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John Bateman

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John Alvin Bateman

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[edit] Biographical Information

John Bateman began his major league career as one of the Baby Colts, the group of youngsters who made up the bulk of the roster of the Houston Colt .45's in 1963. But he was not even the youngest rookie catcher on the team, as both 19-year-old Dave Adlesh and 20-year-old Jerry Grote had him beat by a couple of years. Grote was the starter in the famous September 27th game when Houston started an all-rookie line-up averaging 19 years of age against the New York Mets (Boxscore). Bateman was, however, the team's starting catcher, playing in 128 games while posting a .203 average and striking out 103 times. He led the club in home runs with 10 and RBI with 59. He was a fine defensive catcher and knew how to lead a pitching staff and kept his job in 1964 in spite of his light bat, as his average dipped to .190. By 1965, he was reduced to part-time duty, hitting .197 in 45 games, but his hitting would improve the next year, as in 1966 he hit .279 in 131 games for the renamed Houston Astros, with 24 doubles and 17 home runs, to regain his starter's job. He set a club record for home runs by a catcher that season with 16. One of his home runs that year was as a pinch hitter. Unfortunately for him, he was unable to keep up this level of production, and after hitting .190 in 1967 and .249 in 1968, he was out of a job, especially as the Astros had just acquired defensive whiz Johnny Edwards from the St. Louis Cardinals on October 11, 1968. He was thus left unprotected in the Expansion draft held three days later. This despite the fact, that during Bateman's six years with the club, the team had a vastly better record with Bateman as the starting catcher in each of those six seasons than they had with the team's other catchers combined. Bateman started 510 games with Houston from 1963-1968, and the club record was 228-282 in those 510 games, for a .447 winning percentage. Other catchers started 462 games during those six years, and the club's record with those catchers was 182-280, for a .393 winning percentage. Perhaps this is why Joe Morgan in a Sports Illustrated story in 1966, said of Bateman, "On the field I'd say he is the leader of this team." The Montreal Expos made him their third choice in the draft, giving a clear indication that he was to be their starting catcher.

In fact, John Bateman was the first catcher in the history of the Expos. He was in the line-up on opening day, April 8, 1969 against the New York Mets (Boxscore) and for the Expos' home opener April 14th against St. Louis (Boxscore). Jarry Park had just been cleared of its snow cover that day, and the field was in pretty appalling condition, such that Bateman was slowly sinking in the mud behind home plate as the game moved along. He also caught Bill Stoneman's first no-hitter on April 17th (Boxscore) in Philadelphia. But those were the only highlights of a season when his lack of hitting made him lose Manager Gene Mauch's confidence. In fact, his former Astros teammate Ron Brand actually caught more games than him that first season, and outhit him .258 to .209. Bateman did hit 8 home runs in 235 at bats, but his average was only .216 when he went on the disabled list on June 12th, and he couldn't claim his job back when he returned on July 4th. In addition, he rubbed Mauch the wrong way by being lackadaisical about his physical condition and not caring much for all the small rules which Mauch imposed on his troops.

All of this meant that Bateman started the 1970 season in AAA with the Buffalo Bisons. He was recalled to Montreal on April 28th and hardly missed a game the rest of the way, hitting .237 in 520 at bats, but with 21 doubles, 5 triples and 15 home runs, while driving in 68 runs. His 15 double plays that year are an all-time Expo mark, even if the other defensive records he set were all eventually broken by Gary Carter. On July 2nd (Boxscore), he hit a grand slam and drove in seven runs against the Cardinals, a team record that would stand until 1982. The other highlight for him that year was hitting the last ever home run in Philadelphia's Connie Mack Stadium, off Bill Laxton on September 29th (Boxscore). He had another very busy season in 1971, catching 137 games once again. He hit .242 with 10 home runs and 56 RBIs. In the season's last month, Mauch decided to bench him to let rookie Terry Humphrey catch a few games, something which reignited the conflict between the two strong personalities. They almost came to blows in the lobby of the team's hotel in St. Louis during the season's last road trip. From that point on, Bateman's days with the Expos were numbered.

Nevertheless, John Bateman opened the 1972 season on the team's roster, but as the third catcher, behind Humphrey, who had won the regular job in spring training, and John Boccabella. Even though Humphrey was injured in the season's second game, Bateman saw very little action, only getting into seven games behind the plate, and 18 overall, before being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for veteran Tim McCarver. He was the Phillies' starting catcher the rest of the 1972 season, playing in 82 games, but hitting only .222 with 3 home runs and 17 runs batted in. Bateman had the privilege of catching Cy Young Award winner Steve Carlton who was having an exceptional year for a god-awful team. Bill Conlin wrote on Philly.com on February 25, 2009 that Steve Carlton considered Bateman the best mechanic and smartest game-caller of his career. Carlton was only 7-6 with a 2.83 ERA when Bateman arrived in Philly. Bateman caught all of Carlton's starts the rest of the season and Carlton was 20-4 the rest of the way with a 1.60 ERA, Six of Carlton's eight shutouts came with Bateman behind the plate. Carlton also had 22 complete games in 27 starts with Bateman calling signals, and only eight complete games in 14 starts before Bateman's arrival. Conlin, in the same article, said Bateman was released in January of 1973 despite Carlton's protests. The next season Carlton went 13-20 with a 3.90 E.R.A. without Bateman behind the plate.

That was the end of Bateman's professional baseball career, but he then turned to softball, playing with the barnstorming Eddie Feigner's King and His Court, a team whose gimmick was to have four players play against a fully-staffed opposing team.

[edit] Sources

  • Jean-Paul Sarrault: Les Expos, cinq ans après, les Éditions de l’Homme, Montréal, QC, 1974, pp. 83-84.
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