Catch this

Tuesday, February 25 2003 @ 01:00 AM EST

Contributed by: Jordan

In his continuing series of profiles of former Blue Jays, Spencer Fordin corralled ex-catcher Ernie Whitt for a chat. The lefty-hitting part of the Jays' 1980s backstop platoon and the last original Blue Jay to leave the franchise may well be one of the most popular Blue Jays ever, which to be honest I've never entirely understood.

This is nothing against him personally -- Ernie was always a likable fellow, with a gregarious nature in conversation with fans and sportswriters that certainly served him well as his career wound down. Ken Huckaby, who hears Whitt's name spoken like a mantra, wonders, "Was he really that good?" Well, no, not really: his career OPS was .734, which even for a catcher in the 80s wasn't so hot. Defensively, well, Buck Martinez was the catch-and-throw guy: Whitt was easy to run on and, as Rickey Henderson discovered, even easier to get all riled up. But he developed some real pop in his bat, seldom got hurt, and was a very reliable performer for a good price.

My favourite Ernie moment was that famous game against the Red Sox in Fenway, when George Bell karate-kicked Bruce Kison and Ernie later hit a game-tying home run off their closer, yelling at him all the way around the bases. Good fun. I think his popularity among Torontonians stemmed partly from the fact that he was named "Ernie" --- c'mon, how can you not like someone named "Ernie"? Provincial premiers need not apply --- and partly because, with his brown mustache, jowly face and receding hairline, he looked like the ultimate '70s Canadian, complete with toque and developing beer belly and King of Kensington episodes (call it Wendell Clark Syndrome). The Marty York/Ernie Whitt connection sums up old-time Blue Jays sports reporting for me, for better and for worse.

Anyway, Ernie has some very nice things to say about Kevin Cash, the catcher of the immediate future. He talked specifically about his quickness and agility behind the plate, and a combination of a good arm and great release. Defensively, this puts me in mind of Tony Pena, who always seemed catlike behind the plate, even if he did slide his leg sideways all the time. Cash's reputation is definitely starting to precede him; I'm looking forward to seeing him live.