In this installment of Aural Pleasures, we switch from songs performed by baseball players to a song about a baseball player. An unreleased track from Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, titled "Knuckleball Catcher."
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings have been playing folk and bluegrass music since the early 1990's. In nearly twenty years, the duo have stayed the course and continued doing what they want to do, regardless of changing trends. For the most part, their music is nothing more than two part harmony accompanied by guitar and mandolin, and it is beautiful and haunting in it's simplicity. This song compares a knuckleball catcher to a banjo picker, in that being one takes dedication, and doesn't leave much time for one to hone other skills.
Ostensibly, the song is about former Red Sox catcher Doug Mirabelli. Mirabelli enjoyed an 11-year MLB career as a backup catcher with four different franchises. Mirabelli was not known for his bat (career 88 wRC+), and wasn't necessarily a great defensive catcher (at least in the traditional sense). Looking at his statistics, he would appear to be a completely replaceable player, as evidenced by his paltry 5.7 career WAR over 11 seasons. But despite his limitations, Mirabelli found a niche and made himself a useful part of the great Red Sox teams of the mid to late 2000's.
When Mirabelli was traded to the Red Sox in the 2002 season, it was little more than an afterthought. Starting catcher Jason Varitek was out for the season due to a broken elbow, and the Red Sox needed someone to fill the void. Mirabelli spent the rest of the 2002 season backing up then catcher Scott Hatteberg, who left after the season to play 1st base for Billy Beane's Oakland A's. In the middle of the 2003 season, knuckleballer Tim Wakefield was moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation and Mirabelli proved to be rather adept at keeping the knuckleball in front of him. This began a four year relationship with Mirabelli being Wakefield's designated battery mate - save for a brief stint in San Diego in 2006 where he was traded back to the Red Sox in May due to the fact that no one could catch Wakefield's knuckler. Mirabelli ended up winning two World Series titles with Boston, starting Game 1 of the curse breaking 2004 series at Fenway Park. Not too shabby for a guy with just one job to do.