It’s November 16, 2012. In the last week or so, the Braves lost David Ross as a free agent signing to the Red Sox. Having lost Brian McCann to shoulder surgery earlier in the off-season, the Braves were suddenly reduced to considering Evan Gattis and Christian Bethancourt as legitimate Opening Day catching options.
Gattis, who can hit, can’t really catch, and Bethancourt, who can catch, can’t even hit at AA; and at the current moment the National League will not allow Atlanta to dress them both in the same uniform number and just pretend they’re one guy. So, that was a problem. To solve this sudden lack of a catcher — you need one of those or else you get a lot of passed balls — the Braves signed Gerald Laird.
Gerald Laird is a career backup catcher. Well, there were a couple of years there when teams tried him as the starter. Texas tried him as the full-time option for 120 games in 2007, an experiment that ended with them deciding they really needed to trade for Jarrod Saltalamacchia instead. (And Matt Harrison. And Elvis Andrus. And Neftali Feliz. But we’re not bitter.)
Laird spun out of Texas and landed as the starter his first year in Detroit, in 2009. 135 games later and they were quite ready to give Alex Avila a try instead. All of which is a long winded way of saying Gerald Laird is a career backup catcher.
He hits about like you’d expect from a career backup catcher, .244/.303/.359 for his career. Every year but one — his 26 year old season hitting in Texas — within spitting distance of that average. Throws about as well as you’d expect from a career backup catcher. In fact, if you go to Wikipedia and look up “career backup catcher,” it redirects you to Gerald Laird’s Baseball-Reference page. In high school, Laird was voted “most likely to be a career backup catcher.” The world “laird” is actually an old title of nobility from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth meaning “career backup catcher.” It’s all very eerie, actually.
All of this would bode poorly for the Braves, because generally speaking you don’t want to go into the season with the Platonic form of career backup catcher penciled in as your starter behind the plate, especially not when your fan base has been spoiled by David Ross, the Super-Friggin’-Awesome Backup Catcherman having held that role until very recently. But on the upside, all Laird really has to do is hold the fort for a month or so until Brian McCann returns from that surgery thing, and really, at the end of the day, the Braves did just win 94 games in 2012, all while McCann himself posted a meager .230/.300/.399.
Or, as we like to call it, “hit like a career backup catcher.”