As far as I’m concerned, catchers are born not made; not that all those who don the “tools of ignorance” are blessed with great athletic talents though some are, most of us just seem to end up a backstop. I was destined primarily by being a vertically challenged and calorie-infused young lad; I made up for this by being slow.
Must have been my second, third year in the community sand-lot youth baseball program we had when I was a ‘ute that I realized that good or bad, I had a specific place in the line-up.
Sure I wanted to make the fantastic, acrobatic catches in the outfield, but there was that lack of speed again.
Never had a yen for the mound… pitchers never seemed to have much to do except throw. Hell, catchers throw more than pitchers do…. every pitch, every game, all games.
So that’s when I began to notice Yogi Berra.
Lawrence Peter Berra
Positions: Catcher and Outfielder
Bats: Left, Throws: Right
Height: 5′ 7″, Weight: 185
Although I would get taller and heavier than he was…. I and all other catchers save a few, pale in comparison.
Appearing in a record 21 World Series, Berra is widely regarded as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history. He was named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team fans in 1999. According to the win shares formula developed by sabermetrician Bill James, Berra is the greatest catcher of all time and the 52nd greatest non-pitching player in major-league history.
Catchers are “mudders” and “plodders”… stubborn, persistent, team players, pugnacious, usually good with pitchers (and human beings as well).
The necessary skills come naturally for the gifted; but for those of us with less talent these can be approximated by employing the above personal attitudes and endless practice.
Catchers are also offensive linemen–usually guards– and goalies—hockey, lacrosse or in soccer; but there is no explanation why anyone would want to play soccer…. pastime of the communists that it is.
In junior high and high school I moved around as my speed got better and the height:weight ratio evened out, but the plate was always mine.
This attitude would latter be summed up easily by an trash-talking NBA center who refereed to the paint as “my house.”
Therefore, collisions at the plate come with the territory. A good catcher can make a lot of great run-saving plays by blocking the plate with a kneeling left leg, hip and shoulder, simultaneously putting the often sliding runner off course to the side, and absorbing the impact to deny the plate.
The bang-bang plays always favor a good blocking catcher…. the runner has to go over, around or through you to score… that takes a a few extra milliseconds, giving the ump the best look.
Done correctly the catcher is in a low, kneeling crouch with his left lower leg parallel to the deck and his upper body braced to protect the ball in his glove or right hand. An upright runner is at a disadvantage, his pin to your bowling ball; and the sliding player often fairs less well, his impact area (feet, prone legs) is small, but he can kick at, thrust, stretch his legs to get around your block or swipe or reach with either hand. Like fighting an octopus for a second.
Sometimes its just an upright, mano a mano collision, like jousting with the game or maybe a tooth in the balance. To enjoy a longer career one should take care how this is attempted, it can be an end to your playing days. See Pete Rose v Ray Fosse, All-Star Game 1970.
Once in a round robin tournament in Fort Collins or Colorado Springs, I caught five games back to back for a total of 35 innings and we ended up 4-1 for the day…. our loss a one run affair after three extra innings.
Yeah you gotta be durable, but looking back it’s more a matter of determination and setting your limits higher and higher as it gets harder and harder and older and older; hell, they even moved Mickey Mantel to first a lot late in his career.
This is absolutely not to suggest that I would ride in a 100-mile desert bike race with President Bush … or anyone else.
In my 25 years of baseball and softball mostly behind the plate and at first base, I earned four AC joint separations (2 each shoulder), stretched knee ligament, a separated sternum and 2-3 cracked ribs, one concussion that I’m sure of, a badly pulled hamstring that bothered me a lot the last few years before I hung up my tools, and which still does should I have a nasty brush with exercise.
Catchers are involved in the game like no other player and are expected to keep laser focused, pitch-by-pitch, play by play; a lot of that is because the catcher is the only player who can see every player and the entire field from the best seat in the house.
How many outs, balls and strikes, the clouds, sun; know the hitters well enough to know if they are pull hitters, punch and judys, opposite field, slappers, plate crowders, and the particularly nasty guy with great speed out of the box who can embarrass you with a surprise bunt down the base line or send a slow roller back to the mound…. even on a 3-0 count.
The Umpire Strikes Back
With a good ump, you can usually say anything as long as it’s not profane, crudely describes his wife or mama, and if you don’t turn around; he’s right there over your left shoulder anyway.
“Damn, I’m sorry Blue, I stood up too quickly and blocked your view of that perfect rise ball on the outside corner, be sure and lemme know if that happens again.”
“I know the count and I can do it without a clicker!”
“I know a good optometrist.”
But when he says, “Okay, that’s one,” you can’t be sure you’ll get a second.
For all these reason catchers seem to make good plate umps and managers.
For example all four managers in the 2012 LCS were former catchers — Bruce Bochy of San Francisco, Joe Girardi of the New York Yankees, Jim Leyland of Detroit and Mike Matheny of St. Louis.
But it’s not just the win-loss stats that may or may not “prove” short-stops or pitchers are better managers… it’s also a lot of intangibles which in the long run are apparent among catchers.
And we’re funnier than any other position player….
Bob Uecker — “Mr. Baseball”
One time, I got pulled over at four a.m.; I was fined seventy-five dollars for being intoxicated and four-hundred for being with the Phillies.
When I came up to bat with three men on and two outs in the ninth, I looked in the other team’s dugout and they were already in street clothes.
They said I was such a great prospect that they were sending me to a winter league to sharpen up.; when I stepped off the plane, I was in Greenland.
People don’t know this but I helped the Cardinals win the pennant; I came down with hepatitis… the trainer injected me with it.
I knew when my career was over. In 1965, my baseball card came out with no picture.
Anybody with ability can play in the big leagues. But to be able to trick people year in and year out the way I did, I think that was a much greater feat.
Baseball hasn’t forgotten me. I go to a lot of old-timers games and I haven’t lost a thing. I sit in the bullpen and let people throw things at me. Just like old times.