Monday, October 3, 2011

#253 - John Boccabella

Like another recent post subject, George Mitterwald, John Boccabella is coming off a career season, his first as his team's first-string catcher. John has a great baseball surname and the announcer at Jarry Park, the Expos' home field back then, was fond of extending that third syllable when he came to the plate. I am pretty sure this field is Shea but it almost looks too nice. Wherever it is John looks like he's trying to stifle a laugh regarding something off-camera.

John Boccabella grew up in San Francisco and points south where he was an excellent athlete, even winning California's high school player of the year - an award also won by Joe Dimaggio - in the late Fifties. He then attended Santa Clara College where he was an All-American and made it to the College World Series his junior year. After receiving his degree in finance he signed with the Cubs in '63. After a huge start in Single A that summer - .360 with 30 homers in 84 games - John got a look up top. Back then he was exclusively a first baseman, but with a guy named Ernie Banks ahead of him there, he wasn't going to get much playing time. In '64 and '65 he showed good power but a combined .230 average in Triple and Double A respectively. In '66 Banks was struggling a bit with injuries and John was given consideration for the gig but his .228 average ended that. He spent '67 and '68 for the most part in Triple A where by the latter season he was playing mostly catcher. He would become quite good defensively, handling pitchers well and throwing out a pretty high percentage of attempted base-stealers. After the '68 season he was taken in the expansion draft by the Expos.

In Montreal's first season Boccabella had the other "B" boys - John Bateman and Ron Brand - ahead of him at catcher and he barely played. The next two seasons he put in as much time at first as behind the plate. He worked with Larry Doby on his swing and while the results weren't spectacular, the work did keep him above Mendoza levels. In '72 he got the most at bats up top since '66 as Bateman was done and Tim McCarver moved on. Then in '73 John got the starting gig and actually put up as good numbers as any of his predecessors. But the Expos had two hot catching prospects on the horizon in Barry Foote and Gary Carter so after the season John was traded back home to the Giants. He only got a few at bats behind Dave Rader and Ken Rudolph in '74 and he then retired. He finished with a .219 average, 26 homers, and 147 RBIs. After playing he got a marketing gig with PG&E which he did through '93 when he retired.

Those star bullets are pretty good and I haven't found anything to top them so Topps did a god job here. The cartoon is a nice prop; according to John in a later interview it was more about Marshall disliking working with Bateman than anything he did. John has a detailed SABR bio I link to here.

These guys cross paths just as one player's career was beginning and the other ending:

1. Boccabella and Tim Foli '72 to '73 Expos;
2. Foli and Parker '79 to '80 Pirates.

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