Guest Author - Joe Mancini
I first presented this a year ago. It's even more true today!
Baseball is unique in that it is the only sport where the defense controls the ball and initiates play. When the pitcher releases the ball towards home plate, if the batter doesn’t intercept the ball and put it in play (fair or foul), it is the catcher’s job to receive it and throw it back to the pitcher (or a fielder in the event a base-runner attempts to steal or is caught off-base). Baseball is the only game where the two key initiators of play, the pitcher and the catcher, actually face each other.
Baseball is a game of placement and positioning within a geometric construct that we call “the diamond”, a right-angle rhombus tipped on a vortex whose outer boundary subtends ninety degrees of arc. In other words, without Euclid and Pythagoras, we have no baseball! See the links below.
The pitcher’s mound and specifically the rubber, a slab of material made from the same substance as home plate (but not the bases), is at the virtual mid-point of the two isosceles triangles that share a common hypotenuse that make up “the diamond”. From the rubber the pitcher stands and peers in to the catcher who gives “the sign” or signal for which pitch he wants the pitcher to throw then places himself and his mitt where he wants to receive it.
The pitcher is the focal-point for the fans and the batter; the fielders concentrate on the batter. The catcher watches the pitcher, of course, but he is the only player to face outward; he sees all eight fielders and the base-runners; he is the only player with a comprehensive view. Catchers are often regarded as “deputy managers” and indeed many baseball managers are themselves former catchers. Catching is the most cerebral position on the field, hence the irony in referring to the catcher’s gear as “The Tools of Ignorance.”
Next time you’re watching a game and the camera pans to the dugout, you will see the pitchers congregating together, usually with the pitching coach (who himself may have been a catcher like St. Louis Cardinals’ Dave Duncan, widely regarded as the maestro of pitching coaches) and the backup catcher. The same holds in the bullpen, that cloister where pitchers gather to prepare in case of crisis or extremity, which only allows non-pitchers who are catchers; bullpen coaches are almost always former catchers.
Pitchers and catchers are always first to report to Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers meet with coaches before series and games to go over opposing lineups and set strategies. Pitchers count on catchers to know the hitters, be aware of the situation, and to set the defense. It was noted in the Philadelphia Phillies’ win over the Colorado Rockies on Monday May 10, 2010 that catcher Carlos Ruiz (who was also an offensive star of the game), knowing the stiff wind would knock down balls hit to the outfield, instructed closer Brad Lidge to invite the hitters to swing away; the results were fly balls, deep fly balls to be sure, but fly balls that nestled in the gloves of the outfielders. Such is the craft and savvy of a top-flight catcher.
We call the pitcher and catcher dyad “The Battery” and indeed it is the power source of all baseball. The broadcast announcer and former catcher Tim McCarver has said that when the Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton was on the mound and he was behind the plate, baseball often became “an elevated game of catch.” Many pitchers when in tune and rhythm with their receiver report seeing just “the catcher’s mitt” not the batter or even the catcher himself.
Such must have been the case in Oakland on this past Mother’s Day when the 19th perfect game in Major League history was recorded as the Athletics beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 4-0. Once-obscure Dallas Braden, who became a national story a few weeks ago with his war of words with the mighty Yankees’ MVP Alex Rodriguez, spun the masterwork and was superbly supported by his unheralded backstop, Landon Powell, who contributed with two hits and his first RBI. Their collaboration that day now gets recognition forevermore in Cooperstown.
And of course let’s shout out for Peggy Lindsey, Braden’s feisty grandmother, who famously announced to the press that day regarding the object of her grandson’s ire, “Stick it, A-Rod.” There’s a link below to the box-score.