During the press conference at Dodger Stadium to introduce newly signed starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, GM Ned Colletti hinted that he may have a catcher to backup all-star Russell Martin signed soon as well, though he failed to mention that he’d been scouting the freshly released Mitchell Report for names. Former St. Louis Cardinals backup catcher, Gary Bennett, was quietly signed to a 1 year, $850,000 contract on Monday. He’ll replace fellow pine-rider, former Philly and LA native, Mike Lieberthal, as the Dodgers backup backstop.
The team declined to pickup Lieberthal’s $1.5 option for the upcoming season, saving a good chunk of change in the process. Most saw the Lieberthal signing as just another bizarre signing by Colletti last year due to the fact that he has always been known for his bat rather than his glove. It’s generally unwise to add pop to the lineup via backup catcher because they are scarcely used. They are needed for their defense and ability to handle the pitching staff. Without those traits a backup catcher will adversely affect most games that they play in. An offensive catcher can become an offensive catcher for the opposing team without reliable defensive attributes. Not only do they commit errors at a much higher rate, they also mishandle the pitching staff and bullpen because they never get much of a chance to familiarize themselves with each pitcher and batter’s strength and weakness and likely weren’t very good at it in the first place. That’s a player like Gary Bennett’s specialty. He may add absolutely nothing to the lineup in the 3 or 4 games he plays in a month but he won’t cost the team any runs either. It’s always better to have a plus player than a minus player in hockey; same with baseball. You always want a guy who creates more than he destroys, even if he doesn’t create very much. That’s what we’re getting with Bennett. He doesn’t take walks or get on base very much (he put up an abysmal .290 obp over the last 5 seasons), he doesn’t hit for average (.231 over the last 5 seasons) or power (2.5 HRs per over the last 5 seasons) and he definitely doesn’t run the bases very well (1 stolen base over the last 3 years) but he doesn’t make glaring mistakes on defense and doesn’t flagrantly leave pitchers out to dry.
With all that being said, the signing was surprising due to the fact that Bennett had just admitted to using performance enhancing drugs last week after getting outed by former Senator George Mitchell’s investigation into PEDs. Within the now infamous Mitchell Report, ex-Mets clubhouse attendant, Kirk Radomski, admitted to selling Bennett two “HGH kits” in 2003 when Bennett was a member of the San Diego Padres. Radomski provided a check that Bennett had written to him to the tune of $3,200, which just happens to be the exact same price that Radomski charges for two kits of HGH. It was reported by the Washington Post that Bennett admitted to using HGH in a phone interview. The report quotes Bennett as saying,
“As far as the report is concerned to me, it’s accurate. Obviously, it was a stupid decision. It was a mistake. It was something that quite obviously, you regret now. And beyond that, I just don’t know.”
While battling a knee injury that put him on the DL with the Rockies in ’02, Bennett was introduced to Radomski by teammate and fellow Mitchell Report listee Denny Neagle. Neagle is said to have bought steroids from Radomski five or six times and wrote up to eight personal checks amounting to a total of $6,800. HGH is not only used to add muscle, it’s often used to recover from injuries much more quickly than it would be possible otherwise. Some chemists who illegally manufacture the substance have estimated that HGH can prolong a baseball player’s career from anywhere between 5-10 years and possibly longer in certain cases. Bennett is an 11 veteran in the majors and will turn 36 in April.
As sordid as the Mitchell mess has become, Dodger fans should be willing to look past Bennett’s past mistakes. So far he’s one of the only players to actually stand up and face the music. Of course it can be argued that he wouldn’t have admitted to anything if he hadn’t been named in the investigation. Despite what you may or may not think about Gary Bennett, he was not alone in the steroid era and was only one of many players to have used PEDs over that timespan. He’s a Dodger now and should be treated as part of the family. It’s not like he broke the all-time HR record or anything like that. He was a backup catcher trying to rehab quicker so he wouldn’t lose his job. There is a difference, as small as it may be.