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The Catcher

Next after the pitcher, in regular order, comes the catcher. Though the
negative pole of the battery, his support of the pitcher will largely
influence the latter's efficiency, and he therefore becomes an important
factor in the attacking force. Were it not for the extreme liability to
injury, the position of catcher would be the most desirable on the
field; he has plenty of work of the prettiest kind to do, is given many
opportunities for the employment of judgment and skill, and, what is
clearer than all to the heart of every true ball player, he is always in
the thickest of the fight. Moreover, his work, unlike that of the
pitcher, always shows for itself, and is therefore always appreciated. A
pitcher's success depends upon many circumstances, some of which are
beyond his own control, so that, no matter how faithfully or
intelligently he may work, he must still suffer the annoyance and
mortification of defeat. But the catcher has almost complete control of
his own play, he is dependent upon no one but himself, and, in spite of
everything and everybody, the nature of his work remains the same.

There are some cases in which a steady, intelligent catcher is of more
worth to a team than even the pitcher, because such a man will make
pitchers out of almost any kind of material. Bennett, the grandest of
every-day catchers, has demonstrated this fact in many instances, and I
have no doubt that much of the success of the St. Louis pitchers has
been due to the steady support and judicious coaching of Bushong.

There are certain qualifications necessary to produce a good catcher,
and if a person has any ambition to play the position, he should first
examine himself to see whether he is the possessor of these. Here again
the size of the candidate seems not to be of vital importance, for there
are good catchers, from the little, sawed-off bantam, Hofford, of Jersey
City, to the tall, angular Mack, of Washington, and Ganzell, of Detroit.
Still, other things being equal, a tall, active man should have an
advantage because of his longer reach for widely pitched balls, and on
account of the confidence a big mark to pitch at inspires in the
pitcher. Besides, a heavier man is better able to stand against the
shocks of reckless runners to the home plate.

More important than size are pluck and stamina, especially if one
contemplates becoming a professional catcher. In every well-regulated
team nowadays the pitchers and catchers are paired, and the same pair
always work together. Perfect team work involves a perfect understanding
by each man of all the points of play of the others, and it is believed
that a battery will do better team-work where its two ends are always
the same. But to be able to work regularly with one pitcher through an
entire season, catching every day when he pitches, a catcher will more
than once find his powers of endurance strongly taxed; and if, for real
or fancied injuries, he is often obliged to lay off, then, no matter how
brilliant his work when he does catch, he will lose much of his value to
the team. Certain injuries are inevitable and necessitate a rest, but
there are others of minor importance to which some men will not give
way. I do not laud this as pure bravado, but because it sets an example
and infuses a spirit into a team that is worth many games in a long
race. I have the greatest respect and admiration for the Bennetts and
the Bushongs of base-ball.

But there are other features necessary before a person can hope to
become a first-class catcher. As before said, he has many chances
offered for the employment of judgment and skill; and to make the best
use of these he must be possessed of some brains. The ideal catcher not
only stops the ball and throws it well, but he is a man of quick wit, he
loses no time in deciding upon a play, he is never rattled in any
emergency, he gives and receives signals, and, in short, plays all the
points of his position, and accomplishes much that a player of less
ready perception would lose entirely. Two of the best catchers in the
country are neither of them remarkable back-stops nor particularly
strong and accurate throwers, and yet both, by their great generalship
and cleverness, are winning catchers. I refer to Kelly, of Boston, and
Snyder, of Cleveland. Ewing, of New York, combines with wonderful skill
and judgment the ability to stop a ball well and throw it quicker,
harder, and truer than any one else, and I therefore consider him the
King of all catchers--when he catches.

In learning to catch, the first thing, of course, is to acquire a
correct style, that is, an approved position of body, hands, and feet,
the best manner of catching a ball, the proper place to stand, how to
throw quickly, and the best motion for throwing. After this comes the
study of the different points of play. There are as many different
styles in detail as there are individual catchers, and yet, through all,
there run certain resemblances which may be generalized.

As to the position of the body, all assume a stooping posture, bending
forward from the hips, in order better to get a low as well as a high
pitch. Some, like Daily, of Indianapolis, crouch almost to the ground,
but such a position must be not only more fatiguing, but destroy
somewhat the gauging of a high pitch. A catcher should not stand with
his feet too widely apart. It is a mistake some players make, but a
little reflection will convince a catcher that a man in such an attitude
cannot change his position and handle himself as readily as if he stood
with the feet nearer together. Besides, on a low pitched ball striking
the ground in front of him, it is necessary to get the feet entirely
together to assist the hands in stopping it, and this he cannot do if he
is too much spread out. These things may appear to be of minor
importance, but it is their observance which often makes the difference
between a first-class and an ordinary catcher.

