One thing I love about following a team is guys like Mike Cather. He was never much of a prospect and had little success in the minor leagues, but he was able to, for a couple of seasons, make the National League forget that he shouldn’t have been in the majors to begin with. Then, like someone decided that was enough, Cather was gone from the major league picture. It’s funny how these guys seem to emerge every year.
Cather was born about a week before Christmas in 1970 in the San Diego area, graduating from Folsom High School in 1990. Three years later, he was selected by the Texas Rangers out of Cal-Berkeley. Even if Cather’s career was short-lived and not very successful, he was easily the most productive player selected that year in the 41st round. A side-armer, Cather’s career was destined for the bullpen and he grabbed the occasional saves for the Rangers organization as he pitched well in the Gulf Coast League, not so well in the Florida State League, and okayish in the Texas League. It was the last stop, as a member of the Tulsa Drillers, that Cather’s career got its first bit of bad news. Probably due to a number crunch, Cather was cut by the Rangers organization in mid-June of 1995.
With his first professional organization behind him, Cather headed north of the border to join the Winnipeg Goldeyes to finish out the 1995 season. Winnipeg, who finished a game behind the St. Paul Saints in the first half, would struggle down the stretch, though Cather was a solid addition, posting a 1.45 ERA and 0.97 WHIP for the Goldeyes.
That level of success garnered some attention by the Atlanta Braves, who purchased Cather from Winnipeg just weeks before pitchers and catchers reported for the 1996 spring training. Cather received a look, but was ticketed for a trip to the minors and with Greenville, he pitched in a new career-high 87.2 ING, but the numbers were average at best (1.35 WHIP, 2.1 K/BB). Cather was the most often used arm for Jeff Cox and the G-Braves that season, but that was more due to better liked players moving past Cather.
The side-winder opened 1997 with the G-Braves, but was able to secure a callup to Richmond. With the R-Braves, he dominated over a baker’s dozen games. It was a great time to be successful because the Braves bullpen was having troubles. The struggles of Paul Byrd and Joe Borowski led the Braves to look for reinforcements and on July 13, 1997, both Chad Fox and Cather left the Richmond bullpen and made their major league debuts for the Braves. Both rookies would be called upon at least 30 times down the stretch, bolstering a middle relief for the Braves that was just putrid with Mike Bielecki and Brad Clontz both having issues with baserunners. A third rookie, Kerry Ligtenberg, joined the pen a month after Cather and Fox.
Cather settled in quite nicely, pitching two scoreless in his debut and working around a trio of walks to pick up his first hold the next day. A desperate Bobby Cox did not hesitate to use Cather has a primary setup man and he finished the year with a 1.16 WHIP in 37.2 ING with a 2.39 ERA and 3.59 FIP. He walked too many, though four of his 19 walks were intentional. But that’s nit-picking. Overall, it was a solid campaign that included 4.2 scoreless postseason innings.
1998 saw Cather open the season in Atlanta, but he wasn’t the same trusty right-handed arm out of the pen as he was the previous year. He struggled to have clean outings. In fact, it took nine tries before he got his first no-hit, no-walk outing. He was able to right the ship and settled back into his setup role through May, though fans grew nervous whenever his name was called. By the All-Star Break, the Braves had seen enough and banished him to Richmond. He would struggle there before, it appears, he was shut down.
It wasn’t the season the Braves, nor Cather, expected. Still, he broke camp with the Braves the following season. He would pick up the win on April 12 of 1999, but we call it a “blown win.” He entered with a 6-4 lead, but gave up homeruns to Alex Arias and Scott Rolen to tie it up. A two-run homer by Javy Lopez rebuilt the lead and the Braves were able to finish the game from there. That win was Cather’s fifth major league win and the last of his career. The Braves sent Cather to Richmond, where he would pitch pretty badly. His career with the Braves would end after 1999.
He would spent the next two seasons trying his luck with the Calgary Cannons (Marlins) and Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals), but he wasn’t able to recapture his previous glory. Worse, the arm issues were mounting and with them, the calls to keep playing stopped coming. Cather would attempt a short comeback with the Macon Peaches in 2003, playing for the independent Southeastern League team that had sought to replace the Macon Braves after the latter’s move to Rome. He even played with former teammate Terrell Wade. The comeback lasted all of seven innings.
With his playing career finished, Cather continued to be a private pitching instructor before returning to organized ball as a pitching coach for the Red Sox organization. He also would work for the Red Sox as an advanced scout before returning to the bench as a pitching coordinator and, later, coach for the Padres organization, making it to AAA last season. In fact, he oversaw a few pitchers with that El Paso team with Braves connections such as Blaine Boyer and Michael Nix. Oh, and Jeff Francoeur. Cather hopes to one day be a major league pitching coach.
Cather only spent 75 games in the majors and never saved a game. But for a brief run in 1997, he was a boost to a weak Braves bullpen. That’s something that no one can take away.