Acquisition Spotlight: Paul Bako

My favorite comic strip is, was, and always has been and always will be "Calvin & Hobbes." I have the books and to this day, I miss reading it in the papers, and keep thinking maybe it'll come back.

One of my favorite strips is the one where Calvin says, "Every day I have to get up and go to school. Nothing ever changes. It's just school, school, school. But not today. Today, I go for the gusto," donning a helmet, goggles and a cape (at least as best as I can recall).

And that, my friends, is the inspiration for why I'm up at 7:45 in the morning to write a feature about Paul Bako.

Paul Bako is so a backup catcher. Drafted by the Reds in the fifth round in 1993, Bako was born in Lafayette, LA, and attended college at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, which now has a Division 1-A football program in the highly regarded Sun Belt conference.

Bako made his major league debut on April 30, 1998, a 26-year old minor league veteran that was getting a shot with the Tigers. And how did Bako wind up in Detroit? Well, sit down, because it's an interesting tale.

Technically, Bako was originally drafted in 1990 by Cleveland, but he didn't sign. He did sign with the Reds, though, and managed to hang around their farm system for a few years before being sent to the Tigers for Puerto Rican prospect Melvin Nieves. This was a true honor for Bako, as Nieves was coming off of seasons where he exhibited not only his power potential, but his amazing strikeout craft. Nieves hit 14 homers in 234 at-bats for the Padres in 1995, and struck out 88 times. The next season with Detroit (after a big deal involving Raul Casanova and Sean Bergman, among others), Nieves went 431/24/158, and followed that humdinger up at 359/20/157. Nieves could hit a home run, but damned if he could do much of anything else.

Bako hit .272/.319/.348 for the Tigers in '98, then had a big career year in 1999, going buck wild with a .256/.332/.358 line, including two home runs and 17 RBI. Not to be totally outdone, though, he would hit four home runs in 2002 for the Brewers, a career high.

Let's look over the teams Paul Bako has played for in his illustrious career.

1998 Tigers, 65-97
1999 Astros, 97-65
2000 Astros, 72-90 (1 game)
2000 Marlins, 79-82 (56 games)
2000 Braves, 95-67 (24 games)
2001 Braves, 88-74 (chief caddy for Greg Maddux, since Maddux would rather let the re-animated corpse of Gus Triandos catch him than Javy Lopez)
2002 Brewers, 56-106
2003 Cubs, 88-74
2004 Cubs, 89-73
2005 Dodgers, 71-91
2006 Royals, 62-100

This is compelling evidence that leads me to one crucial fact about Paul Bako: There is a slighty better than 50 percent chance that if Bako suits up one game or more for your team, you will finish below .500.

But let's not discount something: He knows how to win so long as he isn't losing. The '99 Astros, '00 Braves, '01 Braves and '03 Cubs all went to the playoffs. The Astros choked against the Braves, then those two Braves teams both choked, one against St. Louis and the other against Arizona, and then the 2003 Cubs, well, hoo boy.

Also interesting: Bako was a two-year member of the only Cubs teams since 1971-72 that have finished with back-to-back winning seasons, making him historically important in Cubs lore.

Here are some other fun facts about Paul Bako:

* His $900,000 salary for 2007 is the most he has ever been paid. His spectacular 2006 with the Royals is likely to be the catalyst for this, as he hit a remarkable .209/.261/.229 in 153 at-bats. The deal also includes $150,000 in possible performance bonuses.
* Still lives in Lafayette.
* No less a source than the Baltimore Sun complimented Bako as being, "a solid catch-and-throw guy."
* He partially tore his right oblique muscle last season.
* He has thrown out about 30% of attempted base stealers over his career.
* Bako is a star at urbandictionary.com, with listed items including "shitty" and "Greg Maddux." For "shitty," the example is, "Paul Bako is pretty shitty today. No, wait, he's always shitty." The other entry gives us, "Known for having shitty ass 'personal' catchers such as Paul Bako and Henry Blanco."
* He hit a home run in the 2001 NLDS, which must have been a real thrill for him.

All whatever the hell my point is aside, Bako is a terrible, terrible hitter who I'm sure is probably a very nice man. He'll likely play no more than once a week, but I now have a great fear of an injury to Razor Ramon forcing the Orioles to play Bako, because God knows they wouldn't want to give J.R. House any time. Truth be told, signing a player like Bako is completely useless when you could just pull someone out of your own farm system or someone else's who would almost have to be just as good, if not better, but Bako is a left-handed hitter, which likely gives us "situational advantages" out the yin yang, and also he's made a name for himself as a backup catcher over a number of years. Backup catchers, like left-handed relief pitchers, seem to never die.

I didn't like Geronimo Gil.

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