The catcher must be one of the fastest thinking players on the field;

  • He must work with the pitcher to call the next pitch. (This controls the tempo of the game, and by helping the pitcher vary his pitches he helps to confuse the batter.)
  • He must be constantly watching the base paths for steal attempts. (He must be ready to signal the pitcher to throw if the pitcher still has the ball, or if the pitch has already been delivered, he must be ready to catch and instantly throw the ball the break up the attempt.)
  • He must be ready to spring from his position to chase fouls and wild pitches
Unsurprisingly because of the need to be quick thinking, catchers often make the best team managers.


Doing some yard work over the weekend, I had to do a lot of squatting. It's just a damn shame when you get to the point where a day's worth of honest work will almost put you in the hospital. I was so sore for the next couple of days that I looked like Matlock on his last case hobbling around the scene of the crime.

In order to find pain-easing entertainment from the comfort of my barcalounger on the evening of my worst torment, I watched the first game of the 2002 World Series. I haven't been that interested in watching these overpriced and over hyped guys play the game of my youth in the last few years, but there's something about this one that's caught my eye. Maybe it's Barry Bonds and his "fuck you" attitude toward the media. Maybe it's the fact that both coaches used to work for Tommy "Mobs and Pasta" Lasorda, who was the longtime manager of my arch nemesis team, the LA Dodgers. (This hatred for the Dodgers comes from my love of the Yankees back in the Maris and Mantle days. The Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to LA in 1958, and they were always considered the West Coast dynasty team to rival the Yankees' control of the East.) But I think it was watching Benito Santiago more than anything else which drew me into this Series.

Benito is 37 years old. He's old enough to have some of the same aches and pains I have. But Benito squats for a living. I bet he could have done that yard work I did 24 hours a day for a week and still be saying, "Hey, 'dis all you gots?" I've never heard him speak, so forgive me for using my own assumptions about the sorts of words which should be coming out of that mouth. I can tell you, just by looking at his face and by the way he plays the beloved game, that he's smart and he's mean and he's been hurt enough to tell horror stories that would scare the kids coming up from AAA ball, if he wanted to.

I loved baseball when I was a kid, and I've even caught a few games in my life. But it was never a position I really wanted to play for any length of time. I think it was the hassle of having to don and doff all that equipment each inning that bothered me, more than the position itself. Hell, I don't even wear a watch nowadays. Most days, the total number of items that I put on during a normal day is eight, and none of them are jewelry or accessories. Two socks, two shoes, two underwear items, pants and a shirt. Have you ever seen all the stuff a catcher has to wear? They jokingly refer to the gear as the Tools of Ignorance. Can you imagine how they sweat when it's 110o and the sun is right there in the middle of the sky and the pitcher is carrying each batter to a full count? It was a New York Giants catcher in 1907 who put on the first shin guards. He got laughed at quite heartily that day. This was the final piece of all the array they don each game, after the glove, the chest protector (1885), and the mask, which came into popularity around 1890. Back then, it was a sort of fencing mask. The mask this guy for the Angels is wearing this year looks like a Star Wars action figure accessory. Anyway, this is the main reason I usually wound up playing shortstop, second base, or center field.

Back in the beginning, in the mid-1800s, catchers would stand far behind the batter's box and catch pitches on the first bounce. A runner wasn't thrown out in a professional baseball game until 1871, around the time catchers began to get closer to the action.

The names of famous catchers may be unknown to many folks, even baseball aficionados. Gary Carter, Mike Piazza, Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Thurman Munson, Roy Campanella; but I bet you know the most-quoted catcher of all time, and the guy who used to catch my favorite pitchers on the Yankees, Yogi Berra, don't you? I bet you didn't know that Yogi hit the first pinch-hit home run in a World Series in 1947, did you? Those of you who are into baseball right now know Benito Santiago.

