The Oakland A’s have seen quite a few catchers squat behind home plate over the last few years. Jonathan Lucroy, Bruce Maxwell, Stephen Vogt, Kurt Suzuki, to name a few. Some became cult heroes, others faded into oblivion.
Josh Phegley has become somewhat of a breakout star this year for the A’s in his time behind the dish, so much so that he’s quickly put together an All-Star caliber first half.
But what do we know about the 31-year-old journeyman? Here are 10 things:
No. 1: Who did he idolize?
A passage in Michael Lewis’ 2003 book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game includes an eye-opening revelation from Billy Beane about his former Mets teammate and friend Lenny Dykstra.
However physically inferior Dykstra was to a highly-touted athletic player like Beane, the A’s executive noted a dugout conversation in which Dykstra claimed he could “stick” opposing pitcher and future all-time great Steve Carlton.
“Lenny was so perfectly designed, emotionally, to play the game of baseball,” Beane said in the book. “He was able to instantly forget any failure and draw strength from every success. He had no concept of failure. And he had no idea where he was.”
Take what you will from this revelation from Phegley, then: His favorite player growing up was Dykstra. Even if his field demeanor won’t be confused for his idol.
“He was entertaining,” Phegley said. “I’d say I’m pretty quiet on the field.”
No. 2: State of the state
Phegley grew up in Terra Haute, a small city nestled along the Wabash River on the Indiana-Illinois border. He spent more time outside playing than inside watching the game, he noted.
“We weren’t big spectators,” he said. “We liked to play outside and play ourselves.”
Phegley was named Indiana’s Mr. Baseball in 2006 – how could you not with a .592 average and 13 home runs, 16 doubles and 50 RBIs with his Terra Haute North High School team.
Phegley went on to play for the Hoosiers at Indiana University, winning a Big Ten Conference Tournament championship in 2009.
No. 3: The beginnings
His first major league hit came in his major league debut with the White Sox against Tampa Bay Rays’ starter Jeremy Hellickson on July 5, 2013.
Phegley’s first major league home run came just two days later off Tampa Bay’s David Price. Four days later he hit a grand slam off Detroit’s Anibal Sanchez.
No. 4: How’d he get here?
Phegley’s career with the A’s began after the 2014 season, when he was traded along with Marcus Semien, Chris Bassitt and Rangel Ravelo from the White Sox for Jeff Samardzija and Michael Ynoa.
No. 5: How he almost didn’t get here
Before his big league breakout, Phegley’s baseball career was in a bit of jeopardy.
In 2010, Phegley was diagnosed with Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura, a rare blood autoimmune disorder. He had surgery in November of that year to remove his spleen, which doctors thought was the cause of his low platelet count.
No. 6: Later health challenges
A couple odd injuries hampered Phegley’s growth in the A’s organization. In 2015 he suffered a concussion when Billy Butler accidentally hit him in the back of the head during batting practice at Minute Maid Field in Houston.
In 2016 Phegley underwent surgery to remove a cruciate ligament cyst in his right knee. But this season, A’s fans have gotten a chance to see Phegley unencumbered by the IL.
“I feel like getting to play every day helps me to stay in a groove and get ready consistently and have a routine,” Phegley said. “When you get out of a routine, I feel like a lot of small nagging injuries happen when you have a sporadic playing schedule.”
“Some of the problems I’ve dealt with in the past have been related to not having a routine or schedule, just being throw you into the lineup here and there, not a consistent approach. Playing every day the body gets used to it, gets in the groove.”
No. 7: A little health and…
With no knee inflammation or freak batting practice injuries to stop him, Phegley has put together a breakout year with the A’s.
Phegley has remained among the top RBI-getters on the team. His 39 is the second-most among MLB catchers (Chicago Cubs’ Willson Contreras has 41.) He hit .303 in May and has already swatted nine home runs, matching a career high.
No. 8: Yes on the no-no
Phegley also happened to catch a no-hitter this year. He and Mike Fiers no-hit the Reds back on May 7 in a game delayed by the Oakland Coliseum’s faulty stadium lights.
How is Phegley during one of the most mentally trying spans for a battery? Just like any other night, Fiers said.
“Every night is pretty similar with him,” Fiers said. “We go off of each other and trust each other. I trust him behind the plate doing his homework and scouting hitters.”
9: Swinging tunes
Phegley’s walk-up song is Escape (The Piña Colada Song).
Phegley picked the catchy tune by Rupert Holmes randomly one day, had a good game, and stuck with it.
10: Could he make the cut?
With Frankie Montas serving an 80-game suspension, the A’s All-Star selection pool opened a bit wider. The fan vote selections are down to three finalists per position, and no A’s player made the cut in any category. Of course, the A’s must send at least one to Cleveland.
Matt Chapman seems to be the clear choice: he’s undoubtedly one of the top third baseman in the American League along with his friend, Houston Astros’ Alex Bregman (who is a fan vote finalist). Marcus Semien – who was named the AL Player of the Week at the beginning of June – is another strong candidate.
But Phegley is right up there with those two as a potential candidate, and his manager Bob Melvin has been campaigning for his candidacy all year long as his catcher put together solid game after solid game.