No baseball player appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated more than Carlos Ruiz this season. Chooch, who emerged as an unlikely World Series hero, earns our vote for Beerleaguer of the Year.
Michael Phelps, Brett Favre, Kevin Garnett. The list is short with athletes who graced SI’s cover more than Ruiz. If you count his foot, which peeks out from the bottom of the Game 5 pile-on pictured on the front of SI’s commemorative World Series edition, Chooch made the cover three times, which is one more than Eli Manning and two more than Tiger Woods. The diminutive Panamanian is proof that there’s value beyond numbers. Despite a poor .620 OPS and batting average that hovered just above the Mendoza Line for much of the season, manager Charlie Manuel stuck with this gifted defender, who earned the lion’s share of starts behind home plate and a nod in each game during the postseason. World Series Game 3 proved to be an unforgettable night for the quiet catcher, which included a second-inning homer to put the Phillies ahead, then his ninth-inning squibber to plate Eric Bruntlett from third. Defensively, he converted big plays in clutch moments, including a key block of a wayward Brad Lidge slider in the division clincher, a block at home in a Game 2 collision with Rocco Baldelli, which made SI’s cover, then the tag of Jason Bartlett to finish Chase Utley’s brilliant play in Game 5.
Runners up include Charlie Manuel, for doing what Philadelphia said he couldn’t, and Clay Condrey, for sticking around all season following four minor league demotions the year before.
Ruiz to play for Panana: According to USA Today, Ruiz has accepted an invite to return to the World Baseball Classic and do the catching for Team Panama, contradicting an earlier report that he would forgo the March tournament.