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. I could think of no finer catcher to begin this series with than the one and only Harry Chiti.
When you think of great Cubs of Italian heritage, you think Ron Santo, Phil Cavaretta and Anthony Rizzo. When you think of great Cubs catchers, you think of Gabby Hartnett and…Gabby Hartnett. (Contreras fans – I’m one – have to wait a few years before bestowing “greatness” upon him. Two all-star appearances definitely puts him on his way, but let’s not clear space for his plaque in Cooperstown just yet)
Harry Chiti checked off both boxes. He made his debut with the Cubs in 1950 at the ripe age of 17, and spent a couple years bouncing between the Cubs and the minor leagues before getting into 32 games in 1952, posting a respectable 274/305/451 slash line in 117 plate appearances.
Of course, perfectly keeping with 1950s Cubs good fortune, he then had to miss the next two seasons for military service. When he came back to the Cubs for the 1955 season, “Voice of the Cubs” Bert Wilson declared him as “a fellow built like Gabby Hartnett”, and he earned the starting nod. Unfortunately, he was more glove than bat, and he couldn’t match his production from before heading off to the Army.
The native of downstate Kincaid Illinois spent one more year as a Cub, sharing duties with his future 1962 Mets teammate Hobie Landrith. Perhaps his greatest moment as a Cub was when he was being intentionally walked by Milwaukee’s Ray Crone. One of Crone’s pitches got a little too close, and he reached out and hit a triple. Looking up at that picture of Chiti, how much do you with there was film of our boy legging that out?
After the 1956 season, the Cubs sent him as a “player to be named later” to the Yankees for Charlie Silvera. And while Harry probably dreamed of riding the bench behind Yogi Berra and Elston Howard and cashing World Series checks, the Kansas City Athletics plucked him in the Rule 5 draft. He actually had two pretty good years with the As, posting wRC+ of 97 in 1958 and 114 in 1959. He was traded midway through the 1960 season to Detroit, then was sent to Baltimore almost exactly a year later.
Now it gets good…
After the 1961 season, the Orioles traded Chiti to Cleveland. Then in early 1962, as the Mets were still trying to assemble something resembling a team, the Indians sent Chiti to the newborn Mets for a player to be named later. After 43 plate appearances with the Mets, Chiti managed 8 hits. Of those 8 hits, only one (a double) was of the extra-base variety. Finally, the Mets knew who to send to Cleveland as their player to be named later.
So on June 15, 1962 Harry Chiti became the first player in baseball history to be traded for himself. He also never played a game for Cleveland.