Did anyone notice that three of the four Managers in the American and National League Championship Series’ were former catchers in their baseball careers? Joe Maddon of the Cubs, John Gibbons of the Blue Jays and Ned Yost of the Royals were all catchers during their playing careers. Only Terry Collins of the Mets was not. Collins was a shortstop during his playing career.
In the beginning of this year’s Playoffs, of the ten teams involved, including the Wild Card Teams, six of the ten were managed by former catchers, including all five American League teams.
In all of Major League Baseball, 13 of the 30 Managers were catchers during their playing career. Why are 60 per cent of the Post Season teams, 75 per cent of the teams in the LCS and 43 per cent of the Major League teams managed by former catchers?
After all, catcher is only one of nine positions on the field at any given time, yet 43 percent of the Managers come from the ranks of catchers. What special ability required to manage a baseball team does a player develop from playing at this least glamorous 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 term ‘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 that 100 times a game, behind the batter, that puts him at severe risk. Both ball and bat are moving at a speed around 100 miles an 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, you don’t have a true understanding of the phrase ‘in the blink of an eye’.
Until the recent rule change, the catcher was the only player on the field that it was acceptable to crash into while running at 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 pitcher’s retaliation.
Given the dangers involved and the options available, why would any sane person choose to catch? While catching may be the most dangerous position on any sports field, it’s where the action is. The catcher is involved in every play. Every play starts with a pitch the catcher calls by signaling to the pitcher what to throw and where to throw it.
While following general directions given by sign 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 will catch this week. He must also monitor 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 physical ability, what he has seen in his previous at bats and what he can be expected to try to accomplish in this at bat.
I have merely scraped the surface of the things a catcher must know and anticipate in every 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 a pitch, never mind analyze those factors and come up with a decision.
Once the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand, the real action begins. The person squatting behind home plate who was just imitating a rocket scientist now becomes an amazing specimen of human agility and reaction. The pitch will come in at anywhere between 70 and 100 miles an 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 an hour slider and, instead, gotten a 100 mile per hour fastball, you’ll know where the term handcuffed came from.
Assuming the ball is not put into play, which it isn’t most of the time, and the catcher catches it, and there is no one stealing a base, the scenario starts all over again. If the ball is hit, depending upon where it is hit and whether is is caught by a fielder, or one of the dozens of other 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 all over 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 every player on every play.
That is why catchers make the best managers and why there is a good chance two former catchers will be managing against each other in the World Series this year just as Bruce Bochy and Ned Yost, two former catchers, did last year.