He does everything you want a major league catcher to do…and more than some. Yet, Ryan Hanigan toils as a silent leader of a first place team that few fully appreciate.
It hasn’t come to the point where Cincinnati Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan considers changing his first name to Rodney, but it’s close.
When it comes to respect outside of Cincinnati, Hanigan makes Rodney Dangerfield seem like The Man of the Year.
Not long ago, a sports network polled fans with the question: “What catcher can a contending team least afford to lose?” There were five choices and Hanigan smiled and said, “Let me guess, I wasn’t one of the five choices.”
No, he wasn’t. But Hanigan has come to expect it.
Never mind that when he catches the Cincinnati pitchers have a 3.01 earned average, the best ERA for a catcher in the majors.
Never mind that he throws out 44 per cent of runners trying to steal, one of baseball’s best percentages.
Never mind that when Hanigan catches the Reds have a .644 winning percentage when he catches, 43 points higher than the team’s .601 winning percentage for all games.
Never mind that he is hitting .289 and has more walks (39) than strikeouts (33), something he does every year.
“Hanigan is not a household name for the people,” said manager Dusty Baker. “In the modern game most people see offense on everything.
“You lose games on defense and it is especially important for a catcher,” he added. “Especially important. It is a tremendous confident factor for the pitcher to know that he can bounce a pitch and it is going to stay right there in front of the catcher. Hanigan is great at that.
“And Hanigan will throw you out and he calls a good game,” said Baker. “He has had to work for everything he has got. He was an undrafted free agent and it is tough to make it that way.”
Hanigan played at Rollins College and was unnoticed, then Reds scout John Brickley spotted him play in the amateur Cape Cod League in 2002 and signed him.
“He didn’t have any money invested in him so he had to impress and he still had to wait his turn,” said Baker. “He had to jump over some guys, but I liked him the first day I saw him camp.”
Baker likes to conduct skull sessions, ask his players what to do in different situations and he said, “I had to quit looking at Hanigan, look the other way, because he had all the answers. He never misses a sign from the bench and he knows all the bunt plays — the little things that go unnoticed that you have to do to win. And the first day I met him, he promptly told me, ‘I’m the only guy in the organization who has more walks than strikeouts.’”
“When the Reds extended his contract during spring training last year, my GM told me, ‘This is the best day of the year for me,’” said the scout. “I asked him way and he said, ‘Because the Reds extended Hanigan’s contract and now I don’t have to listen to you tell me every day that we should try to get him.’”
If Hanigan is bothered by the lack of identity, he doesn’t show it. He was sitting at Joey Votto’s locker before Tuesday’s game when a writer approached and he said, “I can be Joey Votto, if you want me to be. I can imitate him.” He was surprised to learn the writer wanted him, not Votto.
“I don’t worry about that aspect of things of recognition. I worry about what matters in terms of games,” he said. “I worry about my teammates. If we keep having success and winning games then people will take notice of all of us, not just me or any one player.
“I’m proud of our guys and with what we’ve done despite missing Votto for so long and a lot of guys out of our bullpen,” Hanigan added. “We’ve seen guys step up and no guy on this team wants more credit than the next guy.”
Hanigan, 31, is a 6-0, 208-pounder and even more so than most catchers is known as a down-and-dirty guy. You know if his uniform isn’t brown after a game he didn’t play.
“I take pride in my job and base it on the success that our pitching has,” he said. “That’s the huge part of winning games and you have value that and put a lot of work into it. That’s what I do. Make sure the guys are always doing what they are supposed to do — pitch smart, be aggressive. It has paid off.”
“Yeah, that’s a big stat,” he said. “People tell me this stuff because I don’t go looking for numbers. But I heard that one and I was very proud of that one because it shows a unity with the guys. They lean on me, don’t shake me off very often and they have confidence in my preparation.”
When his astounding percentage of throwing out baserunners was mentioned, Hanigan finally couldn’t resist and said with a broad grin, “Yeah, I’ve always been a pretty damn good defensive catcher.”
Of that, nobody can argue, and if a sports network doesn’t think so, at least one of his pitchers does. Said Bronson Arroyo, “Nobody talks about him, but he is one of the most important players on this team.”
Buckeye Insurance is proud to sponsor Hal McCoy’s columns on Reds baseball on Press Pros, and proud to have insured local farms and personal property for more than 130 years.