Sunday, March 9, 2014

Bob Didier (#232)

During spring training 1969, the Braves traded their long-time catcher Joe Torre to the Cardinals for slugging first-sacker Orlando Cepeda. This left the catching chores in the hands of veteran backup Bob Tillman and two rookies: Walt Hriniak (RIN-ee-ack) and Bob Didier. In fact, those 2 catchers shared a high-numbered Braves Rookies card in the 1969 set.

Although Hriniak was 6 years older, in the Braves’ system since 1961, and got a taste of the majors in September 1968, Didier won the starting job in 1969. (I learned today that Hriniak had been an infielder until midway through the 1968 season, so that may have given Didier the edge.)

Bob Didier was signed by the Braves in 1967, and after 2 seasons of class-A ball, he made the jump to the Braves at the start of the 1969 season. Bob started 108 games behind the plate (with Tillman starting 52 and Hriniak only 2), and hit .256 (ok for a rookie catcher) with 32 RBI. He also finished 4th in the NL Rookie of the Year voting behind Ted Sizemore, Coco Laboy, and Al Oliver.

So, Didier’s on his way to a fine career, right? Wrong! In 1970 he was buried behind Tillman (63 starts) and Rule 5 pickup Hal King (51 starts). Bob only started 48 games that year, and appeared in 9 others as a pinch-hitter.

1971 brought more bad news for Didier. Rookie Earl Williams began the season alternating at 3rd base with Clete Boyer. On June 20th, Williams (having never caught in the minors) made his first career start behind the plate in the 2nd game of a doubleheader. By mid-July, Williams was the everyday catcher, and Didier was riding the pine, with only 7 of his 43 starts coming after June 20th.

After playing a few dozen games in the minors in ’70 and ’71, Didier spent most of 1972-74 in triple-A, moving to the Tigers’ organization in May ’73 and the Red Sox in March 1974.

Bob wrapped up his career with the AAA teams for the Astros (1975) and Braves (1976). His major-league career fielding percentage is .994!

He managed in the minors off-and-on from 1977 to 2010.

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