Remembering Matt Nokes

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Preliminary 2010 payroll figures

For Yankee fans of a certain age, the name Matt Nokes brings back memories of false hopes and an era in which the Yanks had no plan. Acquired from the Tigers in early June 1990, Nokes was that rare left-handed hitting catcher, but unfortunately, for the Yanks he couldn’t do much hitting or catching. After the 1994 season, the Yankees were happy to let him go.

This week, as his Card Corner feature on Bronx Banter, Bruce Markusen reflected on the Matt Nokes era. The Yanks, as Markusen relates, brought in Matt Nokes with the allure of his 1987 32-home run All Star rookie campaign firmly in their minds. They needed some left-handed pop and also hoped to add to their catching depth in a potential run at Ron Darling. The Yanks were 18-30 when Nokes arrived that year and never got much better.

Luckily for the Yanks, they gave up only Lance McCullers and Clay Parker because Nokes amounted to little. “When it came to the defensive skills required of a catcher,” Markusen wrote, “Nokes came up short just about everywhere. He moved stiffly behind the plate, making him a liability on pitches in the dirt. He didnā€™t throw well, hampered by bad mechanics and lackluster arm strength. And just to complete the trifecta, he had little understanding of how to call a game.”

When he finally departed from the Bronx, Nokes had hit .249/.304/ .437 with 71 jacks. He bounced around the Majors for a few years and then played in the independent leagues for a bunch of seasons. He now serves as the Class A Potomac Nationals’ hitting coach.

Even at the time of Nokes’ acquisition, some ā€” such as The Times’ Murray Chass ā€” questioned the wisdom of the move. “The Yankees do not have a philosophy, or a plan, for that matter. In acquiring Claudell Washington, Matt Nokes and Mike Witt in the past six weeks,” he wrote in 1990, “they have operated on a patchwork philosophy, sort of like a public works crew repairing city streets after a weather-whipped winter.”

Yet, the younger fans always enjoyed Nokes. He had a ridiculously wide batting stance and seemed to love playing the game. When he hit the ball, it would travel far. These days the Yanks are a far cry away from the era of Matt Nokes. They’ve enjoyed stability and success from the catching position for the better parts of 15 seasons now. As Markusen says, Nokes, that rare left-handed hitter, just wasn’t what the Yanks of the early 1990s needed whether they knew it or not.

Adjusting PECOTA's Projected Standings
Preliminary 2010 payroll figures
  • Matt Imbrogno

    Apparently Barb W. is a biiig Matt Nokes fan:

    • Benjamin Kabak

      Yeah, man, that’s some hardcore dedication to Matt Nokes right there. I’d hate to be Barb W.’s husband. Tough competition.

      • vin

        It would be awesome if she is married to Bob Geren.

        • dkidd

          in 1991, don mattingly had 646 plate appearances and slugged .394


          • dkidd

            reply fail

          • Matt Imbrogno

            He slugged just .405 from 1990 to the end of his career.

        • Pete

          Hey, the comments are at 38 and Nokes wore #38 as a Yankee!

          (um, oops)

    • Andy in Sunny Daytona

      Damn Players strike robbed Matty Nokes of his finest year in pinstripes. That final month and playoff run, would have been beastly for him.

  • kenthadley

    How about defensive skill comps between Montero and Nokes….seems like some of the critics are pointing out some common issues, although Montero still has time to correct some of them, and obviously has the offensive edge…..I also think I read where Jesus has a better arm vs what you have for Nokes…

    • Benjamin Kabak

      Generally, Montero is considered to be better than Nokes. He’s not a rave behind the plate, but he’s improving. Where Montero seems to top Nokes is in the arm department for sure. Montero has a decent arm, and it’s accurate unlike Nokes’. But the concerns are that Montero is too big and not mobile enough behind the dish.

      • kenthadley

        thanks Ben…I keep thinking (hoping?) “Piazza” with the kid….I know Berra was terrible defensively until his mid 20’s, but he wasn’t fighting a 6’4″ frame……..I think he has to become adequate for some defensive position besides 1B in order to really blossom for the Yanks….cant be a 22 yr old dh…..I think Nokes probably was seen similarly when he was in the minors…..his bat played well when he first arrived to Detroit, but he never could last just as a dh/1b…….

      • Andy in Sunny Daytona

        I’ve read in a couple of different place that Montero’s throwing got better between A and AA. I disagree. I think his throwing was just as good in Tampa. In the games I saw him play in, the pitchers were not even trying to hold the runners close. It looked like there was no real concern for it either. It’s almost like the Yankee organization was more worried about the pitchers having proper mechanics when throwing from the stretch than having them worry about the runners that were on base. Weird, actually using the minor leagues as a developmental tool.

        • kenthadley

          so since you’ve seen him behind the dish, what’s your take? does he comp to Piazza or Nokes or somewhere in between…..

          • Andy in Sunny Daytona

            I honestly don’t remember paying attention to Matt Nokes’ catching abilities, and Piazza was a decent enough receiver, but he just couldn’t throw.
            I thought Jesus looked pretty good behind the plate. His only flaw that I noticed was the time it took for him to get rid of the ball. That skill gets better with repetition. He showed a big target, and he blocked balls well.
            I am not a scout, nor do I play one on TV, but I have no doubt in my mind that Jesus Montero will be a Major League starting catcher.

