By HAL McCOY
Amazingly, the last place Cincinnati Reds had four finalists for a Gold Glove this season, more than any other team in the majors.
Of the four — Billy Hamilton, Joey Votto, Adam Duvall and Tucker Barnhart — the least likely to win one, it seemed, would be catcher Tucker Barnhart.
That isn’t because he didn’t deserve it, he certainly did because all the metrics used to measure a catcher’s defensive worth pointed in Barnhart’s direction.
But he was a huge underdog because the other semifinalsts were Yadier Molina and Buster Posey, the name brand catchers in the National League. As Barnhart pointed out, “Nobody not named Molina or Posey had won a National League Gold Glove for catchers since 2007.”
And factor in the fact that he was considered Devin Mesoraco’s back-up, or at best 1-A to Mesoraco’s 1.
Yet, when they announced the winner Tuesday night, Tucker Barnhart’s name was called.
Why was it deserved? He made only one error all season and finished the year with 57 straight errorless games, a monumental feat for a guy who catches and throws on nearly every play of a baseball game.
And with a young and wild-armed pitching staff, blocking pitches was a nightly challenge and Barnhart led the league with 661 blocked balls. He also threw out 41 per cent of the runners who tried to steal, No. in the league.
Barnhart is only the third Reds catcher to win a Gold Glove. Johnny Edwards won two in 1963 and 1964 and, of course, Mr. Catcher, Johnny Bench won 10.
The fact that he beat out the name brands, Molina and Posey, and he has accomplished something accomplished by Bench isn’t lost on the 26-year-old switch-hitter from Brownsburg, Ind.
“To even to be mentioned with Johnny Bench is one of the most incredible things I’ve been able to say,” he said. “And t o say that I was mentioned with Yadier and Buster? I mean, those the mainstays of catchers in the major leagues, right up there with the best of all-time. We were all three finalists and to say that I won is just extremely special. It’s very surreal.”
It has been a surreal season/year for Barnhart, off and on the field. Not only did he establish himself as a No. 1 catcher – and as it turned out, a Gold Glover — the Reds recognized his abilities and importance by signing him to a four-year $16 million contract extension. And late in the season his first child was born, a son named Tatum.
In 2011, when Barnhart played for the Dayton Dragons, he won the Rawlings Minor League Gold Glove for catchers — an award that was all-inclusive of every minor league catcher.
As a gag, when Barnhart found out he was Gold Glove finalist this year, he dug out his Minor League Gold Glove and snapped a picture of it with Tatum. “Now I guess I’ll have to take a picture of him with this one,” he said.
Barnhart loves calling games, handling pitches, throwing out runners, blocking balls in the dirt. But what he loves most are plays at the plate when he tags out runners.
“Any play at the plate, any of them, not just one,” he said. “The play at the plate is the most fun play I can have, no matter the score or who is throwing it. That, to me, is the most fun I can have.
“I love throwing guys out, I love blocking balls, but the play at the plate is the best high-five I can get because you save a run and most of the time you are helping your team,” he said.
But there is one play that sticks out from behind his chest protector and mask. It happened against Milwaukee and the Brewers had runners on third and first with two outs in a game that Reds led by one run in the ninth inning.
Orlando Arcia was on first base and broke for second. Instead of letting him go, fearing a bad throw would let the winning run score, Barnhart fired to second and nailed Arcia, ending the game.
“I threw it and just hoped we tagged the guy out in time so I didn’t look like an idiot,” said Barnhart. “I give Scooter Gennett a lot of credit for getting the tag down quick enough. I was willing to live with the consequences if that run scored and we were tied going into the bottom of the ninth.”
Like everybody who watches the Reds every day, Barnhart is astounded that center fielder Billy Hamilton, a finalist, once again was denied a Gold Glove, losing to Atlanta’s Ender Enciarte for the second straight year.
“I have no idea why Billy Hamilton has not won one,” said Barnhart. “Billy still not winning a Gold Glove is just mind-boggling. I grew up with him in the Reds organization, we signed together in 2009. He still impresses me. Some of the things he does on a daily basis I just say, ‘Holy cow, I’m glad he is on my team.’ I love the guy to death and to say he has not been the best center fielder in the National League for at least one of the last five years is just mind-blowing.”
Of his own first-time award, Barnhart said, “I hope this isn’t my only one. I know I’m going to work my butt off to win multiple ones and take a hold of this so those guys can’t be multiple winners any more. My goal is to give them a run for their money every year.”