Lou Criger, born February 3, 1872 is most famous for being the very first Opening Day catcher for the Boston Red Sox in club history.
Criger hailed from Elkhart Indiana and spent 16 years in the big leagues, as he left with a career .211 average and 11 home runs–guess light-hitting catchers existed back then too. That said, Criger is widely regarded as one of the best catchers of the deadball era, and one of the toughest. At 5’10” and 165 Criger was not your typical backstop, yet he had a reputation as a fierce competitor and fighter willing to take on the best.
You can see his full stats here!
Criger began his career with the Elkhart Truths and spent five years with the team before being traded to the Michigan State League’s Kalamazoo Kazzos in 1895 (sooooo glad team names have improved since then). He spent a season with the Kazoos before moving on to the Cleveland Spiders where he dazzled and impressed with his strong throwing arm gunning down all six attempted stealers from behind the dish. In 1898 the Criger was named the primary catcher and built a relationship with his battery-mate Cy Young.
Perhaps Criger’s greatest claim to fame is that wherever Cy went he followed and a majority of the infamous pitcher’s games featured the slim catcher behind the dish. Criger never quite impressed at the plate, but behind it he was phenomenal for the Sox, especially when Cy was on the mound as Criger was there for the pitcher’s greatest games.
As Young faced the end of his career though so did Criger, he was traded after the 1908 season to the SZt. Louis Browns and then to the New York Highlanders (future Yankees) a season later. He played here and there after and seemed to retire after a dismal 1910 campaign that saw him play just 27 games for New York. Then two years later, at the age of 40, the former catcher signed on with the Browns as a pitching coach and caught one game when the team’s catchers were hurt, but that was the end of Criger’s professional career.
Criger spent much of his life in Indiana with his wife and children before his failing health caused him to find solace in the South West. He passed away in 1934 in Tuscon at the age of 62.