June 4th, 2012

June 4 – Happy Birthday Tony Pena

I was an oversized kid. My first little league baseball coach kept asking me if I wanted to try catching. We already had a kid on the team doing the catching and I believe his name was John Malec. John had a tendency to get lazy back there and he would sometimes sit instead of squat in in his crouch at which point our coach would scream, “Get your damn rump off the ground Malec. If you’re tired go home!”

Young Malec was not alone. That same phrase or words very similar could be heard shouted to boys dressed in oversized catcher’s gear by coaches and parents at thousands of baseball fields across our country. It was against protocol and considered taboo for a catcher to let his buttocks come in contact with the dirt when assuming the catchers’ crouch position to await the next pitch. So every time Coach Aldi would ask me if I wanted to catch, I would quickly say no because I did not want to have anybody yelling at me to keep my rump off the ground.

Now if today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant had started his Major League career in 1960 instead of 1980, either John Malec would be walking around with a lot fewer emotional scars or I myself might have even given the tools of ignorance a shot. Why? Because Tony Pena gave every lazy kid catcher an automatic retort to the phrase “Get your damn rump off the ground catcher.”

Pena sat on his rump (see photo) waiting to receive every pitch thrown to him during his eighteen-year career as a big league catcher. He sat down back there during his seven years catching for the Pirates, his three seasons as a Cardinal, the four summers he caught in Cleveland and during his eighteenth and final year split between Chicago and Houston. He sat down back there for 1,950 games, the fourth most by any big league catcher in history.

How appropriate is it that after eighteen seasons of sitting on a job that he wasn’t supposed to be sitting, he’s now standing on a job in which it is OK to sit. In fact, the title of the job is “New York Yankee Bench Coach,” and bench’s were made for sitting, right? So how come every time the Yes Network cameras pan the Yankee dugout during a game, there’s Pena, STANDING, near or next to Joe Girardi. Oh well, Happy 56th Birthday to the former receiver who literally invented the “sit-down strike” and is now a “real stand-up guy,” Yankee bench coach, Tony Pena.Tony shares his June 4th birthday with this harmonica-playing former Yankee shortstop and this long-ago Yankee outfielder.