Once upon a time, the Houston Astros had a young offensive-minded catcher in Mitch Meluskey.
For most of the franchise’s existence, the Houston Astros have been, shall we say, offensively challenged at the catcher position. Aside from some brief flashes in the pan, finding above-average production at the plate from their backstops has been difficult. That fact has been compounded by the curious case of Mitch Meluskey.
The Astros traded for Meluskey when he was still a minor leaguer in April 1995. As he rose through the system, his offensive profile continued to improve. He torched Triple-A pitching in 1998 to the tune of a .353 average, 41 doubles and 17 homers in 121 games. An injury-riddled 1999 delayed his becoming the team’s everyday catcher, but that all changed in 2000.
Meluskey earned the primary catching job on the strength of a .300/.401/.487 line in 117 games that year. He finished fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting and would have made the All-Star team if Braves manager Bobby Cox could’ve reached him while he was on vacation during the break. But that sterling performance at the plate was overshadowed by some other issues.
Fairly or not, Meluskey had developed a reputation as having a “bad boy, know-it-all personality.” He wasn’t particularly well liked in the clubhouse, especially by some of the veterans. Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell were likely among that group, though they might not admit it publicly.
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It came to a head in June when Meluskey got into an argument with teammate Matt Mieske at the batting cage before a game in San Diego. The end result was Meluskey punching Mieske above the left eye, dishing out a wound that would require stitches. If the veterans didn’t like him before that, they certainly wouldn’t afterward.
Meluskey was never known for his defensive abilities, although several Astros praised him for making improvements over the course of the season. Nonetheless, once the 2000 season was over, the club traded him to Detroit to bring back defensive anchor Brad Ausmus, who had no such clubhouse issues.
Just like that, the team’s 27-year-old supposed catcher of the future was gone. He was limited to just eight games over the next two seasons thanks to multiple injuries. He returned to Houston briefly in late 2003, but the injuries had evidently taken their toll. Whatever promise he once had was gone.
So we’re simply left with the thought of what could have been. If his young career hadn’t been decimated by injuries, perhaps Meluskey would’ve been a regular All-Star. But even if he had stayed healthy, the success wouldn’t have come in Houston. He didn’t make many friends in the Astros organization, and that’s what ultimately led to the team going in another direction.