- Catcher is also a general term for a fielder who catches the ball in cricket.
Catcher is a position played in baseball. The catcher crouches behind home plate and receives the ball from the pitcher. In the numbering system used to record defensive plays, the catcher is assigned the number 2 (see Baseball scorekeeping). The role of the catcher is similar to that of the wicket-keeper in cricket.
Positioned behind home plate (by rule the catcher is the only player who is allowed to be in foul territory when a pitch is thrown), the catcher can see the whole field, and therefore is in the best position to direct and lead the other players in a play. The catcher typically calls the pitches by the means of hand signals, and therefore requires awareness of both the pitcher's mechanics and strengths and the batter's weaknesses. In addition, because the catcher's job is to catch pitches which often come in at speeds exceeding 90 miles per hour, the catcher wears protective equipment including a mask, chest and throat protectors, shin guards, and an extra-thick glove. Because the position necessarily involves a comprehensive understanding of the game's strategic elements, the pool of catchers yields a disproportionate number of major-league managers, including such prominent examples as Steve O'Neill, Al Lopez, Yogi Berra, Mike Scioscia, and Joe Torre. Although sometimes considered entirely too wordy, former All-Star catcher Tim McCarver has used the same analytical skills he used to excel on the diamond to become one of the great sports broadcasting analysts of all time.
Catchers virtually always throw with their right hand. Since most hitters are right-handed
and thus stand on the left side of the plate, a catcher who throws left-handed
would often have to avoid these right-handed hitters for most of his throws from behind the plate. Thus players who throw left-handed rarely play catcher. Lefty catchers have only caught 11 big-league games since 1902 and Jack Clements
, who played for seventeen years at the end of the 19th century, is the only man in the history of baseball to play more than three hundred games as a left-handed catcher. However, some observers, including the famed statistician Bill James
, have suggested that the real reason that there are no left-handed catchers is because lefties with a strong throwing arm are almost always turned into pitchers at an early age.
The critical defensive plays of catchers, aside from managing the pitcher by calling pitches and catching the ball on all pitches, include:
- Preventing passed balls and wild pitches. Although the pitcher has the responsibility to not throw erratic pitches, catchers must have enough mobility to field the passed ball or wild pitch appropriately to prevent base runners from taking even more bases.
- Fielding high pop flies often hit at unusual angles.
- Fielding weakly-hit fair ground balls (including bunts) in front of home plate to throw them to a base to complete a groundout or a fielder's choice play. The catcher must avoid hitting the batter/runner with the thrown ball in most circumstances.
- Covering home plate on any play in which a baserunner attempts to score. The catcher is obliged to attempt to catch a thrown ball while preventing the runner from reaching the plate.
- Preventing stolen bases by throwing to second base or third base to allow an infielder to tag a baserunner attempting to reach the base. A very good catcher at preventing stolen bases has a low stolen-base rate per game against him; a poor one has lots of stolen bases occurring while he catches. Even if a great defensive catcher deters all but the most effective base stealers, he keeps the double play in order by keeping a runner at first base.
- Rarely, a catcher can make a successful pick-off throw to first base to surprise an inattentive or incautious base runner at first base. Even the attempt may cost the base runner a stride or two that may be the difference between reaching second base safely on a ground ball and being put out at second base on a fielder's choice play or a double play. This is also called a snap-throw. The catcher will make a snap-throw after receiving the pitch
- Rarely, a catcher can go to first base or third base on rundown plays at those bases.
Much can go wrong with any failure by the catcher. Wild pitches and passed balls are possible at any time. A failure to block the plate or dropping the ball thrown from the outfield on a play at home plate means that a run that otherwise might not occur does occur. On a throw to prevent a stolen base, a bad throw might get past the infielder and allow an advance to another base as the ball goes to the outfield.
