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40 in 40: Cal Raleigh

bonnie tyler was singing about cal

MLB: Wild Card-Seattle Mariners at Toronto Blue Jays John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

In 1949, Joseph Campbell published the book The Hero With A Thousand Faces which popularized the concept of the “monomyth.” While the idea had existed for some time, notably in the writings of psychologist Carl Jung, Campbell’s book and the terms he use have become the most popular. Campbell used the concept to compare the narratives of religions. The monomyth really took off when George Lucas credited the narrative of Star Wars to it.

So how does this relate to the Seattle Mariners? Who is our hero, our own Luke Skywalker? Well, could it be anyone other than Cal Raleigh?

The Ordinary World

Cal Raleigh may come to us from North Carolina, but he is without a doubt a local, farm raised Mariner. Cal has the fairly uncommon distinction of being drafted by the Seattle Mariners, playing at every level of their minor league system, and making it to the big league club. With a front office that loves to move prospects around, Cal managed to stay around with quiet, humble, and persistent excellence.

The Call To Adventure

One of the earliest Discourses surrounding the Mariners at the start of 2022 was what became known as the Three Catcher Experiment. The Mariners carried Tom Murphy, Luis Torrens, and Cal Raleigh through April, with the three competing to not be one to get sent down. Cal had a strong spring training in 2022 (even being credited with a stolen base), and had earned his way onto the starting roster.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Seattle Mariners Lindsey Wasson-USA TODAY Sports

The Refusal of the Call

Unfortunately for Cal, Tom Murphy got off to a hot start in April, posting one of the highest SLG% among AL Catchers. With Murph’s roster slot locked down, the team chose Luis Torrens as their backup catcher over the struggling Raleigh, optioning Cal to Triple-A Tacoma on April 28th. The move was logically sound. Torrens had greater MLB experience, and although he was in a slump, there was hope that he would break out of it before too long.

The Inciting Incident and Crossing the Threshold

May 6th, T-Mobile Park. Disaster struck, and in front of a national audience. We didn’t understand what we were looking at at the time, but it soon became clear. Tom Murphy’s season was over. In the fifth inning against the Rays, Eugenio Suárez botched a throw to first. The ball slipped out of his hands and rolled slowly behind the mound. Randy Arozarena, known for his heads-up baserunning, saw an opportunity and took off towards home. Adam Frazier fielded the ball and fired home, but the throw was off, ending up slightly up the first baseline. Murphy gathered and tried to backhand tag Arozarena out. Murph had always struggled with with shoulder problems, but this was too much. He dislocated his shoulder, and was placed on the IL the next day. To fill the slot, Cal was called back up.

Tests, Allies, and Enemies

In perhaps the greatest twist of the season, Cal did not simply come back to Seattle. He exploded onto the major league stage, not just with his bat, but with his commanding presence behind the dish. If Luis Castillo is La Piedra, Cal is the foundation that rock is placed on. In just his second major league season, Cal became a leader.

While the context of this conversation wasn’t clear at the time, with hindsight we can be certain that this was Scott asking Cal if Robbie Ray should start throwing his two-seamer. My lip-reading skills aren’t excellent, but it looks like Cal responds something like “We’ll see if we can make it work.”

And it worked. Here is Robbie Ray’s 2022 rolling wOBA over 50 PAs. I’ve circled the moment of this conversation between Cal and Scott. This moment led to Ray’s best stretch of the 2022 season, when he truly looked like the ace we hoped for him to be.

Baseball Savant

Cal not only managed the veteran Ray, but also the young and wild Matt Brash. Catching Brash is a nightmare in the best of times, and playing the Astros in Minute Maid Park with the heart of the lineup is certainly not the best of times. And yet.

The game was a blowout (like I said, the belly of the beast), but Matt Brash was the only Mariners pitcher all game to not give up a run. He pitched what Cal wanted him to pitch, and it worked out.

Approaching the Inner Cave

And, of course, there’s Cal’s bat. Among AL Catchers with at least 400 PAs, Cal’s 121 wRC+ is good for fourth best. And despite a slump in late July/early August, Cal remained one of MLB’s hardest hitting hitters. He hits the ball so hard that singles are a rarity for him. They usually come off the bat as laser line drives straight to the right fielder. Although his 11th percentile whiff% is concerning, it’s countered by his 96th percentile barrel%. Cal fits right in with the three true outcomes era: he swings hard at every pitch, knowing that when he makes contact, magic happens.

To Cal, every pitch, even if it’s at or below the knees, is an opportunity to do some damage. Which, of course, is what this was all leading up to.

The Ordeal and Climax

The Reward

Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images
Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Returning Home

2023 provides a fresh start for the Mariners. The old era, the drought era, is dead. And Cal killed it. We are in uncharted waters, pushing through the fog. The future looks bright for the Mariners, and at the center of it, guarding home, is our very own hero.