Backup catchers for Chicago World Series teams have been in the news lately, so why not take the time to look back at the career at Chris Widger?
Christopher Jon Widger was born May 21, 1971, in Wilmington, Delaware, and grew up in Pennsville, New Jersey, where he attended Pennsville High School, graduating in 1989. He started catching his senior year and played college baseball at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
The Seattle Mariners came calling in the third round of the 1992 MLB Draft, and Widger started his ascent to the major leagues. On June 23, 1995, he debuted for the Mariners in a 14-4 loss to the California Angels. He replaced Dan Wilson in the sixth inning, and his first big league plate appearance was a lineout against Mark Langston. One week later he picked up his first hit, a single off the Texas Rangers’ Kevin Gross. In his first start, Widger caught a shutout, a combined effort by Tim Belcher and Bobby Ayala. In all, Widger played 23 games in his first taste of major league action in 1995 and even appeared in five postseason games against the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians as the Mariners reached the postseason for the first time in franchise history. In 1996, Widger spent most of the season at Triple-A Tacoma, where he excelled at a .304/.355/.483 clip with 13 home runs in 97 games. He played eight games for the Mariners in August and September, going 2-for-11.
Widger got a fresh start north of the border when he was traded to the Montreal Expos in October 1996 along with pitchers Trey Moore and Matt Wagner in exchange for pitchers Jeff Fassero and Alex Pacheco. He went from catching Randy Johnson (OK, he caught him once in 1995) to catching Pedro Martinez (OK, he caught him only four times in 1997).
But at least Widger got a chance to play regularly. From 1997 to 2000, he appeared in a total of 436 games, more than 100 per year. He even hit double figures in home runs in 1998, 1999 and 2000 with 15, 14 and 13, respectively. In August 1999, Widger homered in four straight games, tying an Expos franchise record that still stands with the Washington Nationals. In August 2000, Widger was sent back to the Mariners for players to be named later, who turned out to be Sean Spencer and Termel Sledge. Unfortunately, Widger missed nearly all of 2001 with a shoulder injury and headed into free agency with an uncertain future.
In 2001, Widger’s sister Toni tragically passed away from complications with medications to treat a staph infection. She left behind five young girls including a set of quadruplets. Chris returned to Pennsville and built a new house, allowing his sister’s husband, Mike, and five children to move into the old house. Chris and his wife, Theresa, helped out with the kids when they could. Luckily, he signed a deal with the nearby Yankees for the 2002 season, but he had to work his way from Triple-A Columbus first.
Widger had limited major league opportunities over the next few seasons, appearing in 21 games for the Yankees in 2002 and 44 games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003. He was out of the majors altogether in 2004.
It was during that 2004 season where Widger found himself playing in a fast-pitch softball league, then later for the Camden Riversharks in the Independent Atlantic League, only about 30 minutes from home. In 55 games, he hit .267/.336/.574 with 16 home runs and 43 RBIs, which earned him an invitation to spring training with the White Sox for 2005. Widger made the team and backed up A.J. Pierzynski during the White Sox improbable march to a World Series victory. He chipped in a .241/.296/.383 slash line with four home runs and 11 RBIs in 45 games for the champs. His most memorable moment was his home run off Randy Johnson on Aug. 21, 2005, the fourth home run off the future Hall of Famer that inning. It was one of only three times the Big Unit allowed four homers in a game in his legendary career.
Widger saw one game of postseason action in 2005. He caught the last five innings of Game 3 of the World Series, a 14-inning marathon. He went 0-for-1 with a pair of walks, including one with the bases loaded in the 14th to give the Sox a 7-5 lead. When Mark Buehrle came in to record his one-out save, Widger was behind the dish.
All good things eventually come to an end, and Widger was released by the White Sox in July 2006. He signed with the Baltimore Orioles shortly thereafter and finished up his big league career with nine final games.
In 10 major league season, Widger played in 613 games with a .238 batting average, 55 home runs and 222 RBIs. He ranks seventh in home runs among major leaguers born in Delaware (Paul Goldschmidt has lapped the field with 243). Four of his final 11 career home runs were off pitchers who won a Cy Young Award: Chris Carpenter, Tom Glavine, Barry Zito and Johnson.
Widger returned to baseball in 2012, taking a job as an assistant coach at his old high school. The following year, he returned to the Riversharks, who in 2004 had given him a chance to work his way back to the majors. He served as the Riversharks' pitching coach for two years under manager Ron Karkovice before taking over as manager in 2015. The Riversharks left Camden after the 2015 season.
Widger’s next job in baseball was as the bench coach for the Class A Wilmington Blue Rocks, an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, from 2016 to 2018. He remains with the Royals and recently completed his first season as the manager for the Burlington Royals, a rookie-ball team in the Appalachian League. He went 39-29.
Chris Widger. You remember that guy.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.