By JANIE McCAULEY | AP Baseball Writer
OAKLAND — Veteran Oakland Athletics catcher Stephen Vogt will retire after 10 major league seasons and a long, patient road to break into the big leagues at age 27.
Not to mention a nearly 15-month wait to finally get his first hit.
Vogt endured an 0-for-32 hitless streak to start his career that began in Tampa Bay and ended in San Francisco’s East Bay.
“It was like a year-and-a-half wait in between my first at-bat and when I got the first hit,” said Vogt, who shared his future plans with The Associated Press. “I couldn’t believe it had happened. It had been 32 at-bats and I was in my 33rd at-bat, got a pitch to hit and fortunately I got my first hit.”
It came at last on June 28, 2013, a line-drive homer off Cardinals reliever Joe Kelly to end the longest hitless streak to begin a career by a non-pitcher since Chris Carter began 0-for-33 with the A’s in 2010.
Even after all that, Vogt eventually turned into a two-time All-Star and earned his own signature chant of “I believe in Stephen Vogt!” from fans who appreciated his path and struggles.
The 37-year-old journeyman played for Tampa Bay, Oakland, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Arizona and Atlanta, joining the A’s for a second stint this year.
“Vogter is one of the most inspiring players I’ve ever managed,” said former A’s manager Bob Melvin, now skipper in San Diego. “What he means to a clubhouse is immeasurable — two-time All-Star, beloved in Oakland. One of my all-time favorites. Definitely has a future in managing.”
Vogt showed little emotion as he ran the bases for his first hit that day, aside from high-fiving third base coach Mike Gallego while rounding for home. Vogt’s father, Randy, had taught him humility and to pick his moments.
In fact, Vogt recalls only three times that he visibly celebrated a big hit with a triumphant fist pump or arm raised to the sky, and he asks his own children not to flip their bats.
“I remember I was a big Barry Bonds fan and I said, ‘Dad, why does Barry Bonds stand at home plate and watch?’ It was his famous spin the circle one when I was a kid,” Vogt recalled. “He said, ‘Stephen, when you have 500 home runs in the major leagues you can do whatever you want. Until then, you put your bat down and you run around the bases.’”
One time Vogt made an exception came a few months after his first hit, in October 2013. He produced his first career game-winning hit with a single off Justin Verlander in the playoffs for a 1-0 win against the Tigers that sent the best-of-five AL Division Series back to Detroit tied at 1.
After striking out twice against Verlander, Vogt fouled off seven pitches in a 10-pitch at-bat that ended the seventh with his third K. Vogt’s next time up, he lined a bases-loaded single into left-center that won the game.
“For me, what it’s been about is persevering through adversity and persevering through being the guy that everyone always said, ‘Yeah, he could be good, but,’” Vogt said. “… If one person says, ‘Hey, if he can do it, I can do it,’ then that’s all that matters.”
He had left the Rays organization for the A’s on April 5 that ’13 season, traded back home to his native California and only a few hours from where he grew up in Visalia. Then Oakland designated the fan favorite for assignment in June 2017.
A major shoulder injury in May 2018 while rehabbing with Milwaukee cost Vogt that year and threatened his career, but he endured surgery and a long rehab to land with the Giants in ’19.
Last year, he began the season with the Diamondbacks before being traded to the Braves and winning a World Series ring even though he was injured for Atlanta’s championship run. Vogt loved still being part of it.
“I had a coach tell me, ‘Every day you take the field there’s a little boy or girl that’s at their very first baseball game and you need to show them the correct way to play,’ and I’ve taken that to heart,” he said. “And every night that’s why I run hard, that’s why I play hard. It’s the correct way to play baseball.”
And to be a dependable teammate. At the start of spring training 2017, Vogt approached young catcher Sean Murphy and took him around to meet everybody and set up his locker because “he didn’t want me to look like a rookie,” recalled Murphy, who cherished crossing paths with Vogt even when they no longer played together.
“Having him back this year is great,” Murphy said. “When I heard they signed him I was like, ‘Yes, awesome, I can’t wait to play with him again.’”
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Vogt hopes to keep leaving his mark by moving into a coaching or managing role. He has been learning from manager Mark Kotsay, Melvin, Craig Counsell and others along the way.
“I haven’t always been the best player. I’ve been one of the best players in the league, I’ve been one of the worst players in the league,” Vogt said. “I’ve been injured and everywhere in between, I’ve been DFA’d twice, I’ve been traded, I’ve been non-tendered, you name it. I’ve been the guy that knew he was going to have a job next year to the guy that had to fight for his job next year, and just always go out and earn it.”
In a season devoid of wins, it was Vogt who stood before his Oakland teammates after Tuesday night’s victory against Seattle and reminded everyone to celebrate at every chance.
“He felt passionate about it and spoke up,” Kotsay said. “Does he need to do that at this point in the season when he’s on his last 15 games? No, he doesn’t. But that shows his character and his love for the game, his love for his teammates. It came across loud and clear.”