I'm really surprised that it's taken me this long to fully appreciate what a catcher does in a ball game. Nowadays, I love to watch these guys work, especially since squatting has become a life-threatening experience for me. Watch their eyes and their glove as a 93 mph fastball rises just a few inches as it crosses the plate. The batter swings and misses the missile by less than a molecule of air, and even the umpire jumps just a fraction. The catcher watches the pitch right into his mitt and then immediately surveys the bases to check and see what every one of his enemies has in mind. His enemies are anyone who managed to reach base and could then possibly cross his prized territory, his holy land, home plate.

Watch him as he catches a breaking ball that missed by just a couple of inches and then surreptitiously draws the mitt back across the outside corner of the plate, giving the umpire the illusion that he might have not seen what he just saw. The relationship between the umpire and the catcher must be a wonderful one, indeed. The umpire counts on the catcher not to allow the ball to hit him, but he's counting on this from the con man who would eke out a strike by any means possible.

Watch the catcher direct the pitcher and tell him not only what pitch to throw but exactly where to throw it. Watch as he waits until the last minute, when the pitcher's eyes connect after the windup, and then sets his mitt in Position A. Watch his disappointment when the ball arrives at Position D- and he has to dig it out of the dirt across his body in order to keep the runner on first base from advancing.

Watch him point to an outfielder who's out of place for a hitter who has pulled the ball in every at-bat so far in a Series.

But, most of all, watch him do the two things he prides himself on, above all else:

»      If one of his enemies thinks he will advance a base due to his lack of prowess with his throwing arm, watch him become the strongest arm on the team. When he has to stand out of a crouch and throw a runner out trying to steal second base, this is when he is the Gladiator of baseball. I don't know this for a fact, but I would bet you that catchers pride themselves on their percentage of runners caught stealing above their batting average.

»      Then, when there is a close play at his prized piece of real estate, his sacred ground, home plate, watch as he gives up life and limb to block any access. Some of the most memorable moments in baseball have come in the form of collisions worthy of the WWF.

When you listen to Tim "Buckethead" McCarver announce the ball game tonight, you can assume the reason he knows so much about the game is because he was a catcher. "Buckethead" sounds pretty chipper, but out of the 80 major league baseball players who have committed suicide, 13 percent were catchers. This is second only to pitchers, who make up a whopping 45 percent. This means that almost 2/3 of the suicides in professional baseball have come from the battery.


We used no mattress on our hands,
No cage upon our face;
We stood right up and caught the ball,
With courage and with grace.

--George Ellard ... 1869 Red Stockings



Some of these historical facts were obtained from the Encyclopedia of Baseball Catchers, online.
http://members.tripod.com/bb_catchers/catchers/index.html

The term catcher has come to be a slang word in the homosexual community, along the lines of the word bottom. A "catcher" is a man who prefers to be on the "receiving" end of anal intercourse.

The term was popularized by Showtime's Queer as Folk in Season One, Episode 10. One of the main characters, Brian, brings home a pair of twins to have sex with, and one of them is wearing a shirt that says "catcher", while the other is wearing a shirt that says "pitcher". The connection is never directly explained, but the message is obvious.

The catcher shirt itself is light gray, with the word CATCHER written across the middle in maroon, with the picture of a baseball catcher beneath it, also in maroon. The shirt is 90% cotton, 10% polyester and made by the company Ajaxx/63. The shirt can be ordered online at Kleptomaniac.com. One of the interesting things about the shirt is that to the casual heterosexual observer, it appears to be a shirt supporting sports, which is a pretty manly thing to wear. In a way, this makes it a relatively safe piece of gay apparel to wear, since it is mostly understood only by some homosexuals.

Or, at least... it was, until you read this node... I might get my membership card revoked for telling all of our secrets.

He has more equipment and more attributes than players at the other positions. He must be large, brave, intelligent, alert, stolid, foresighted, resilient, fatherly, quick, efficient, intuitive, and impregnable.

- Roger Angell


In baseball, the catcher is the player responsible for catching pitches thrown by the pitcher as well as defending the area around home plate. Catchers differ from all other fielders in that they are required to wear an array of protective equipment while on defense, including helmet, facemask, chest protector, and shin guards. This equipment, affectionately known to catchers as the "Tools of Ignorance," helps protect their bodies from errant pitches, foul balls, and the occasional wayward bat.

