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Through The Eyes of…Bill Artz, Bullpen Catcher

Posted on October 17, 2009 by Todd Civin

The following is part of a weekly series called “Through the Eyes of…” In each segment, I share interviews with or stories about those who I view to be the “Good Guys.” The men and women who participate in and are the very fiber that make up the great game of baseball.

“Through the Eyes of…” is a part of my personal crusade to present baseball in all its beauty, splendor, and goodness, instead of through hashing and rehashing all that is broken with our national treasure. TC

Bill Artz, alone in the pen, waiting to warm up a Phillies reliever.

Bill Artz, alone in the pen, waiting to warm up a Phillies reliever.

There is hardly a soul who has ever picked up a leather glove and a hardball, who hasn’t also dreamed of making the journey to the the big leagues. The two travel nearly hand in hand once the sound of rawhide against hardwood is experienced.

And for nearly every child who dreams the dream of playing major league baseball, so too goes the subtle disappointment that comes with the realization that the dream is just that: a dream. They are few and far between, those with the gift, the willingness to work and the dedication necessary to succeed that make it all the way to the Show.

But then there are the nearly chosen few, who don’t make it to the big leagues, but by luck or by circumstance still get to pull up the stirrups next to the big boys.

For 486 consecutive games from Opening Day of 1998 to the call of “wait til next year” in 2000, Bill Artz was privileged enough to put on the uniform of the present World Champion Philadelphia Phillies and catch the likes of Curt Schilling, Randy Wolf, and Mark Portugal in his role as the Bull Pen catcher.

Though not a glamorous position on the hierarchy of the baseball org chart, there is nary  a one of us, that wouldn’t give up doing what we are doing today to experience a cup of coffee or two and maybe a mid game catch with Paul Byrd, Mark Leiter or Vicente Padilla.

Today, Artz owns and operate Big League Floors, a Philadelphia based company that provides residential and commercial floorings services for an eight county area in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

But, for three glorious seasons after graduating from the Lasalle University School of Business Administration, Artz was in part responsible for the fortune, both good and bad, of the Phillies pitching staff and is the subject of this week’s segment of “Through the Eyes of….The Bull Pen Catcher.”

Civ: You played your college ball at LaSalle in 90-92, were you a catcher?

Bill: Yes, I was a catcher at LaSalle University in Philadelphia. I started every game from the time I was a freshmen.

Civ: Did you have any aspirations of playing pro ball?
Bill: Absolutely, from the time I was four years old and up, I lived and died the game.  Every move I made was directed toward the goal of some day being in the big leagues.

Civ: After college what did you do?
Bill: After college I floundered around really not knowing what to do with my after baseball life.  I continued to play in the Pen-Del league in Philly. As far as vocation went, I worked many odd jobs after graduation as well as coaching at LaSalle for one year.

Civ: You had a teammate at LaSalle with the last name DiMaggio, any relation to Joe, Dom?

Bill: Wow, how did you find that one???  No, Ross DiMaggio was no relation to the famous DiMaggio’s, although we had a professor at LaSalle who called him “Joltin’ Joe”.  Ross was the catcher before I arrived and was a pretty good left-handed hitter.

Civ: Did you play with or against any MLB players during your career?

Bill: Yes, I played against quite a few future and former big leaguers along the way.  Those include Doug Glanville,

Bill Artz today as owner of Big League Flooring

Bill Artz today as owner of Big League Flooring

Sal Fassano, Chris Michalik and I played with Bobby Higginson in the summer league in Philly. There were others as well.

Civ: You graduated college in 92 and became BP catcher six years later, had you played any ball in between?

Bill: As stated before, yes, I continued to play in the Pen-Del league in Philadelphia.

Civ: How did you get the job with the Phillies?

Bill: One of my teammates in the Pen-Del was former pitcher Dickie Noles.  Dickie was remembered most for knocking down George Brett in the 1980 World Series. Some claim this was the turning point of that series. Anyway, I was at home one night watching the game and he had called to see if I was interested in the job, of course, I was ecstatic.  Even at the age of 27 I never lost hope of being in the Majors, even when it looked like there was no hope.

