Casanova 'earns' coveted a-Trophy

Casanova 'earns' coveted a-Trophy

NEW YORK -- Raul Casanova stepped through the door of the Mets clubhouse and was met by a man who addressed him as "just the man I'm looking for." Casanova responded, "Why? What'd I do?" And the reply to his question was fully appropriate: "Nothing. That's why."

That exchange happened Tuesday night at Shea Stadium, hours before the reserve catcher bore witness to the Mets' 6-0 victory against the Nationals. The game was the 12th for the Mets, the 11th in which Casanova didn't play. If he weren't a catcher, we could say he "did squat" for all but one game. But the terminology is that he did squat, but merely for one.

Casanova started and caught nine innings Friday night when the Mets defeated the Brewers at Shea, completing a circle of sorts. He had been drafted by the Mets in 1990, but never played in the big leagues with them. What distinguished him in the 2008 season, though, involved not playing. Of all players on big league rosters on Opening Day who remained eligible to play, none went longer without playing than Casanova. He was the last man sitting, the ultimate wallflower. Matt Sinatro, the 1990 bench potato, at first wondered whether this was an official award, and then wanted to know if a player could win it more than once.

MLB.com hereby acknowledges that distinction with a smile, a wink and the renewal of the presentation of the a-Trophy, the virtual award that celebrates inactivity and recognizes what happens to muscles when they are left idle. The a-Trophy, pronounced with a short "A" as in sat, was originated by Newsday in 1986, long before the term "couch potato" was used.

It did catch on for a while. The Indians noted in their 1992 media guide that Rod Nichols had been the last active player to appear in a game in 1991. And Mariners catcher Sinatro, the 1990 winner, at first wondered whether the a-Trophy was an official award and whether a player could win it more than once.

The first recognized "bench potato" was Red Sox catcher Dave Sax ,who did nothing for 34 games in 1986 and won going away. Sax, in fact, did go away after he outlasted the competition. He was demoted to the Minor Leagues after winning, though not playing, and returned to appear in four games in September.

His winning was appropriate because the a-Trophy was inspired by Roger LaFrancois, a Red Sox catcher who, in 1982, didn't make his first appearance until May 27. In the 11 years in which the a-Trophy competition existed, no one remained active so deep into the season without playing.

The award has been embraced by some, cursed by others and not fully grasped by most. All of them took it sitting down. Darrin Jackson of the Cubs, the 1989 winner, was quite insulted by the distinction, and blamed the messenger. A year earlier, Indians manager Doc Edwards was upset when asked about having two of the three finalists on his roster. "It takes 25 guys to win," he had said days earlier. Or 23.

Casanova, to his credit, saw the fun in it, as did the only previous Mets winner, Tim Bogar, in 1993. Bogar requested and received a framed certificate, the only one of its kind.

"My agent told me the other day," Casanova said. "It's OK. I'm happy I was on a big league roster, and now I have played in a game."

Casanova is the fifth catcher to win the award. His closest competition was another catcher. Rob Bowen of the A's also hadn't played through last Thursday. He and Casanova were in their team's starting lineups Friday. The A's were in Cleveland. The first pitch of the A's-Indians game was 7:07 ET, and the Mets' game began at 7:11. So Bowen seemingly would have "played" before Casanova. But since Bowen was on the visiting team and did not bat in the top of the first inning, and Casanova was in the field as the home-team catcher when the Mets' game began, Casanova actively "played" before Bowen did anything in his game.

But each player was in the starting lineup and if, in the top of the first, a foul ball had struck Bowen while he was on the bench and rendered him unable to play, he would have been credited with a game appearance. So, to paraphrase a former president, it depends on what the definition of "played" is.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.