Defense

Catcher is arguably the most demanding position to play on the diamond, both physically and mentally. The catcher's responsibilities on defense are many and varied. In addition to fielding balls around home plate, the catcher is expected to throw out would be base stealers and block pitches in the dirt when runners are on base to prevent them from advancing on a wild pitch or passed ball. Suffice to say, a catcher's job becomes much more complicated when runners are on base! A good catcher is expected to throw out about 30% of opposing base stealers, but even the greatest rarely throw out more than 40%.

Catchers are also expected to "call pitches" for the pitcher, suggesting what pitches the pitcher should throw by means of hand signals displayed between his legs (and thus out of sight of the batter). The classic signals are one finger for a fastball, two fingers for a breaking ball, and three fingers for a changeup or second breaking ball, and then the pinky or index finger flashing to indicate pitch location, but these signals are often rearranged to prevent opponents from stealing signs, especially when a runner is on second base.

Catchers are also expected to "handle pitchers" in a variety of other ways, setting targets with their glove, going out to the pitchers mound to calm the pitcher down or give advice, and preparing with pitchers before games by going over opposing batters' tendencies and reviewing pitch selection.

Finally, catchers are often called upon to give signs to the infielders to tell them where they should position themselves, and how they should rotate on given plays. This can be especially important when a bunt is expected, as some infielders will be charging and will need other infielders to cover their bases. For these mental aspects of the catcher's game, he is often awarded the nickname "Field General," and indeed many catchers have turned their on-field strategic savvy into successful careers as managers after their playing days are over.

The physical toll on catchers is immense. Despite the protective equipment, which does help a lot, catchers still suffer numerous bumps and bruises from being struck by balls and swinging bats. Catchers also have to withstand the occasional bone-jarring collision at the plate, as one of the most common tactics for runners attempting to score from third base is to simply run into the catcher as hard as they can and hope he drops the ball.

The biggest toll on the catcher's body, however, comes simply from squatting for long periods of time in the crouching position catchers use when they are waiting for the pitch to arrive. All catchers will eventually suffer significant damage to their knees over time simply due to crouching so much. Most catchers are slow to begin with, but they become even slower over their careers as their knees erode, once prompting catcher Joe Garagiola to remark, "The wind always seems to blow against catchers when they are running."

Historically, there have been almost no catchers who have been successful after the age of 32 or so because of the physical toll, but in recent years medical advances and better conditioning have allowed players to extend their catching years into the later 30's.

For scoring purposes, the catcher is denoted by the number "2". Thus if a catcher throws out a runner at first on a bunt attempt, the scorecard would read

2-3

whereas an outfield assist from the leftfielder to the catcher to throw out a runner at home would read

7-2

Offense

Because of the great demands put on a catcher defensively, catchers are typically not expected to provide as much offense as other players, and until recent years, good hitting catchers were extremely rare. Even today, as stars such as Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez, and Javy Lopez redefine the catcher's role to include hitting prowess, most teams are still pretty happy to have a catcher who can keep his average above .250 and provide the occasional home run, provided that he can call a good game, block the plate, and limit the enemy running game. Indeed, once a catcher establishes his reputation as a good defender behind the dish, he is virtually guaranteed a spot on a roster somewhere as a backup, even if he struggles to keep his batting average above the Mendoza line.

The Great Ones

Some of the greatest players in baseball history sat behind the plate. Among them are (Hall of Famers in bold):


Johnny Bench - Yogi Berra - Bob Boone - Roger Bresnahan - Roy Campanella - Gary Carter - Mickey Cochrane - Del Crandall - Spud Davis - Bill Dickey - Buck Ewing - Carlton Fisk - Bill Freehan - Rick Farrell - Josh Gibson - Gabby Hartnett - Elston Howard - Sherm Lollar - Ernie Lombardi - Biz Mackey - Joe Mauer - Thurman Munson - Lance Parrish - Tony Pena - Mike Piazza - Jorge Posada - Ivan Rodriguez - Benito Santiago - Louis Santop - Ray Schalk - Ted Simmons - Jim Sundberg - Gene Tenace - Joe Torre


