At Some Point, Back Up Is Better Than Starter—Ask Charlie Silvera

Despite every effort during the off season, the Pittsburgh Pirates couldn’t trade catcher Ryan Doumit probably because of his 2011 $5.1 million contract. Although Doumit started last year, the Pirates midseason acquisition of Chris Synder relegated him to part time where he may eventually slip into oblivion.

I’m surprised no American League team bid for Doumit. He’s a switch hitter who has some pop, can catch a little (although is nickname is No-Mitt) and play the outfield in an emergency. Since the Pirates are desperate to dump Doumit’s salary, I’m sure they’re willing to deal.

Even if it may mean the rest of his career as a backup, Doumit should be happy to back his bags. With luck, Doumit could become this generation’s Charlie Silvera.

From 1948 through 1956, Silvera backed up Yogi Berra as the New York Yankees’ second string catcher.

Silvera, during 10 major league seasons, appeared in only 227 games and racked up a paltry 482 at-bats, less than a typical season’s worth for Berra. In 1950, Silvera didn’t bat until June 17, two months into the season. And though his lifetime batting average was .282, the San Francisco native hit only one home run.

Most years, however, Silvera cashed Yankee World Series checks.

Opposing players ribbed Silvera mercilessly, calling him, among other names, “Jesse James, the payroll bandit.” They asked if his paychecks came gift-wrapped.

To Silvera, all the ribbing was wonderful. Looking back on it, Silvera laughed. “They’d say, ‘Do you use anything on the bench to keep your fanny from getting sore?’ I had a lot of fun with it.”

He jokes about his career because perhaps no bench warmer in baseball history enjoyed a more interesting 10-year run than Silvera who played for Yankee teams that won a record five consecutive World Series championships from 1949 to 1953.

The Yankees reached the World Series in seven of Silvera’s eight full seasons in New York, winning six times.

During the last three seasons, Doumit has seen his teammates shipped off to the Yankees, the Braves, Red Sox, Giants, Cubs—all contenders. Wouldn’t the 28-year-old Doumit like to be in the hunt at least once before he’s done? Isn’t playing in the post-season every player’s goal?

That’s not like to happen with the Pirates during what remains of Doumit’s productive years. Even if the Pirates finally break the .500 mark, the team is unlikely to seriously contend for five years.

Since Doumit’s 2005 rookie season, the Pirates finished sixth, fifth, sixth, sixth and sixth. Another sixth place looms this year. The constant losing, with years of more defeats on the horizon, weighs heavily on players and adversely affects their performance.

A part-time role on a winning team may be good for Doumit’s soul. Think of it this way: if you were a commissioned salesman but management never provided you with a product good enough to make any sales, wouldn’t you consider changing employers?

Silvera didn’t mind his secondary status. Now 84 and scouting for the Chicago Cubs, the only other team he played for, Silvera looked back and said: “I had a wonderful career. I couldn’t have scripted it any better.”

0 thoughts on “At Some Point, Back Up Is Better Than Starter—Ask Charlie Silvera”

  1. Reminds me of CLift Stoudt. Always carrying a clip board & a baseball cap. Slivera was the consumate team player … Wonder if Yogi ever invited him out for dinner?..

  2. Giuseppe,

    My recollection is that Silvera (#29) warmed up the Yankee starters before the game, and the relief pitchers in the bullpen during the contest.

    If memory serves, Ralph Houk, (#10?) who later would manage the Yankees, was the #2 catcher behind Berra (#8); another reason for Silvera’s few at bats. But Berra was so indestructible that it really didn’t matter who was #2 or #3.
    But I’d be interested in knowing the final tally of Silvera’s many World Series checks. In Mr. Doumit’s world, playing or not, that’s chump change.

  3. @Vincenzo: Interesting. I did a quick Baseball Reference check to find that Houk played many few gamers and had significantly less at bats (91 and 158) But Houk (the “Major”) played his entire career with the Yankees and parlayed that into a long and successful managerial career, not only with the Yankees but also the Red Sox and Tigers. Interestingly, many Yankees preferred Elston Howard, yet another catcher, for the manager’s job but the Yankee brass were not ready for a black too pilot the team.

  4. Houk’s first season as manager was 1961, replacing Stengel. Did the other players want Howard hired as manager then? He was the best catcher in baseball from ’61-’64.

  5. @joe: I wasn’t clear. The players wanted Howard instead of Houk on Houk’s second tour (1966) when he took over for Johnny Keane who had abruptly replaced Yogi Berra after the Cards beat the Yankees in the 1964 World Series. Inbetween his two managerial stints, Houk had been Yankee G.M.

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