Scrap Iron and Miggy: Catching an Arizona Connection.
By John Tenney
Catchers have always been the tough guys of baseball. Donning the “Tools of Ignorance” to guide a pitcher through the game requires courage, toughness, grit and a sharp mind. Miguel Montero, #26 for the Arizona Diamondbacks, is certainly a fan favorite with the home team fan’s at Chase Field. Long before he made his professional debut, another famous MLB catcher would step onto a historic Arizona baseball field to begin his tumultuous baseball career. Let’s look at the two examples of Catchers, then and now:
Clint Courtney with Bobby Thompson, ca. 1960. Image Courtesy of the Baltimore Sun.
Clint “Scrap Iron” Courtney was born in Hall Summit, Louisiana. As a boy, he spent his days working in the cotton fields owned by his father, who was a tenant farmer. Playing baseball on sandlots all over town before entering the U.S. Army in 1944. He would be stationed in Japan, Korea and the Philippines. Along each duty station, both in the States and overseas, Courtney played baseball whenever he could eventually developing into a good ballplayer. After being discharged from the service in 1947, he was discovered and signed by the New York Yankees. The initial deal sent Courtney through the Yankees farm system, beginning in Beaumont for the AA Texas League. His time in Texas was short lived, only playing four games there. He was sent to the Class C club in Bisbee Arizona for the majority of the 1947 season, where he would catch for Player-Manager Charlie Metro. In his only year with the Bisbee Yanks, Courtney hit .319 with 5 Home Runs in 114 games. He would later be named to the League’s All-Star Team for such an impressive season behind the plate and the young age of 20. That winter, he would spend time playing in the Mexico Coast league, where he batted .371 in 44 games. This would earn him a promotion back to AA Beaumont, and later a professional debut with the New York Yankees in 1951. His time with the Yankees would be short-lived, as his reputation for fighting would cost him his spot on the roster. His long time nemesis, Billy Martin, was also on the Yankees squad for 1951. The bad blood from their clashes with each other on the field during the 1947 seems to be one reason that Courtney was traded to the St. Louis Browns. The most likely reason is that he was a backup catcher for the legendary Yogi Berra, who was named the A.L. Rookie of the Year that season. Courtney would go on to catch for Satchel Paige during his time with the Browns, all a part of an 11 year career. Tragically, Scrap Iron died while playing ping-pong at the age of 48 from a heart attack. Courtney would be considered for Hall of Fame induction in 1967, gaining only one first-place vote.
Jun. 19, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA: Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero makes a sliding catch for an out in the ninth inning against the Miami Marlins at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Courtney’s modern day counter-part, Miguel “Miggy” Montero, was born in Caracas, Venezuela. Signing as an Amateur Free Agent for the Diamondbacks in 2001, he would spend the next 5 seasons working his way through the Diamondbacks farm system before making his professional debut in September of 2006. Standing 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighing in at 210lbs. Courtney was roughly the same size, standing 5’8″ and a good 30lbs lighter. Both men Bat Left and Throw Right. Their Batting Average is close to being the same. Over an 11 Year professional career with 6 different clubs, Courtney finished his career with a .268 average. Montero has a .270 Batting Average in 8 complete seasons with the Diamondbacks. Fielding percentages are almost equal, with Courtney recording .987 over his career while Montero is a few points higher at .991. RBI average over 162 games favor the younger Montero, who averages 80 RBI’s per season to Courtney’s 54. Miggy has less total errors, but has more strike outs.
Miguel “Miggy” Montero, is like Courtney in a lot of ways. The exception being that we haven’t seen Miggy fight much on the field like Scrap Iron did during his days as a catcher for the Bisbee Yanks, New York Yankees and other professional ball clubs. Montero would be involved in the bench-clearing brawl versus the L.A. Dodgers, where he was hit by a pitch in the development of the ensuing brawl. Here, he showed courage to protect his team-mates, and at one point after suspensions were handed out by Major League Baseball made a few bold comments about the unjust decision. Unlike his predecessor, Miggy is not widely known for fighting on the field against his own team-mates, opposing players and even the umpire. Miggy has the same tough, serious nature about him that Scrap Iron possessed – all the qualities that make a good catcher great but none of the hard-headedness. He is calm and cool, exhibiting his ability to calm his pitcher down to get out of a jam. Montero, like Courtney, is a tough little guy that’s willing to play the game for all it’s worth. This is evident as on June 1, while waiting out a rainstorm in Chicago for a 4:15PM game against the Cubs at Wrigley, Miggy tweeted ” Woow I hope this Rain stop !!!! Espero que deje de llover (I hope it stops raining)!!! I want to play”. Montero always supports his team-mates, both on and off the field of play, something Courtney wasn’t known for professionally.
The previous away games and home series with the Miami Marlins has witnessed the grit and hustle that Miggy shows while catching. Recording two memorable outs against the Marlins, the first instance occurring on an away game on May 19th where a foul ball hit on the Third-Base side was bobbled back and forth between Miggy his pitcher – the subject of an ESPN Highlight segment. The other instance was on June 18 during a home game against Marlins. Montero made a sliding catch on a foul ball hit by Derek Dietrich towards the backstop to record the second out in the top of the 9th Inning to help get Heath Bell the save. After the series, the topic of having a day off between the series with the Marlins and an upcoming series with the Reds came up. In an article on Dbacks.com by Steve Gilbert, Montero’s thoughts on a day off were ” Obviously I’m starting to feel better at the plate, and I really have to take advantage of that,” Montero said. “I never want a day off, period, but now I’m really asking him not to give me one, because I feel better at the plate and I just want to continue that. If I get a day off, I might go backwards a little bit.”
The attitude of wanting to play ball, always wanting to be better than the day before, and showing toughness and grit are some of the best qualities about Montero that is shared with his predecessor, Clint Courtney. Some of the statistics differ, but Miggy is in the middle of a great career while being a humble, fan favorite. It’s why we, the Dbacks Nation, love him.