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. We begin this series with White Sox legend Ron Karkovice.
I grew up watching the early to mid-90s White Sox teams which won a couple division championships, and those clubs were backstopped by light-hitting, but defensive stalwart Ron Karkovice.
“Officer” Karkovice, as Ken “Hawk” Harrelson dubbed him, had the unenviable task of backing up, and eventually replacing future Hall-of-Famer Carlton Fisk after he was originally called up in the 1986 season.
Early in his career, he memorably caught Joe Cowley’s no-hitter in Anaheim against the Angels, and even added a home run himself in the game. That earned him the distinction of being the only White Sox backstop to hit a home run in a game in which he caught a no-hitter. He later caught Wilson Alvarez’s no-no, in his 2nd career start (and White Sox debut) at Baltimore. He is one of five South Side catchers to catch multiple no-hitters.
Once he took over the starting job behind the plate, Karkovice carved out a nice career for himself. He never hit more than 20 home runs in a single season, but his value was in throwing out would-be base-stealers.
During the 1993 AL West championship season, Karkovice nabbed a career-high 54% of would-be base-stealers. That, along with the 20 home runs that season, helped him to a career-high WAR of 3.2 that season.
Like many catchers, he wasn’t blessed with speed, only stealing 24 bags himself during his 12-year career. He did, however, hit an inside-the-park grand slam at the Metrodome at the end of the 1990 season.
For his career, Karkovice caught 41% of potential base-stealers, which helped him to a baseball-reference career WAR of 14.2, which rates higher than AJ Pierzynski’s 12.9, despite Karko’s anemic offensive production for his career.
Karkovice hung up the mask after the 1997 season, and he later took on a few coaching gigs, most recently managing the Camden Riversharks starting in the 2013 season.