Ball game at Sportsman's Park

He’s Just Ken O’Dea

The backup catcher seems to be one of the positions in baseball that can bring a long career with little to no fan fair. Catching is such a challenging position in the sport that if one is great behind the plate they hardly need to be a good hitter.

Ken O’Dea seems to be one of the best to ever do it and he’s a ball player who has drawn my attention as I research my way through the years of the sports. O’Dea is a player that will never be a Hall of Famer and in fact only played 100 games in a season once.

One could say the he had a lot of bad luck in the sense that he kept being stuck behind great players. His career spanned from 1935-1946 where he played for the Chicago Cubs, New York Giants, St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Braves.

While playing for the Cubs he played behind Hall of Fame catcher Phil Cavarretta. After being traded to the New York Giants he then backed up 4 time All-Star Harry Danning before then going to the Cardinals where he backed up 8 time All-Star Walker Cooper.

But with the limited playing time O’Dea found him self competing in 5 World Series through out his 12 year career and with that I came to find a very opportunistic player.

Before I get to his performance in the World Series I have to mention that O’Dea did have a reputation throughout the league for being a strong defensive catcher and the one year he was a starter on the club, when Walker Cooper went on to serve in World War, he found himself having a season that got him elected to an all-star game (granted this was in a very watered down 1945 season due to numerous players serving in the war.)

Early in his career with the Cubs he had three straight OPS+ seasons over 100 in his limited times at the plate as well so there are different examples of O’Dea playing well when he got his chance.

The inspiration for me writing this and my interest in Ken O’Dea really comes from his 5 World Series appearances. As I’ve written before, I am going through every series game by game with the purpose of finding different stories in the game I love and with that I rate every player’s performance where I list them as a “stand out” or even “MVP” of the series. Depending upon their stat line and how they perform at the plate, in the field, on the mound or even running the bases, if they perform well I consider them a stand out player.

1944 World Series At Bat
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USZ62-90145]
When I do this I try to consider their playing time as this is something that they have little control over so, for example, if a hitter has 2 plate appearances in a series and he get a hit…then I will consider him a stand out player as he took advantage of his playing time. Doing this has introduced me to different ball players I never would have heard of but also it is with this….I have given Ken O’Dea a “stand out” mention 5 different times or for every series he’s played in. What’s fascinating about this is that in every series he had been in he’s mostly been a bench player and at most a part time starter for every series but whenever he got his chance to play he was successful.

As of this writing I am working on the 1959 World Series so up to this point the players who have 5 stand out performances for an entire series are as follows: Babe RuthLou Gehrig, Johnny Murphy, Joe DiMaggio, Gene Woodling, Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle….and Ken O’Dea.

All of those players, well first and foremost are New York Yankees…meaning they had a lot of shots to have good World Series performances….but also all but Woodling and Murphy are Hall of Fame players. Woodling was a very good player, not Hall of Fame quality but good never the less and Murphy was a star reliever for the club.

O’Dea doesn’t fit the mold of any of these players, he wasn’t a Yankee, he’s not an All-Star and he made the World Series with multiple clubs.

Was his success in the World Series a product of small sample size luck? Yeah, it probably was but I can’t help but think that Ken O’Dea may be one of the best back ups to ever play the game and….well…that means something.

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