Phillies sign a veteran catcher with a unique resume


The Phillies’ final minor-league signing ahead of Wednesday's report date for pitchers and catchers was 37-year-old catcher Jeff Mathis, a player whose career is fascinating in a way as he’s lasted 16 seasons in the majors despite owning the second-lowest batting average in MLB history.

Among players with at least 3,000 career plate appearances, Mathis’ .194 batting average is ahead of only Bill Bergen, a catcher at the turn of the 20th century who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers before they were even called the Dodgers.

Yet Mathis has hung around in the bigs for nearly two decades because of his defense, game-calling and leadership qualities. 

"(He's) had an uncanny ability to be able to have a good, strong, solid relationship with our entire pitching staff," ex-Angels GM Tony Reagins said in 2018. "Obviously his offense wasn't major-league average, but his ability to call a game and his ability to have that relationship with the entire pitching staff made our team better."

Mathis spent his first seven seasons with the Angels before a one-year stop with the Blue Jays, four with the Marlins, two with the Diamondbacks and the last two with the Rangers.

He’s hit under .200 eight times and under .220 in 14 of 16 seasons. Ironically, he’s 11 for 29 in his five trips to the postseason, a .379 hitter with five doubles and a homer.

“I’d like to have better numbers on the back of my card and do a little more at the plate, there’s no doubt. Obviously, that s*** bothers me,” Mathis told the Wall Street Journal in 2019. “But just being able to still be here in this game is a tribute to the hard work I’ve put in elsewhere.”

Mathis is one of five catchers the Phillies bring to camp as depth behind starter J.T. Realmuto, backup Andrew Knapp and 22-year-old Rafael Marchan, an impressive defensive backstop on the 40-man roster who surprisingly debuted in the majors in 2020.

Mathis and Christian Bethancourt will battle for a place in the organization as the next catcher up in the event of an injury. Rodolfo Duran, Edgar Cabral and Logan O’Hoppe, three catchers without big-league experience, will also be in camp.

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