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CATCHER OF THE WEEK: Duane Josephson

In this feature, we will help you acquaint yourself with some of the finest practitioners of the most thankless task in baseball to ever don the “tools of ignorance” for our beloved Chicago Baseball teams. This week we feature Duane Josephson.

Josie, sans Pussycats.

Duane Josephson was a pretty decent catcher for the White Sox and Red Sox from 1965-1972. I know, you’re saying “OK, Boomer” right now. But he actually was.

He got his start as a 10-letter athlete at New Hampton (Iowa) High School, where his father Carl pitched for the town team. While “Josie” was playing baseball, a White Sox scout who also served as a local umpire caught a glimpse of him. Josie wound up going to State College of Iowa in Cedar Falls (now the University of Northern Iowa)¬†where he continued on as a three-sport athlete.

Duane got his sports a little confused at times.

While pin college, he became the first-ever baseball All-American for the Panthers. His career college stats were a very respectable .365 batting average with 20 home runs and 75 RBIs in 57 games. He committed just one error in his entire UNI career. He led SCI to the NCAA baseball tournament and three conference championships.

After his career at SCI was complete, he signed with the White Sox, where he was an all-star catcher for the Southern League in 1965 and for the Pacific Coast League in 1966. He was also named PCL MVP in 1966. Clearly, he was ready for the big time.

Eddie Stanky wanted Josie to be his starting catcher for the 1967 season. While Stanky caught some heat for rushing Josie (not that Stanky ever gave much of a shit about catching heat), he also had in his corner Sox VP Al Lopez, who knew a thing or two about catching, having been behind the dish for 1918 games in his Hall of Fame career. So Josie got the nod with JC Martin as his backup.

However, in Spring Training, Frank Howard (who was Aaron Judge before Aaron Judge) clocked Josie in the head with his bat on his backswing, and Josie went down with a bleeding head wound. Fortunately, he only needed a few stitches. But he was basically the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail that season.

He got plowed into at home plate on the final play of the game on May 23, and his thumb on his glove hand got jammed so badly that he didn’t play again until June 27, over a month later. Three games after his return a foul ball broke the index finger of his meat hand. He finally came back from that at the end of July, and was the main man the rest of the way as the Sox pushed for the American League pennant, finally finishing in 4th place, 3 games out of first. One of the greatest pennant races of all time.

The next year Josie managed to stay healthy all season, playing in 128 games, plus the All-Star game. He managed a 2.0 WAR on a 247/284/353 slash line, but providing outstanding defense, despite the Sox having both Hoyt Wilhelm and Wilbur Wood lobbing knucklers at him.

In 1969, he missed a couple months due to a blood clot in his shoulder. At this time Ed Herrmann emerged as a pretty solid catcher. In 1970, Herrmann and Josephson shared catching duties as a platoon, with Herrmann hitting 19 home runs. Joesphson made such an impression on Herrmann that he named his first son Duane in his honor.

But it was painfully apparent that Herrmann was the Sox catcher going forward, so prior to the 1971 season Josie was sent to Boston with Danny Murphy for Vincente Romo and Tony Muser. Josie spent two years playing for the Red Sox, where he was extremely popular with his teammates before having to retire due to pericarditis, an inflammation of the membranes that surround the heart.

He went home to New Hampton, where he owned a sporting goods store called Josie’s, before suffering a pair of heart attacks, the second of which was fatal. He passed away in 1997 at the age of 54.

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