The player who no longer exists in the Majors – MLB.com (Includes Video)
“A lot of people thought it was a joke,” Distefano says now. “But I had a strong arm, so I was able to do it. When I played for the Astros in 1992, that was Craig Biggio’s first year as a second baseman, so I went to Major League camp with the pitchers and catchers, as the emergency catcher. And my last year, I went to camp with the Rangers’ pitchers and catchers. So it was taken seriously.”
“I think they already had it in their minds that they wanted me to catch so it would increase my versatility and give them an emergency third catcher because the major leagues had 24-man rosters then,” Distefano said, referring to a period when MLB decided to reduce the roster limit by one player for a few years.
“It was fun,” Distefano said. “I had a good time doing it. I just wish I could have done it more often.”
Distefano’s last appearance at the position was on Aug. 18 when he caught the last three innings of a 13-6 loss to the Braves at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The 1989 season wound up being the last of his four seasons with the Pirates.
Tebow, though, being the nice person that he is, apologized to Distefano. The kick was clearly unintentional because, well, it’s Tim Tebow we’re talking about here. He also was trying to get loose for baserunning. He ended up scoring on Danny Espinosa’s home run.
Growing up in Bensonhurst, the southwestern section of Brooklyn, and just two miles from Coney Island, Distefano beat the odds at making it to the major leagues. He came up through the Pirates’ system with Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla, and shared playing time with Utican Andy Van Slyke. Seeing baseball duty with 10 clubs, plus service in the Japan Central League, well qualifies Distefano as a a baseball educator.
In addition to the Hodges’ dedication, it also was a special evening for the master of ceremonies, Cyclone Hitting Coach Benny Distefano, who grew up in Brooklyn playing for the Gil Hodges Little League. Distefano, a Lafayette High School grad who went on to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates, told fans that one of his biggest thrills was to meet Gil Hodges at the Hodges Bowling Lanes in 1971 at the age of nine.
The Clones’ hitting coach had a way with his young sluggers, and the results showed. By mid-season, the team had secured its spot at the top of most statistical categories, and were reciting DiStefano’s mantras about aggression in the batter’s box. DiStefano instructed his players to swing at everything over the plate, especially fastballs. But perhaps the best example of the positive effects of DiStefano’s council can be seen in the Clones’ catcher Juan Centeno. Last year for the Cyclones, Centeno batted .164. This year, he hit .371.
That’s all Distefano asks. When he returned home to Brooklyn last winter and ran into some of his Lafayette High School teammates, including Reds pitcher John Franco, he took some teasing about his catching ability. “They all thought it was a joke,” he says. “But I guess it ain’t so funny now that it’s put me in a big league uniform.”
Distefano became a catcher solely to extend his career. Instead, he lengthened his legacy, not only among baseball trivia buffs but within the left-handed catching community, for whom he remains a hero.
“I didn’t know the 20th anniversary of my last time out there was coming up,” Distefano said. “I definitely will celebrate now. It’s nice. It’s really rewarding to be remembered in a positive way.”
Syracuse Mets bench coach Benny Distefano wears a “Fight like a girl” T-shirt in support of Leighton Accardo, a 7-year old who is battling cancer.
His status on the Pirates ultimately didn’t matter to me, though, because somewhere along the line that summer, I came into possession of a classic Pittsburgh Pirates cloth pillbox cap with yellow stripes on its round sides, a yellow button on top, and a yellow ‘P’ on the front.
It was just like the one that Benny Distefano wore on his 1985 Topps rookie card, and on his 1985 Donruss rookie card, for that matter.
On May 14th, 1989 Benny Distefano of the Pittsburgh Pirates switched positions from 1B to Catcher for the top of the ninth inning of a 5-2 Buccos loss to the Atlanta Braves. The change was significant because Benny became the 1st left hander to get behind the plate since Mike Squires, a White Sox first basemen, caught a couple of innings back in 1980.