Civ: You caught Curt Schilling all three seasons, what was that like?

Bill: Obviously an honor. Just to have him think enough of me as a receiver was a tribute because if I was sub-standard, he would not have me catch him.  The guy was a perfectionist. I also helped him with his rehab in spring training in 2000, long tossing with him everyday.

Civ: Is he the most notable player you caught?

Bill: By far, some say he will be a Hall of Famer and I would not argue this.  I just wish I had warmed up to him a little more because I think we could have been pretty good friends…

Civ: Schilling had three rather mediocre seasons while you were there and then had his best years in AZ and Boston, why do you suppose that happened?

Bill: I would not say they were mediocre seasons on his part.  That team was less than mediocre.  The guy thrived in the big moments and there were more of them in AZ. and Boston.  He did get shut down in 1999 with an injury and of course his record does not reflect the games that the bullpen blew or the offense did not support him.  He will always be loved in this town for his energy and talent on the field as well as off of it.

Civ: Does the BP catcher get to hang with the team? Did you ever spend any time with Abreu or any of the name players?

Bill: I did towards the end and became pretty good friends with Pat Burrell and Randy Wolf.  I was a little standoffish at first just because I thought I should be seen and not heard but I took it a little too far. But I would have to say that my most cherished relationship was with legendary announcer Harry Kalas, not a day goes by that I don’t think of him.

Civ: How rough were the fans in Philly? Did they ever heckle the bull pen catcher?

Bill: The Phillies fans can be rough at any time but even more so then, that is, the ones that showed up. Personally I thought the San Francisco Giants fans were the most obnoxious. I got heckled at times, yes.

Civ: Who warms pitchers up before a game, the starting catcher or the BP catcher?

Bill: Sometimes I would start warming up the starting pitcher before games but the starting catcher would always finish him up.  He needs to see what they have on that particular day.

Civ: The 2000 Phillies went through 27 pitchers, was that challenging for you?

Bill: Somewhat, in those three years I was there, they used about 55-60 different relievers. It seemed like a revolving door at times..

Curt Schilling

Civ: Were you involved in the pregame planning or coaching or is that left up to the BP coach or pitching coach?

Bill: No, I was subjected to the scouting reports and pitcher vs. batter stats.  They were very interesting.  Look up what Marquis Grissom hit off Schilling sometime. (Civ-An impressive 31 for 94 or .330. He had more hits off of Schill than against any other pitcher)

Civ: Do you get to take batting practice or strictly the bull pen catcher?

Bill: Rarely did I take BP, but I would have loved to.  I should have been more assertive.

Civ: What did you do on off days?

Bill: On the road I would try to see the sites of the city.  At home, spend time with my family.  Nights were always the same, go out and party…

Civ: The bullpen is usually a pretty close knit group, were you a part of the fraternity?

Bill: I would not consider myself part of the fraternity.  I took the game a little too serious to be involved with any foolishness.

Civ: Do you go on the road with the team?

Bill: I did travel only after they discovered that I threw BP.  They also needed a guy in the bullpen when the back-up catcher had to go in the game and they need to get two pitchers up.  They found this out the hard way in Pittsburgh when they had to delay the game to get the back-up in from the bullpen to pinch hit.

Civ: What is the best away city?

Bill: I always loved NYC.  My sister lives there and at the time worked for the NY Daily News.  She is now Mayor Bloomberg’s photographer.  San Francisco was second, then Pittsburgh, a much underrated town with very nice hard-working people.  Toronto is good, as well.

Civ: Are there any funny stories that you recall?

Bill: Off the top of my head I remember playing a weekday game at old Veterans Stadium and a vagrant women just walked into the bullpen off the street.  She had no clue where she was but we joked that if she could throw strikes we might have to suit her up!!! TC

Todd Civin is a freelance writer for the Bleacher Report, Seamheads and Sports, Then and Now. He is available for comment or hire at toddcivin1@aim.com. He is also a supporter of A Glove of Their Own, the award winning children’s story that teaches pay it forward through baseball. Visit the site and purchase the book under today’s donor code JNF636 Joe Niekro Foundation as $3.00 from each purchase will go to that wonderful cause.


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