When you think of what you look for in a backup catcher, you think, “Good hands, maybe his bat gets hot, good with pitchers.” Add a crumb catcher of Swansonian majesty and you’ve got Tim Blackwell.
Blackwell broke in with the Red Sox where he had a reputation for being a good defensive catcher, but when the team already has one of those who can also hit a ton – Carlton Fisk – you’re pretty much relegated to picking splinters from the bench out of your ass. In fact, in 1975 he was a third stringer behind Fisk and Bob Montgomery. Which sucked for Tim, as he was left off the roster for the postseason.
That offseason, he was bought by the Phillies. Which meant watching another good defensive catcher with a solid bat. This time it was Bob Boone. In 1977 he played one game for the Phillies before being traded to Montreal for another backup catcher with a crumb catcher for the ages, Barry Foote. More on him later.
So of course, what happened in Montreal? Another good defensive catcher with a big bat. This time it was Gary Carter who, like Fisk, was a future Hall of Famer. He had a pretty tough go at the plate as an Expo, hitting .091 with a -16(!) wRC+. What he needed was a place where the catching situation featured players who were not exactly stalwart with either the bat or glove.
Enter the 1978 Chicago Cubs.
He backed up the previously mentioned Foote as a good glove guy, but didn’t particularly distinguish himself with the stick in 1978 or 1979, posting respective OPSs of .620 and .542. But Foote got hurt in 1980, and Blackwell became the Cubs’ starter.
In that one glorious campaign, Blackwell posted a slashline of 272/352/394, good for a wRC+ of 103 and a WAR of 3. Pretty damn good. In fact, it was the first WAR of 3 or higher since Randy Hundley in 1969.*
Unfortunately for Blackwell, that was his one moment in the sun as a player. The following year the Cubs brought Jody Davis up, and he became the Cubs’ starting catcher (and Harry Caray favorite) for the next seven years. Blackwell went back to Montreal, where he backed up Carter yet again, and competed with Lanny McDonald for the finest mustache in Canada.
After one final year with the Expos, he retired to become a coach and minor league manager. Sadly, despite several accolades (Including championships in two separate leagues), he never got a shot at managing in the big leagues. Perhaps there’s a role in the Cubs’ organization, where facial hair (outside of Jason Heyward’s majestic beard) is sadly wanting.