Tournaments : : Story
Thursday, July 23, 2009

Charlie O'Brien: From Cy Young Winners to Kids

Jim Ecker        
JOPLIN, Mo. -- Charlie O'Brien caught 11 Cy Young Award winners during his major league career, which makes you think he'd make an excellent coach or manager in the big leagues. He's had his chances.
 
"Yeah, but I wanted to be with my kids," he said after coaching the Midwest Nationals in the Premier Baseball Junior Championship here. "After playing for approximately 15 years, it gives you a chance to spend a lot more quality time with them. It's much more valuable than running around and coaching in the major leagues."
 
O'Brien, 49, played for eight teams in the major leagues. He worked for Oakland (1985), Milwaukee (1987-90), the New York Mets (1990-93), Atlanta (1994-95), Toronto (1996-97), the Chicago White Sox (1998), the Angels (1998-99) and Montreal (2000). He hit only .221 for his big-league career with 56 homers, but was known as one of the best defensive catchers in pro ball. And one of the smartest.
 
It's hard to believe that anyone caught more Cy Young Award winners than O'Brien. He caught Frank Viola, Dwight Gooden, Bret Saberhagen, David Cone, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Pat Hentgen, Roger Clemens, Chris Carpenter and Jack McDowell. He caught Maddux, Hentgen and Clemens the year they won Cy Young Awards, and caught the others at other points in their careers.
 
He was Maddux's personal catcher in Atlanta in 1994 and '95 when Maddux had consecutive ERAs of 1.56 and 1.63.
 
O'Brien retired after the 2000 season and walked away from pro ball, but didn't walk away from baseball. He's been coaching his two sons and is heavily involved with the Midwest Nationals, a program that's based in Springfield, Mo. "I've actually been coaching ever since I got out of baseball in 2000," he said.
 
The Midwest Nationals had a 16U, 17U and 18U club last year, and are fielding 17U and 18U teams this season. O'Brien likes what he's doing.
 
"Oh yeah, I love it," he said. "I love to talk about it and teach it. And hopefully some of these kids will understand the message that I'm sending to them."
 
O'Brien won a World Series ring with the Atlanta Braves in 1995. And aside from catching all those Cy Young Award winners, he's also known for inventing the hockey-style mask for catchers. It happened after he got smashed on two straight foul balls in a game, wearing an old-fashioned mask. He thought there had to be a better piece of equipment to protect catchers and got the idea for a hockey-style mask after watching a hockey game.
 
O'Brien isn't sure if any of his young high school players know anything about his major league career or invention.
 
"I doubt it. Knowing these kids?," he said, laughing. "No, they have no idea."
 
He's just "Coach" to them.
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