Catcher History

1870New York Mutuals catcher Nat Hicks starts creeping closer to batters. Before him, catchers had stood far behind the hitters, fielding pitches on the bounce.
June 28, 1870 - Catcher Doug Allison becomes the first player of any kind documented to have used a baseball glove.
May 4, 1871Bill Lennon becomes the first catcher to throw out a runner attempting to steal second base, in the seventh inning of the very first major league game.
1877Harvard University baseball captain Fred Thayer adapts a fencer's mask to be used by catchers, although it won’t appear in the major leagues until 1890.
1885 - Catchers and umpires begin wearing chest protectors under their shirts.
1886 - Detroit Tigers catcher Charles Bennett becomes the first to wear a chest protector (made by his wife) above his uniform.
1887Charles Zimmer is the first catcher to consistently play right behind the batter (2-3 feet). Draper and Maynard becomes the first company to market a mitt specifically designed for catchers.
1890 – Several major league catchers begin wearing face masks.
1907New York Giants catcher Roger Bresnahan introduces the shin guard.
August 3, 1914New York Yankees catcher Les Nunamaker becomes the only player ever to record all three outs in an inning by throwing out three runners attempting to steal.
July 19, 1915 - the Washington Senators steal eight bases in one inning to set the major league record against Cleveland Indians catcher Steve O'Neil
1941 – In perhaps the most famous catching blunder in baseball history, Mickey Owen drops a third strike to cost the Brooklyn Dodgers a World Series title.
1960 - Clint Courtney of the Baltimore Orioles becomes the first catcher to use a special, larger mitt to catch knuckleballs.
1987 - Helmets are made mandatory for catchers, although certain players are allowed to wear soft hats for the remainder of their careers.
2002 - Mike Piazza establishes a new record for defensive ignominy when he fails to throw out 51 consecutive base stealers.

Records

Career

Games caught: 2226, Carlton Fisk
Doubles: 483, Ted Simmons
Home Runs: 396, Mike Piazza
Runs Batted In: 1430, Yogi Berra
Stolen Bases: 354, Buck Ewing
Batting Average: .320, Mickey Cochrane
On-base Percentage: .419, Mickey Cochrane
Slugging Percentage: .555, Mike Piazza (through 2005)
Runners Caught Stealing Percentage: 57.4, Roy Campanella

Single Season (since 1900)

Games caught: 155, Frankie Hayes, 1944 Philadelphia Athletics, and Ray Mueller, 1944 Cincinnati Reds
Hits: 201, Mike Piazza, 1997 Los Angeles Dodgers
Doubles: 47, Ivan Rodriguez, 1999 Texas Rangers
Triples: 13, Johnny Kling, 1903 Chicago Cubs
Home Runs: 42, Javy Lopez, 2003 Atlanta Braves
Runs: 116, Yogi Berra, 1950 New York Yankees
Runs Batted In: 148, Johnny Bench, 1970 Cincinnati Reds
Stolen Bases: 36, John Wathan, 1982 Kansas City Royals
Batting Average: .362, Bill Dickey, 1936 New York Yankees
Bases on Balls: 122, Mickey Tettleton, 1992 Detroit Tigers
On-base Percentage: .459, Mickey Cochrane, 1933 Philadelphia Athletics
Slugging Percentage: .639 Mike Piazza, 1997 Los Angeles Dodgers
Runners Caught Stealing Percentage: 68.1, Roy Campanella, 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers

Most Gold Gloves, National League: 10, Johnny Bench
Most Gold Gloves, American League: 11, Ivan Rodriguez

 



Baseball Positions

Pitcher - Catcher - First Baseman - Second Baseman - Third Baseman - Shortstop - Leftfielder - Centerfielder - Rightfielder - Designated Hitter

Catch"er (?), n.

1.

One who, or that which, catches.

2. Baseball

The player who stands behind the batsman to catch the ball.

 

© Webster 1913.

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