- C, DH, 1B
- April 16, 1944
- 6' 1"
- 195 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 9-06-1970 with BOS
By Bill Nowlin
Nashville native and Red Sox catcher Bob Montgomery was born as Robert Edward Montgomery on April 16, 1944. He played his entire career with one major league team - the Boston Red Sox - a career that encompassed the 1970s, from his debut on September 6, 1970 to his final game on September 9, 1979.
Monty took a while to make the majors, initially signed as an amateur free agent by the Red Sox on June 9, 1962. Baseball ran in the family. His father played sandlot ball and was apparently pretty good. Bob's brother Gerald was also in the Red Sox farm system for a while. Bob himself played several sports for Central High School in the Tennessee capital, and was all-state in three sports, but it was always baseball that held the greatest appeal. For Central, he pitched, played first base, and played outfield. It was only later that he made the move to set up behind the plate.
After high school graduation, Red Sox scout George Digby got Bob Montgomery's signature on a contract and the 18-year-old was assigned to the Olean, New York team in Boston's farm system. There he played third base and batted .273, earning him a step up in the system in 1963. The new year saw Montgomery playing in Waterloo, Iowa under manager Len Okrie. Monty explained to author Herb Crehan that Okrie suggested he become a catcher. Okrie told him, "If you want to make it to the majors, you're going to have to make yourself into a catcher. You don't have the power to make it at the corner positions in the majors, but you could make it as a catcher." Monty got in a little backstop work late in '63, but the following year served as the full-time catcher for Waterloo and even made the league's All-Star team. He told Crehan that he'd found the transition a relatively easy one.
Although it was a long slog to make it to the majors, Monty says he never got discouraged. "I never thought about quitting. I had one goal in mind: to play baseball at the big league level. I stayed focused on that goal and just moved a little closer every year." He continued to rise in the system, if slowly, and by 1969 was playing for Triple A Louisville, the top club in Boston's system before Pawtucket assumed that honor. Montgomery played in over 100 games and batted a very strong .292. In 1970, Montgomery put in another year at Triple A (.324 in 131 games, and showing some power with 14 homers), and earned himself a call-up to the big league club once Louisville's season was over.
Bob Montgomery made his major league debut, subbing for catcher Tom Satriano in a game the Sox were losing 6-1 to the Orioles. He was called out on strikes in his first at-bat, but came up again in the Sox sixth with Dave McNally on the mound and runners on first and second. His single to right field moved up both Rico Petrocelli and Billy Conigliaro and loaded the bases. Two runs scored on a hit-by-pitch and a sacrifice fly, and the score was 6-4. The Red Sox went on to win the game in the bottom of the 11th when reliever Pete Richert loaded the bases and then threw a wild pitch as Billy Conigliaro stood in the batter's box and Montgomery waited in the on-deck circle. Monty took over as the regular catcher for the rest of the season.
The first of his 23 career home runs came a few days later, a September 11 solo homer in the fifth inning off future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer. Montgomery saw a lot of action in September, appearing in 22 games and performing well (just three errors, while credited with 143 putouts and 13 assists), though hitting a little anemically at .179. He enjoyed the winter months, with 14 major league hits in the record books and what looked to be a steady job in the majors in 1971.
Duane Josephson was acquired over the winter to be the regular catcher, but a series of nagging injuries provided plenty of opportunities for a backup to play, and Bob Montgomery shared catching duties in 1971. Josephson appeared in 91 games and hit .245 with 10 homers while Montgomery got into 67 games, hitting .239 with a couple of homers. Carlton Fisk was called up in September and made himself a catcher who would not be denied. His .313 average and great defense ensured he would take center stage starting in 1972.
Montgomery understandably played the backup to Fisk, and appeared in just 24 games. He upped his average appreciably to .286, however, taking full advantage of the at-bats he had. The Red Sox missed winning the pennant by just a half a game in the season that opened late due to the ongoing player strike that was not resolved until several days into the regular season schedule.
1973 saw a little more action - 34 games, 128 at-bats, and again a very improved batting average. Montgomery hit .320 in 1973. To work as a backup catcher isn't the easiest of tasks, he told Herb Crehan. You have to be ready to step in and perform at any minute. "I focused on every single pitch, even if I hadn't played in a week." The attention to detail is key in a catcher, was reflected in his climbing batting average, and probably served him well in his later career as a broadcaster with the Red Sox.