A catcher should not stand directly back of the plate, but rather in
line with its outside corner; and when he gets (or gives) his sign for
the kind of ball to be pitched, he should not, by any movement out or
in, indicate to the batter what is coming; there are some batters who
glance down at the plate to see, from the corner of the eye, where the
catcher is standing. He will have ample time to move after the pitcher
has begun his delivery and when the batter's attention is wholly
occupied with that. If an out-curve is coming, he should be ready to
move out, or if an in-curve, or fast, straight ball, he should be ready
to step in. He should not anchor himself and try to do all his catching
with his hands, but in every instance, if possible, receive the ball
squarely in front of him. Then if it breaks through his hands it will
still be stopped by his body.

In catching a high ball the hands should be held in the position shown
in the following cut of Bushong, the fingers all pointing upward.

Some players catch with the fingers pointing toward the ball, but such
men are continually being hurt. A slight foul-tip diverts the course of
the ball just enough to carry it against the ends of the fingers, and on
account of their position the necessary result is a break or
dislocation. But with the hands held as in this cut there is a give to
the fingers and the chances of injury are much reduced. For a low ball
the hands should be held so that the fingers point downward, and for a
waist ball, by crouching slightly it may be taken in the same manner as
a high ball.

Some catchers throw more quickly than others because, having seen the
runner start, they get into position while the ball is coming. Instead
of standing square with the plate, they advance the left foot a half
step, and then, managing to get the ball a little on the right side,
they have only to step the left foot forward the other half step and let
the ball go. To throw without stepping at all is not advisable, because,
on account of the long distance, there would not be sufficient speed; to
take more than one step occupies too much time, more than is gained by
the extra speed obtained; so that the best plan and the one used by the
most successful catchers is the one just described. It is not however
the speed of the throw alone that catches a base-runner, but the losing
of no time in getting the ball on the way. Some very ordinary throwers
are hard men to steal on, while others, who give much greater speed to
the ball, are not so dangerous.

A ball may be thrown under-hand, round-arm, or over-hand. Experience has
proven to me that a ball may be thrown a short distance, as from home to
second, most accurately by a swing of the arm, half way between a round-
arm and over-hand delivery. My natural style was over-hand, but I have
cultivated the other until it now comes without difficulty. I was
influenced to make the change by noting the styles of other players,
particularly of Ewing and O'Rourke. I found that they both got great
speed and accuracy, and I also noticed that they seldom complained of
lame arm. By being a more continuous swing, it is a more natural
motion, less trying on the muscles, and gives greater accuracy on
account of the twist such a swing imparts to the ball, much on the same
principle as does the twist to a bullet from a rifled gun. I therefore
recommend it for trial at least. When practicing with the pitcher the
catcher should be just as careful about his style as he would be in a
game, for it is while practicing that his habits are being formed. In
returning the ball to the pitcher each time, he should learn to catch it
and bring the arm back, with one continuous motion of the hands, without
making any stops or angles.

A word about high foul flies, since many of the catcher's put-outs are
from these hits. A ball thrown directly up into the air by the hand will
descend in a direct line, and may be easily judged, but a pitched ball
hit directly up is given a tremendous twist by its contact with the bat,
and, in descending, this twist carries the ball forward sometimes as
much as ten, or even twenty feet. Consequently we see catchers
misjudging these hits time after time because they either do not know
this, or fail to take it into consideration. It is also necessary to
know the direction and force of the wind, and this should be noted from
time to time during the game by a glance at the flags, or in some
equally sure way.

There is one more point in fielding the catcher's position upon which a
few words will not be amiss, that is, as to touching a runner coming
home. There is a difference of opinion as to the best place for the
catcher to stand when waiting for the throw to cut off such a runner.
The general practice is to stand a couple of feet from the plate toward
third base and in front of the line. But this necessitates the catcher's
turning half-way round after catching the ball before he can touch the
runner, and many an artful dodger scores his run by making a slide in
which he takes, at least, the full three feet allowed him out of the
line. Many a run is scored when the catcher seemed to have had the ball
in waiting.

I believe the best place to stand is a couple of feet toward third and
just back of the line. The pitcher saves the time of turning around and
has the additional advantage of having the play in front of him, where
he can better see every movement of the runner. When the game is
depending upon that one put-out the best place of all to stand is a few
feet toward third and directly on the line. From there the catcher can
reach the runner whether he runs in front of or behind him, and if he
slides he will come against the catcher and may therefore not be able
to reach the plate, or, at least, the catcher may delay him long enough
to make the put-out. It is an extremely dangerous play for the catcher,
however, and one that he will feel justified in attempting only when the
game depends upon the put-out. Brown saved the New Yorks a game in New
Orleans last winter by this play, though Powell, the base-runner, came
against him with such force as to throw him head-over-heels ten feet
away. The object in standing a few feet toward third is to avoid close
plays, for then if the put-out is made at all there can be no possible
chance for the umpire to decide otherwise.

Next: Signaling

Previous: Fielding The Position

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