THERE IS A REASON MANY CATCHERS BECOME MANAGERS
Joe Girardi, Mike Scoscia, Mike Matheny, Kevin Cash, Bruce Bochy, Ned Yost, Bob Melvin and Mike Redmond are all Major League Baseball Managers. What else do they all have in common? If you guessed that they all were catchers during their Major League playing careers, you are right.
Now, how about this one? Joe Maddon and Fredi Gonzalez are both Major League Baseball Managers. What else do they have in common? They are all former Minor League baseball players who never made it to the Major Leagues as players but spent their playing careers as catchers.
There are thirty Major League Baseball teams with thirty managers. Thirteen of those managers are former catchers. Why are thirteen of the thirty managers people whose baseball experience was obtained as a catcher? After all, catch is only one of the nine positions on the field at any given time, yet 43% of the Managers come from the ranks of catchers.
What special ability required to manage a baseball team does a player glean from playing at this unglamorous position that gives him the skills to be a manager? After all, the catcher’s equipment has always been referred to as the ‘Tools of Ignorance’. One wouldn’t think that ignorance would be an asset in such a complex position. According to BaseballReference.com, the reference to the tools of ignorance was ‘ …meant to be ironic, contrasting the intelligence needed by a catcher to handle the duties of the position with the foolishness needed to play a position hazardous enough to require so much protective equipment.’
The catcher takes a position, generally more than one hundred times in the average ball game, squatting behind the batter, that puts him at severe risk. Both ball and bat are moving at a speed around 100 miles per hour and arrive at a spot directly in front of the catcher at precisely the same instant. If you have never experienced the sensation when this happens, then you don’t have a true appreciation of the phrase ‘in the blink of an eye’.
In addition to these hazards, the catcher is the only player on the field that it used to be acceptable to crash into while running full speed into home plate. He is an advocate for the pitcher in ball and strike counts, making him a favorite target of umpires. If an opposing batter gets hit with a pitch, the catcher, who obviously must have called the bean ball, is the most logical target for the opposition’s pitcher to get even against.
Given the dangers involved and the options available, why would any sane person choose to catch? While catching is one of the most dangerous occupations on any sports field, it’s where the action is. The catcher is involved in every play. Every play starts with a pitch which the catcher calls by signaling to the pitcher what to throw and where to throw it.
While following general directions, given by signs from the dugout, the catcher must consider a myriad of things while deciding, in a few seconds, which pitch he will call for next. Among the things he must consider are the ability, condition, mental attitude and performance so far that day of his pitcher who, by the way, is only one of 11 or 12 different pitchers he may catch this week, the situation on the field, including the ball and strike count, the number of outs, the score, any base runners and their locations, speed and ability and, of course, the batter, including, but not limited to his ability, physical condition, what he has seen in previous at bats and what he can be expected to want to accomplish this at bat.
I have merely scraped the surface of the things a catcher must anticipate in this situation. Most of us would need a computer to catalog the things we would need to consider before putting down those fingers to call for the pitch, never mind analyze those factors and come up with a decision.
Once the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand, the real action begins. This person squatting on his haunches behind home plate who was just imitating a rocket scientist without a computer now becomes an amazing specimen of human agility and reaction. The pitch may come in at anywhere between 60 and 100 miles per hour, may go where it was supposed to go or somewhere else and may not even be the pitch the catcher thought he called for. If you have ever expected an 80 mile per hour curve and gotten a 100 mile per hour fast ball you know where the term handcuffed came from.
Assuming the ball is not put in play, which it isn’t most of the time, and the catcher catches it and there is no one trying to steal a base, the scenario starts all over again, starting from the signal from the bench. If the ball is hit, depending upon where it is hit and whether it is caught or one of the other dozens of things that can happen, the catcher now has other responsibilities. These include backing up first base on grounders, directing throws within the infield, preparing to catch a ball for a play at the plate and on and on and on. After this play is over, his responsibilities begin again.
Considering their responsibilities and all they have to learn to play their position, is it surprising that catchers make good managers? The catcher is like the football quarterback, who must know the role of each player in every play. That is why catchers make the best managers and why 43 percent of Major League Baseball Managers are former catchers.