Despite being heavily padded, catchers routinely suffer the worst physical abuse in baseball. The catcher has the physically risky job of blocking the plate
from runners. Catchers also constantly get bruised and battered by pitches, and have a long history of knee ailments stemming from the awkward crouched stance they assume. Because of this, catchers have a reputation of being slow baserunners; even if they have speed at the beginning of their careers, the eventual toll taken on their knees slows them down. Some players who begin their career as catchers are moved to other positions to preserve their running speed; recent prominent examples of this include Craig Biggio
, B.J. Surhoff
, and Dale Murphy
Catchers often have shorter careers than hitters at other positions, though there are several notable exceptions. Mike Piazza is the only catcher with at least 400 career home runs, and no catcher has 3000 career hits. The larger the catcher, the greater the effect tends to be; an effect of the crouched position.
Catchers also have an increased risk of circulatory abnormalities in the catching hand. A study of minor-league ballplayers showed that, of 36 players in various positions, all 9 of the catchers had hand pain during a game and several had chronic pain in the catching hand. The results of catching high-speed pitches constantly causes the index finger on the glove hand to swell to twice the size of the other in some cases. Ultrasound and blood pressure tests showed altered blood flow in the glove hand of five of the catchers, a higher proportion than the other baseball positions in the study.
During the 2006 season, San Francisco Giants catcher Mike Matheny went on the disabled list after a series of foul tips caromed off his mask, resulting in a serious concussion. On February 1 2007, Matheny announced his retirement from Major league baseball due to his on-going symptoms of post-concussion syndrome.
To block balls pitchers throw on a bounce to the catcher, or "in the dirt", they will slide over, drop to their knees, and prevent the ball from passing by placing their body in front of its path. Ideally the catcher will be able to knock the ball back to the ground where it will stop within arm's reach. To perform this properly without the ball being deflected in an undesirable direction, the catcher must angle his body so that his chest is always pointing down at home plate. This process is often difficult, depending on how fast the ball is traveling, where it first hits the ground, and how it is spinning.
Catchers in baseball use the following equipment to help prevent injury while behind the plate:
- Catcher's Mask - To protect their face. In recent years, catchers have begun wearing masks similar to those worn by ice hockey goaltenders.
- Mitt - Catchers use mitt with extra padding to lower the impact of the ball on their hand. The catcher is the only player on the field who is allowed to use this type of glove.
- Shin Guards - To protect legs from impact of a ball that the catcher is unable to play. Also called spike protectors, used to prevent injury from base runners advancing home with "spikes up"
- Chest Protector - A padded foam or gel piece of equipment that protects the catcher's body from the impact of the pitch if he fails to catch it or must stop it.
- Cup - Worn by catchers and most infielders under their clothing to protect against stray balls heading towards the groin area.
Additionally, some catchers choose to use the following optional equipment:
- Knee Savers- special pads which are comfortable for the catcher to rest on when in the squat position; they also provide support of the knee ligaments which can stretch and break over time
- Inner Protective Glove- a glove which is worn inside of the mitt with the purpose of absorbing the shock of the pitched ball
- Throat protector- a hard plastic plate which hangs from the bottom of the catcher's mask to protect from balls to the throat.
Given the physical punishment often suffered by catchers, the equipment associated with the position is often referred to as "the tools of ignorance".
Hall of Fame Catchers
Notable Current Catchers
- The first catcher's mask was worn on April 12, 1877 by Jim Tyng while playing for Harvard. The team manager, Fred Thayer, received a patent for the mask in 1878.
- Mike Piazza holds the record for most career home runs as a catcher. He passed Johnny Bench, the previous record holder, with his 390th career home run as a catcher.
- In some parts of the United States, particularly the South, catchers are referred to as "hindcatchers". It is not clear where this term originated.
- Joe Mauer was the first catcher to ever win the American League Batting Title when he did it in 2006. He also won the batting title in 2008
- Ginn TA, Smith AM, Snyder JR, Koman LA, Smith BP, Rushing J (2005). "Vascular changes of the hand in professional baseball players with emphasis on digital ischemia in catchers". Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery 87 (7): 1464–9.