CINCINNATI — It hasn’t come to the point where Cincinnati Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan considers changing his first name to Rodney, but it’s close.
When it comes to respect outside of Cincinnati, Hanigan makes Rodney Dangerfield seem like The Man of the Year.
Not long ago, a sports network polled fans with the question: “What catcher can a contending team least afford to lose?” There were five choices and Hanigan smiled and said, “Let me guess, I wasn’t one of the five choices.”
No, he wasn’t. But Hanigan has come to expect it.
Never mind that Cincinnati pitchers have a 3.01 earned average, the best ERA for a catcher in the majors, when he’s behind the plate.
Never mind that he throws out 42 percent of runners trying to steal, one of baseball’s best percentages.
Never mind that the Reds have a .651 winning percentage when Hanigan catches, 50 points higher than the team’s .601 winning percentage for all games.
Never mind that (through Tuesday night) he is hitting .290 and has more walks (39) than strikeouts (33), something he does every year.
“Hanigan is not a household name for the people,” manager Dusty Baker said. “In the modern game most people see offense on everything.
“You lose games on defense and it is especially important for a catcher. Especially important. It is a tremendous confident factor for the pitcher to know that he can bounce a pitch and it is going to stay right there in front of the catcher. Hanigan is great at that.
“And Hanigan will throw you out and he calls a good game. He has had to work for everything he has got. He was an undrafted free agent and it is tough to make it that way.”
Hanigan played at Rollins College and was unnoticed, then Reds scout John Brickley spotted him play in the amateur Cape Cod League in 2002 and signed him.
“He didn’t have any money invested in him so he had to impress and he still had to wait his turn,” Baker said. “He had to jump over some guys, but I liked him the first day I saw him camp.”
Baker likes to conduct skull sessions, ask his players what to do in different situations and he said, “I had to quit looking at Hanigan, look the other way, because he had all the answers. He never misses a sign from the bench and he knows all the bunt plays — the little things that go unnoticed that you have to do to win.
“The first day I met him, he promptly told me, ‘I’m the only guy in the organization who has more walks than strikeouts.'”
A scout from another major league team loved Hanigan from the first day he saw him and implored his general manager to try to trade for him.
“When the Reds extended his contract during spring training last year, my GM told me, ‘This is the best day of the year for me,'” the scout said. “I asked him why and he said, ‘Because the Reds extended Hanigan’s contract and now I don’t have to listen to you tell me every day that we should try to get him.'”
If Hanigan is bothered by the lack of identity, he doesn’t show it. He was sitting at Joey Votto’s locker before Tuesday’s game when a writer approached and he said, “I can be Joey Votto, if you want me to be. I can imitate him.”
Hanigan was surprised to learn the writer wanted him, not Votto.
“I don’t worry about that aspect of things of recognition. I worry about what matters in terms of games,” he said. “I worry about my teammates. If we keep having success and winning games then people will take notice of all of us, not just me or any one player.
“I’m proud of our guys and with what we’ve done despite missing Votto for so long and a lot of guys out of our bullpen. We’ve seen guys step up and no guy on this team wants more credit than the next guy.”
Hanigan, 32, is a 6-0, 208-pounder and even more so than most catchers is known as a down-and-dirty guy. You know if his uniform isn’t brown after a game, he didn’t play.
“I take pride in my job and base it on the success that our pitching has,” Hanigan said. “That’s the huge part of winning games and you have value that and put a lot of work into it. That’s what I do. Make sure the guys are always doing what they are supposed to do — pitch smart, be aggressive. It has paid off.”
Hanigan, though, is extremely proud of the fact he has the lowest catcher’s ERA in baseball.
“Yeah, that’s a big stat,” he said. “People tell me this stuff because I don’t go looking for numbers. But I heard that one and I was very proud of that one because it shows a unity with the guys. They lean on me, don’t shake me off very often and they have confidence in my preparation.”
When his astounding percentage of throwing out baserunners was mentioned, Hanigan finally couldn’t resist and said with a broad grin, “Yeah, I’ve always been a pretty damn good defensive catcher.”
Of that, nobody can argue, and if a sports network doesn’t think so, at least one of his pitchers does. Said Bronson Arroyo, “Nobody talks about him, but he is one of the most important players on this team.”