Died too young: Bo Diaz

Bo Diaz died at just 37 years old. (Wikipedia/fair use)

He was an All-Star twice, but never a superstar. He was the first Venezuelan to start regularly at catcher, but isn’t the best Venezuelan to start at catcher. He played 13 seasons in the major leagues, but managed one hundred or more games only four times. He hit for average on occasion and had decent power, but nothing about him was stupendous.

Nevertheless, Bo Diaz proved to be a valuable backstop in the 1970s and 1980s, a consistent performer for three teams.

His professional career began in the Red Sox system in 1971 at 18 years old. After playing just one game above Single A from 1971 to 1975, he jumped to Triple A full time in 1976. Being stuck behind future Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk, his chances of making an impact with the big club were slim.  

Debuting with the Red Sox in 1977, he played just two games – striking out in his only at-bat – before being shipped off to the Indians in early 1978 in a pretty star-studded deal. He was sent with utility man Ted Cox, starting pitcher Mike Paxton and hurler Rick Wise, himself an All-Star who won 188 games, to Cleveland for Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley and catcher Fred Kendall, the father of future Pirates star Jason.

Diaz didn’t play much in four seasons with Cleveland, appearing in 198 games and hitting just .224 over the first three. Though it was a stunted 63-game campaign, 1981 was Diaz’s first All-Star season, with the then-28-year-old batting .313 with an excellent 156 OPS+.

With his stock up considerably, the Indians traded him to the Phillies in a three-team deal. It was a bad move for Cleveland. None of the players they received paid off, with only one – pitcher Lary Sorensen – even donning an Indians uniform.

One of the men they received in the trade was pitcher Scott Munninghoff. He spent only four games in the majors – and that was with Philly in 1980 – but holds the distinction of being one of just three pitchers to hit a triple in their first and only big league at-bats. He knocked his in 1980; the Mets’ Eric Cammack managed it in 2000 and Eduardo Rodriguez of Brewers fame did it in 1973.

But this is about Diaz.

Despite leading the league in stolen bases allowed that season, he had a career year in 1982, batting .288 with 18 home runs and 85 RBI in 144 games. He would never again replicate such numbers, but reached double digit home runs four more times. After a ho-hum 1983 regular season, he reached the World Series with the Phillies that year, contributing a .333 average in a losing effort.

Partway through 1985, he was shipped to the Reds for a handful of players, and it was with Cincinnati that he would wrap up his major league career. 1987 marked his second All-Star campaign, with Diaz hitting 15 home runs with 82 RBI and leading the league with 59 baserunners caught stealing. He slipped to .219 in 1988 and .203 in 1989. By then he was 36 years old, so he decided to retire.

Diaz spent more than a decade in the big leagues, but managed but a paucity of stolen bases, walks, and strikeouts. In 993 career games, he had nine steals – that’s one every 110 or so games. He averaged one walk every 18 plate appearances, and one strikeout every eight plate appearances.

Also, his slash lines – that’s batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage – were remarkably similar with each of the teams he played. With the Indians, he hit .254/.294/.395; with the Phillies it was .256/.308/.402 and with the Reds, it was .254/.287/.392.

And here’s an interesting tidbit lifted from the bastion of knowledge that is Wikipedia: “Díaz was part of an extremely unlikely event spanning thirteen years. On January 6, 1973, he caught for minor league pitcher Urbano Lugo, who threw a no-hitter as the Leones del Caracas defeated the Tiburones de La Guaira, 6–0. Thirteen years later, on January 24, 1986, Díaz was the catcher for another no-hitter in a 4–0 Caracas’ victory over La Guaira. This time, the pitcher was major leaguer Urbano Lugo, Jr., son of the elder Lugo.”

On November 23, 1990, he was killed while adjusting a satellite dish – it fell, crushing his head and neck. He was 37 years old. He was elected to the Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously in 2006; he was elected to the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019.

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