When Carlton Fisk suffered a season-ending injury on June 28, 1974, Montgomery stepped in and appeared in 88 games, with Tim Blackwell serving as his backup. Monty's average dropped to .252 but he filled in capably and the team continued to contend, in first place until shortly after Labor Day.
Fisk was still unable to return as the 1975 season opened, due to a second injury - a broken arm suffered in spring training - and Montgomery was the main man strapping on the mask and chest protector and calling pitchers for the 1975 team until Fisk was able to come back on June 23. Though his average slipped yet again, to .226, Monty appeared in 62 games and did his share to keep the Sox in the hunt. At the season's start, Montgomery was responsible for the game-winning RBI in four of the first 11 wins. Fisk hurt his finger in August and Monty got some more playing time. He also started a couple of games at first base, filling in at first six times before season's end.
In postseason play, Montgomery saw no action at all in the three-game series with Oakland, and almost missed out on any action in the World Series. He finally got his moment at almost the last possible moment, appearing as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game Seven. Will McEnaney was in for Cincinnati to protect a slim 4-3 lead, and there was one out, Juan Beniquez having flied out to right immediately before him. Monty could have become an instant hero with a home run over everything to left, tying the game and setting the stage for Yaz to come up with a winning back-to-back blow. Alas, it was not to be. Monty grounded out to the shortstop. Yastrzemski flied out to center field and the Series was over.
There was every hope that the Red Sox could come back and contend again in 1976, but they never got on track. Ownership even fired manager Darrell Johnson in the middle of the season, handing the reins to Don Zimmer. With Fisk healthy the full year, Monty only got into 31 games but did boost his average to a more respectable .247.
Montgomery got even less playing time in '77, but batted an even .300 in 40 at-bats, with a couple of homers in the mix.
1978 was another exceptional year in Red Sox history. Monty saw action in only 10 games; he hit .241 on the strength of just seven hits in 29 at-bats - and more than half of those hits all came in one game, the second game of a May 21 doubleheader in Tiger Stadium. Montgomery was 4-for-5 that day, with an RBI triple in the ninth inning off Fernando Arroyo. The last game he was in, as the pennant drive was on in earnest, came against the Yankees on September 6 at Fenway, a 15-3 blowout for New York. Monty had two plate appearances, striking out the first time and drawing a walk the second.
The last year of the 1970s was the last year for Bob Montgomery as a major league ballplayer. He went out with his head held high, appearing in 32 games and batting a career-best .349 in 86 at-bats. When he played his final game (September 9, 1979), he was 1-for-2 and scored a run, but also earned the distinction of being the last major leaguer to ever bat without a protective batting helmet on his head.
Though he tried to make the team in spring training 1980, he just didn't have it any more. In April, he turned 36 and the Sox were going with Fisk and Gary Allenson (Allenson had seen a lot of work in 1979, though with distinctly lower production at the plate. He only turned 25, though, in 1980 and the Red Sox elected to look to him to spell Fisk.) In 1980 and 1981, Monty worked a little in sports radio and did some Red Sox games on radio as a backup guy. For the 1982 season, Channel 38 was looking to hire a new color commentator and interviewed Tony Conigliaro for the position. Tony's stroke removed him from consideration and Montgomery was hired to do the color on Red Sox telecasts. Monty worked as Ned Martin's partner doing TV for the Red Sox for 17 years, right up through the 1995 season when Channel 38's run with the Red Sox came to a close.
For several years now, Montgomery has worked in sales and marketing for Unison, a company based in Boston which specializes in signage work. He is married with one daughter.
Herb Crehan ends his Red Sox Heroes of Yesteryear profile of Bob Montgomery quoting Monty as saying of himself, "I was what they call a 50/50 player. I didn't help you an awful lot, but I didn't hurt you either." Crehan protests the modesty, terming Montgomery as "probably the premier backup catcher in the major leagues throughout the seventies."
A version of this biography was originally published in '75: The Red Sox Team That Saved Baseball, edited by Bill Nowlin and Cecilia Tan, and published by Rounder Books in 2005.
Most of the information in this article, and all of Bob Montgomery's quotes come from Herb Crehan's profile of Montgomery contained in Herb's bookRed Sox Heroes of Yesteryear (Rounder Books, 2005). The always-helpfulRetrosheet website provided a wealth of detail regarding Montgomery's year-by-year and even day-by-day play. This biography can also be found on SABR Bio Project.