though, we’re going to focus our attention not on an outfielder, but on a catcher.
The Rockies, historically, have lacked a frontline, above-average catcher. They’ve never had an All-Star backstop, and only four times in their almost-30-year franchise lifetime has a Rockies catcher reached a 2.0+ WAR. Despite this less-than-impressive history, there are a few standouts that are locked into the hearts and minds of Rockies faithful — your Yorvit Torrealbas, your Chris Iannettas, maybe even Elías Díaz after the season he just had — but there’s another signal-caller that will forever be referenced when discussing the greatest moments in Colorado’s baseball history:
Anthony John Wolters was signed out of high school by Cleveland in the 2010 draft. Originally an infielder, he’d transition to catcher while in their organization but wouldn’t see playing time at the major league level. That would come later when he was picked up off waivers prior to the 2016 season by your Colorado Rockies.
Wolters’ first season was fine, if unspectacular. Splitting games with Nick Hundley, Wolters would hit .259/.327/.395 and throw out 15 doubles to go with 30 RBI (His first career homer? Knocking in our previous guy, Barnes!). He wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire at the plate, but it was the California native’s glove that stood out. Coming off of the adventure that was Wilin Rosario behind the plate for the last few seasons, Wolters out-performed the veteran Hundley despite the latter having seven years of experience. Range Factor, caught stealing percentage, fielding percentage... every defensive metric had the rookie looking more comfortable behind the plate than his senior. The Rockies might have found something here.
2017 was Bud Black’s first at the helm as he took over the manager role from the departing Walt Weiss, and he clearly liked what he saw from Wolters as the youngster was named the starting catcher on the Opening Day roster. This was another tough offensive season. In his 83 games, Wolters slashed just .240./341./284 with no homers and 16 total RBI and he’d eventually lose his starting spot to the newly-acquired Jonathan Lucroy. His glove, though, was just as strong as ever. Wolters committed just two errors all season, and he threw out a staggering 39% of base runners — the third-best mark in the National League. In a season where the Rockies relied so heavily on strong defense (they finished with the league’s second-best fielding percentage), Wolters was invaluable. A brutal loss to the Diamondbacks in the NL Wild Card game aside, Wolters had taken strides this season, including the web gem below and was poised to continue his momentum into the next.
And then, of course, there’s 2018.
Before that season, the Rockies made a somewhat-surprising move by letting Lucroy walk and signing former Colorado star backstop Chris Iannetta, who would be the starter behind the dish. For offensive purposes, this made sense; Wolters’ bat was never his strongest asset, and this season’s stats were his toughest yet. A slash line of .170/.292/.286, coupled with fewer hits, runs, and doubles than the year prior was not going to get the job done at the big league level (though it’s also worth mentioning that he had 50 less plate appearances than 2017). His defense was still above-average — and in some cases was even better than ever — but that wasn’t enough anymore. This was arguably Wolters’ toughest MLB season yet.
So, wait, then why is this the year that everyone remembers fondly?
Well that’s because of the 2018 National League Wild Card game.
Following their tough loss in the 2017 playoffs, the 2018 Rockies built upon the young core they’d established in their pitching staff and rode their young arms to the playoffs. Their 91 wins were just one off their franchise record and they were raring for some October action. On that pivotal night in Chicago, the Cubs and Rockies were locked in a 1-1 tie that extended into extra innings. Chris Iannetta started the game behind the plate, and was relieved by Drew Butera as the contest wore on. The duo combined to go 0-for-5 with two strikeouts, and were looking fairly overmatched at the dish. With two outs in the top of the 12th and Scott Oberg on the hill, Bud Black decided to empty Colorado’s bench and give Wolters a chance to catch before batting himself later on. Maybe if someone could get on base, he could be relied to bunt them over. That’s all he’d have to do.
It wouldn’t be so, however. In the top of the 13th, D.J. LeMahieu flew out and Nolan Arenado grounded out to put the Rox in a unenviable position. Before the inning ended, though, Trevor Story and Gerardo Parra consecutively singled to put the go-ahead run in scoring position, and up stepped Tony. In the regular season, he’d hit .170. His BAbip was .189. His ground ball percentage was over 56%. Down 1-2 to former Cy Young candidate Kyle Hendricks, this was essentially as free an out as you’ll find.
Now, look, I want to be honest with you. This didn’t result in a World Series victory (the Rockies were swept by the Milwaukee Brewers in the following Division Series) and Tony Wolters didn’t suddenly turn the corner and become an All-Star. He’d play two more seasons with the Rockies — neither to great effect, though 2019 was his strongest offensive season — before heading off to play for the same Cubs he’d burnt just two years prior. That’s the thing about “guyhood,” though: one moment can leave a lasting impact in fans’ minds.
This hit — this one single knock — was immediately propelled into the pantheon of the greatest moments in the franchise’s history. It was the culmination of years’ worth of struggle and tenacity, and the ultimate underdog tale come to life. We can all get behind a story like that.
Rock on, Tony.