Bako enjoying opportunity with Phillies
Veteran catcher receiving more chances behind plate
PHILADELPHIA -- When catcher Paul Bako signed a Minor League contract with the Phillies on May 19, he never thought he would become a frequently used No. 2 option behind the plate.
The prototypical journeyman -- joining the 11th team of his 12-year career -- did not even know if he would make it back to the big leagues.
But there were the Phillies parting ways with Chris Coste on Friday to clear their backup backstop logjam. On Saturday, Bako was handed his second straight start.
While starter Carlos Ruiz is battling a stiff neck, Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel penciled in Bako before he knew the extent of Ruiz's mild injury.
Simply put, the Phillies like what the 37-year-old brings to the table. Since July 1, Bako has started six games -- one more than Ruiz.
"He's been around," Manuel said of Bako. "He knows how to catch. He knows how to work the game. That's always been his big forte is defense and calling the game."
Bako, who was Greg Maddux's personal catcher in Atlanta and again in Chicago, said he acquired that ability through experience, trial and error and keeping his eyes open.
"Something that's underrated actually is learning from just watching the game," Bako said.
"I've been around too long and in too many places to try to do anything different. I just have to be myself."
Bako is a lifetime .230 hitter who posted his career-high .272 average during his 1998 rookie campaign. He entered Saturday hitting .174 in limited action this season.
The Phillies, whose Nos. 2 through 6 hitters are heading to St. Louis to play in Tuesday's All-Star Game, can afford to get only limited production out of their catcher, especially a backup.
But Manuel, a former hitting coach, is all about swinging the bat, and he does not believe in playing anybody who makes unproductive outs, regardless of defensive ability.
"It ain't OK," Manuel said. "Does the catcher have to hit a whole lot? Not really. But he's got to be able to play situational baseball. ... He's got to be able to handle the bat good enough if we want to hit and run or bunt and things like that. I think [Bako] can do things like that."
Before becoming Philadelphia's manager, Manuel's job involved scouting every impending free agent for the club's front office. It was then that he first encountered Bako, writing a positive report for then-general manager Ed Wade.
The two crossed paths again last season, when Bako, then with the Reds, came up with a clutch infield single.
"I remember cussin' him and everything," Manuel said.
That's not needed anymore. The Phillies purchased Bako's contract from Double-A Reading on June 9. For 11 days, Bako sat and did nearly nothing, pinch-hitting only once. On June 20, he played seven innings. Then he had another 10-day hiatus. The breaks gave him a chance to get acclimated to his new teammates, understand the pitchers' strengths and, as Yogi Berra brilliantly put it, to observe a lot by watching.
Bako has been given an opportunity over the past two weeks, and Coste's departure only opened the door more for the season's second half.
Like any true journeyman, though, Bako is just happy to be here.
David Gurian-Peck is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.