            • Steve H

              But did you stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night?

              • Andy in Sunny Daytona

                Not since they changed all the sheets in all of them. I used to enjoy playing Bedbug Russian Roulette.

  • Steve H

    My fondest memory of Nokes is hitting 4th in that beastly Detroit lineup on RBI Baseball. They were the best team on there, other than the AS teams of course.

    • Andy in Sunny Daytona

      You could not throw out Vince Coleman or Rickey Henderson. Impossible.

      • Steve H

        You mean (future HOF) Tim Raines?

        • Andy in Sunny Daytona

          And him. Canseco could mash too.

  • mike

    nothing better than watching at the stadium with 15,000 others when Nokes would launch that uppercut swing and connect – its was a true feast-or-famine lineup with Maas, Barfield, Kelly, Mel Hall,Balboni etc, and even though they Yanks sucked, we would never leave the game early if it was really close in the 8th/9th, because each one of those guys would try to put a charge into the ball (more often than not swing/miss or warning-track, it seemed) but the place was was living-and-dying with each swing.

    • Yankeegirl49

      I was one of the 15,000

  • FrankFernandez

    I didn’t know there was a Matt Nokes Era. Ron Hassey must be pissed.

  • Mike

    Nokes caught Jim Abbott’s no-hitter. Probably his best day in the major leagues.

  • dkidd

    i always liked nokes. the team was a desultory mess, but he loved being a major leaguer

    those early 90’s teams led the league in swing-and-misses

  • Andy in Sunny Daytona

    When he played in Tiger Stadium, he definitely took advantage of that RF overhang (just like every other left-handed hitter).

    • dkidd

      matt nokes 1987 = johnny damon 2009

      • Steve H

        Also the balls were juiced in 1987. No doubt. Wade Boggs hit 20% of his career HR’s during 1987.

        • JMK aka The Overshare’s Garden Apartment Complex

          Doesn’t 1994 look a bit weird to you as well?

          • dkidd

            also 1977


    For whatever reason, perhaps because I was a big Righetti fan growing up, this game is one memory of Nokes that I can recall somewhat vividly: a home-run (as a Tiger) in the 7th inning in a blow out game against the Yankees. I remember listening to the radio when Nokes came in to pinch hit and getting so angry when he hit the home run.

  • scoopemup

    Where have you gone Jake Gibbs?

    • larryf

      Jake was a much better college QB than pro-catcher. Thank goodness for Thurman!

  • robert skollar

    I always liked Matt Nokes…he looked like a buddy of mine.

    BUT you left out the best story about Matty getting arrested for beating the crap out of another teams mascot in the minors!

    • Karen

      Actually thats false, he was never arrested and never beat up anyone. Please dont post for chock value.

  • dalelama

    Your description of Nokes behind the plate reminds me of Posada…stiff, no arm, can’t call a game, can’t block a ball in the dirt..just goes to show the difference a bat can make…I wonder if Nokes matched Posada’s stupidity running the bases…

  • Broll the American

    I do believe that Nokes threw out Henderson on his first attempt to tie Lou Brock.
    Rickey later caught and passed Brock in that game, but Nokes (of all people) made him wait a few innings.

  • Tony

    Now thats a name I have not thought of for a long time. And for good reason – he was awful. I was in high school when Nokes was a Yankee and I had no love for him – he was pitiful. Not until Stanley was a Yankee can I say that we had a decent catcher.

  • jerseymarty

    Wow looking at the transactions link and checking his salaries you get the inpression the Yankees really overpaid for Nokes.

  • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

    I don’t know if I embellished this memory since it happened when I was pretty young, but does anyone else remember Matt Nokes catching a Roger Clemens beanball between his arm and torso and firing the ball right back to Clemens before taking first base? Am I crazy? Did I make it up?

    • Cal

      Yup, I do remember that….searched on YouTube but it’s not out there….Unfortunately.

  • Sweet Lou

    Nokes copyrighted a do-it-yourself hitting drill machine that was basically a contraption by your feet where you step on a device and a wiffle ball comes up for you to hit in your hitting zone. If I remember this correctly, he said that if you practice this enough you won’t swing at pitches outside your hitting zone. Basically, it looked like something you would give to a five year old.

    It was done during a home run tear he went on in 1991. It was pathetic.

    • noodle

      I recall he never quit trying. Always having ingenuity and very curious to get it right. To be successful you must fail and sometimes thousands of times.

  • mike in nyc

    Yeah …. unfortunately the combination of Matt Nokes and Kevin Maas didn’t quite work out to Mantle & Maris as I remember them being touted.

  • Joe Bronx

    Loved nokes he had an gorgeous Acura and hit bombs during batting practice I got at least 5 balls thanks to him

  • Chuck Bird

    Matty Nokes, his wife and young kids sat in the back of a Hawaiian airlines flight with me back in 1987. He seemed like a real gentleman and really nice guy. He was a very caring father and family man he seemed. He was flying out for an autograph signing in Honolulu. I have followed his career and thought that he was a great role model for aspiring boys wanting to become a professional baseball player.