The 1967 Boston Red Sox started the season with three catchers on their roster. Manager Dick Williams had receivers Bob Tillman, Russ Gibson and today’s Beantown Birthday celebrant, Mike Ryan to choose from. Unfortunately, none of them could hit worth a lick so Ryan got most of the starts for that year’s AL Pennant winners because Williams knew he was the best of the three defensively. The one problem Williams had with Ryan besides his inability to generate any offense was the catcher’s game management skills. The two were often seen jawing at each other over Ryan’s pitch selections. It sometimes took longer than a rain delay for Boston pitchers to accept one of Ryan’s pitch signals. This was probably the biggest reason why Williams had persistently lobbied the Red Sox front office to get him a veteran catcher from another team. That wish was fulfilled when Elston Howard showed up at Fenway at the beginning of August. Williams started Ellie the rest of the season and threatened to fine any Red Sox pitcher who shook off one of Howard’s pitches. Ryan took a seat on the bench but he did not do so quietly. Instead he let the Beantown press know he did not feel he deserved to be taken out of the starting lineup.
For the record, Snyder led the quartet of Red Sox catchers with a .203 average in ’67. Ryan was second, hitting .199. Then came Tillman in at .185 and finally the newcomer, Howard, who hit just .145. I’d have to research it but I seriously doubt any other Major League team in history had four guys sharing a non-pitching position in a single season with a lower cumulative batting average than these four guys produced for the ’67 Red Sox.
Never-the-less, Ryan’s defensive skills behind the plate kept him in the big leagues for eleven seasons despite a lifetime batting average of just .193. After four years with Boston, he was traded to Philadelphia in November of 1967 in exchange for pitcher Dick Ellsworth and another lousy-hitting catcher named Gene Oliver.