Let’s be honest, the removal of Edwin Escobar, Gabriel Guerrero, Dominic Leone and Tyler Wagner from the 40-man roster are not going to cause much of a ripple in the pool of Diamondbacks fandom. Their performances at the major-league ranged from non-existent through brief to awful [Leone leaves the team with the second-highest ERA in franchise history, for any pitcher with more than 30 innings]. The only player whose loss has received any kind of reaction at all is Tuffy Gosewisch.
Which is odd, because on a strict performance level, he’s little or no better than the others. Over his four seasons and 126 games with Arizona, Gosewisch hit below the Uecker Line: indeed, his .199 career average is the lowest all-time for any Diamondback position player with 200+ PA for us. Overall, he was worth less than replacement level (-0.6 bWAR, -0.8 fWAR). So, why did he become the very definition of a “fan favorite”?
It starts, of course, with his name, which has to be among the most basebally of baseball labels - and was what drew us to him in the first place. That dates back well before he was a Diamondback. Our first encounter with Gosewisch was back in October 2009, at an Arizona Fall League game, when he was there as one of two catchers from the San Francisco Giants [the other was a Buster something. Wonder what happened to him?]. Here’s what we wrote about him at the time:
The AFL seems to have some great labels. Leading the pack there today was catcher Tuffy Gosewisch, whose name we decided belonged to a long-haired Persian - "Earl Tuffy of Gosewisch, three-time winner of the Burlington Cat Show." It got to the stage where we were meowing when he came to the plate.
It’s simply a name that is almost impossible to say without smiling, a cunning choice that makes anyone discussing Gosewisch predisposed to like him. But a cool name is only the first battle, not the war: Socrates Brito, for example, is almost as highly ranked there, and hasn’t achieved the same degree of fan affection. Tuffy has a number of other factors, which seem to have played into the relationship between him and Diamondbacks fans.
Local hero. Though born in Illinois, Gosewisch was brought up in Phoenix and went to Horizon High School in Paradise Valley. From there, he went on to Arizona State University, cementing those local ties. While hardly a decisive factor (anyone remember Jake Elmore? Thought not...), I note there’s another ASU alumni who was liked by fans, probably more than their output would have justified: Willie Bloomquist.
Work ethic. Just about everyone was brought up to appreciate someone who works hard, and that carries over into fandom. There’s a tendency for us to prefer a person who has had to put in the effort, over someone perceived (whether fairly or not) as coasting by on sheer talent, even if the latter is actually more productive. Gosewisch has been seen as a hard worker, even since his high-school days, where coach Eric Kibler remembers him thus: “You could turn your back on him at practice for three hours, and he’d be sweating out here working. Not many kids do that. That’s his work ethic. You could let him go, and he’d do everything you wanted him to do.”
Contrast that with, say, the sometimes spiky relationship between D-backs fans and #1 overall pick Justin Upton. Those not even chosen in the first ten rounds, like Tuffy, have an underdog feel to their career that’s undeniably appealing. I don’t like to use the word “grit,” after Kevin Towers somehow turned that into a bad thing. So let’s just say, there’s a blue-collar feel to the way Gosewisch approached the game, similar to other fan favorites such as Augie Ojeda. That means being full of hustle, and always giving 110%, because some players need to do that, in order to stand alongside those endowed with greater natural talents.
Enjoying the game. We watch baseball because it’s fun [Okay, after this season, Arizona fans may feel more like it’s a version of Stockholm Syndrome]. Seeing players who are having fun is infectious, and helps preserve a more innocent, less business-driven version of the game - you can certainly argue whether that is entirely mythical. I’m not sure any player on the 2016 D-backs roster smiled more often than Gosewisch, and it was usually a big, goofy and highly endearing grin. Witness, for example, the one and only triple Tuffy has managed in his major-league career to date, and the broad grin as he stands on third-base, pointing at the bag [H/T to ‘Hacks for reminding me of this one]:
Orange slices for everyone! :) Tuffy’s late arrival also demonstrates a true love for baseball. He didn’t reach the majors until sixteen days before his 30th birthday. At the time, he was the second oldest debutant in franchise history, and the only older player, Ken Huckaby, had exactly one at-bat for Arizona. [Both men have since been surpassed by Danny Dorn and Matt Buschmann] More than eight years of long bus rides, crappy motels and minor-league grind passed between Gosewisch being drafted and his major-league debut. That he didn’t give up his dream, but also apparently retained a passion for the sport, is wonderful to see and can only be appreciated. And, c’mon: how can you not love someone whose Twitter blurb describes themselves as “Professional Fat Kid”?
The likes of Paul Goldschmidt don’t seem human, they’re more like gods who have descended from Mount Olympus to hang with us mortals for a bit. But in comparison, Tuffy Gosewisch is an everyman. Of course, he isn’t: he’s still stronger, faster and more talented than 99% of us could ever hope to be. But he feels more like one of us, rather than one of them. And perhaps above all, that’s why he’ll be fondly remembered by Diamondbacks fans, when other backup catchers have long been forgotten.