Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to meet the great Ranger catcher Geno Petralli. I’m not sure how Geno ended up in his current vocation, but he was working as the construction foreman for a contractor who was building a new restaurant in Wichita Falls. One of my good friends happens to own that restaurant and he knew that I am a long time Ranger fan. So, when he found out that Petralli had played for the Rangers, he asked if I knew who he was, and of course I responded in the affirmative.
Petralli played for the Rangers from 1985 to 1993. He got his opportunity to break the Ranger lineup when Don Slaught got injured in July of 1985. He rotated at catcher through 1985 and 1986 with a few other guys, namely Mike Stanley, Glenn Brummer (whom unfortunately I don’t remember), and Darrell Porter. In 1986 they added Orlando Merced, and the Rangers carried four catchers on the roster after the Merced acquisition. 1987 became Petralli’s most notable year in good ways and bad. His primary job was to catch Charlie Hough, the Rangers famous knuckleballer. This meant Geno got some regular playing time, but also put him in the Major League record books, not in a good way. He tied a major league record with four passed balls in one inning. Just over a week later, he tied another major league record by allowing six passed balls in one game, and overall he allowed 35 passed balls that season, more than any other major league catcher since Jack Boyle in 1892. Petralli passed the modern major league record of 33 set in 1985 by J.C. Martin. He then spent time splitting catching duties with Jim Sundberg and Chad Kreuter in 1988. In 1989, he became the Ranger’s primary starting catcher and 1990 was his first and last full season as the Ranger’s starting catcher. On July 31, 1990 he caught Nolan Ryan’s 300th career win.
I asked Geno what his favorite moments were and he mentioned getting to play with a number of different great players like Nolan Ryan, Charlie Hough, Ruben Sierra, and so on. He smiled and told me about his game tying home run off Roger Clemens in the bottom of the 8th inning against the Boston Red Sox in 1986. It was late July and the Rangers were just a few games behind the division leading California Angels. During a nationally televised Monday night game, Petralli took Clemens deep to tie it, which allowed Ruben Sierra to win it with a homerun in the bottom of the ninth.
Petralli is now sans the mustache, and I have to admit I was a little disappointed about that. But it was great to meet him and he was an incredibly nice guy. I took him a stack of about 15 different baseball cards and three baseballs and he was happy to sign them all. Here are a few pictures of the baseballs. A year or so ago I sent a baseball in the mail to Charlie Hough and he signed it and returned it to me. I couldn’t let that ball go without adding Petralli’s signature to it as well. It’s very nice to have the knuckleball battery both on one ball.
I went and talked with Geno a few times while he was building the restaurant. Each time he was gracious and more than willing to talk baseball with me. I told him that it is players like him, who people like me, who grew up in the late 80s and early 90s, still revere as our childhood heroes. He might not have been the best catcher the Rangers ever had. We all know who that is. But, there was a significant portion of my childhood where Geno Petralli was a commonly spoken name in my house and it was great to finally meet him.