FanPost Friday: Underappreciated - Rich Gedman edition

I can't quite call Rich Gedman my 'favorite' of any era, or close, but I was always quite fond of him. He broke in 1980 at age 20 (!), right as the Red Sox were exiting a powerhouse era from the early 70s into a half-decade stretch of up-and-down mediocrity. But in 1984, Gedman emerged as the starting catcher - and, in fact, one of the best catchers in all of baseball.

Don't believe me? You may well not! But between 1984 and 1986 - the infamous World Series year - he was the 2nd highest ranking catcher in baseball for fWAR (12.6). Piazza of course blew away the field with 17+ WAR, but then Gedman's 12.6 was second. Tony Pena (11.4), Mike Scioscia (11.0), Lance Parrish (10.4) followed. Gedman was the best catcher in the American League. He was a two-time All-Star at age 27.

Gedman was quite a good hitter - he had a wRC+ of 111. His slash line was .275/.331/.471. He was a Walt Hriniak success story. Defensively, he was superb. (hard to find dWAR for that era, but his defensive values were well above average).

And then it all went to hell. In 1987, he played only 52 games for -0.5 fWAR. He 'rebounded' to 1.3 the next year (95 games - career high the rest of the way), but never had a positive fWAR again. He hung around for six more years after 1986, averaging 63 games per year (he averaged 138 from 1984-86).

So what happened?

Misfortune, is the answer. Gedman was on a traveling group of Major League All-Stars in November 1986, playing a 7-game series with Japanese All-Stars. He was warming up Willie Hernandez when the ball got away and smashed into his face, fracturing his cheekbone. Rehab was difficult. There were also alleged concerns of his 'mental state'. His father had died just prior to the 1986 season at age 55, which hit him hard,, and there was of course the melt-down in the Series against the Mets - and Gedman was prominently and unhappily featured for the key wild pitch by Bob Stanley that many felt was a passed ball by Gedman.

Further, Gedman was a free agent that year - which turned out to be the collusion case. When he finally signed, he couldn't report until May 1 of the next season, which aggravated the slide caused by his injury rehab. His season ended in late July, when he tore a ligament in his thumb in a home-plate collision with Toronto star Jesse Barfield. More nagging injuries continued over the several years, and he never recaptured his skills.

But for a stretch in the mid-1980s, Rich Gedman was the best catcher in the American League, without much doubt about it. And that's something I think few Red Sox fans know or appreciate. I certainly didn't - I looked up his name out of curiosity for this exercise, as I was always fond of him, and was quite surprised at both how good he was compared to his peers, and how hard he fell. It's a shame.