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Ode To The Catcher on the Cusp of Spring Training

What follows is a commentary I delivered on Wed Feb 3 for a BAIP-Live Zoom based on Upper West Side of Manhattan.  Don't let BAIP - Bloomingdale Aging In Place - deceive you. These are the most engaged and lively people I know.  

 

90-year-old photographer Manny Kirchheimer, who was interviewed on the show, offered words to live by.  He said he keeps going on with his craft because his"work is fun." 

 

I present my talk in CAPS because that is how I read it and it brought back some fond memories of my radio days. 

 

I'M ONE OF THOSE BASEBALL NUTS WHO BELIEVES THAT THE GREATEST SENTENCE IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE IS "THE PITCHERS AND CATCHERS HAVE REPORTED TO SPRING TRAINING."  IN A FEW DAYS,  IF THE VIRUS IS UNDER CONTROL, THOSE WORDS WILL BRING SOLACE TO MILLIONS OF BASEBALL FANS ACROSS OUR BASEBALL-HUNGRY LAND. 

 

YOU SEE, PITCHERS AND CATCHERS NEED THE EXTRA TIME TO PREPARE BECAUSE THEY ARE INVOLVED IN EVERY PITCH OF THE GAME.  THEY ARE CALLED THE "BATTERY" BECAUSE THEY PUT A CHARGE INTO THE GAME.  

 

MORE GLAMOR HAS ALWAYS BEEN ASSOCIATED WITH PITCHING THAN CATCHING - THINK OF CHRISTY MATHEWSON, DIZZY DEAN, SANDY KOUFAX, TOM SEAVER, AND TODAY IN OUR TOWN,  GERRIT COLE AND JACOB DEGROM. 

 

BUT CONSIDER THIS.  THE CATCHER IS THE ONLY PLAYER WHO LOOKS OUT ON THE FIELD - THE OTHER EIGHT LOOK IN TO GET SIGNALS AND LOOK FOR LEADERSHIP.  THINK OF WHAT THE POSITION DEMANDS  - TO DO ONE'S THINKING IN A CROUCH, WHILE WEARING A BULKY GLOVE, HARD MASK, CHEST PROTECTOR, AND SHIN GUARDS.

 

THE MACHO, CONSERVATIVE WORLD OF BASEBALL DID NOT AT FIRST WELCOME CATCHING GEAR.  A FEW YEARS AFTER THE 1869 CINCINNATI RED STOCKINGS WON THE FIRST WIDELY-RECOGNIZED PRO BASEBALL TITLE,  ONE SPORTSWRITER WAS ALREADY YEARNING IN VERSE FOR "THE GOOD OLD DAYS":  

 

"WE USED NO MATTRESS ON OUR HANDS/ NO CAGE UPON OUR FACE/WE STOOD RIGHT UP AND CAUGHT THE BALL/WITH COURAGE AND WITH GRACE." 

 

IN 1907, WHEN NEW YORK GIANTS CATCHER ROGER BRESNAHAN FIRST PUT ON HIS INVENTION OF SHIN GUARDS, HE WAS BOOED BY FANS AND EVEN SCORNED BY PLAYERS, BUT THE INNOVATIONS WERE HERE TO STAY.  THOUGH SOME BRANDED THE GEAR "THE TOOLS OF IGNORANCE," IT BECAME OBVIOUS THAT A TEAM COULD NOT CONSISTENTLY WIN WITHOUT A

GOOD CATCHER.

 

IN THE GREAT POST-WORLD WAR II GOLDEN AGE OF NEW YORK  BASEBALL, WE WERE FORTUNATE TO WATCH THE WORK OF TWO FUTURE HALL OF FAME CATCHERS, YOGI BERRA OF THE YANKEES AND ROY CAMPANELLA OF THE DODGERS. 

 

THEY WERE FEARED HITTERS ON OFFENSE, BUT THEY ALSO CONTROLLED THE GAME ON DEFENSE. THEY KNEW HOW TO GUIDE THEIR PITCHERS THROUGH TOUGH SPOTS, AND HOW TO USE IDLE CHATTER TO DISRUPT THE CONCENTRATION OF OPPOSING BATTERS.  

 

IT IS NOT SURPRISING THEY BOTH LEFT A LEGACY OF MEMORABLE QUOTATIONS.  "IT'S NOT OVER UNTIL IT'S OVER," BERRA FAMOUSLY SAID, KNOWING THAT A SINGLE MISPLACED PITCH COULD TURN VICTORY INTO DEFEAT.  CAMPANELLA ADDED, "TO BE GOOD, YOU GOTTA HAVE A LOTTA LITTLE BOY IN YOU."

 

THE ART OF CATCHING HAS ALSO CAUGHT THE FANCY OF MANY A DISCERNING FEMALE OBSERVER.  WATCHING ON TELEVISION THE 1979 WORLD SERIES BETWEEN THE ORIOLES AND PIRATES, MAVERICK FEMINIST WRITER GERMAINE GREER MARVELED AT WHAT SHE CALLED "THE GROIN COMMUNICATION" BETWEEN ORIOLE CATCHER RICK DEMPSEY AND PITCHER MIKE FLANAGAN. 

 

SHE ALSO FOUND IT WONDERFUL THAT IN BASEBALL ALL THE AGGRESSION WAS "STYLIZED," AND THAT VIRILE MEN COULD PLAY THE GAME WEARING EYEGLASSES.

 

A FEW YEARS LATER  IN 1992, THE SCREENWRITERS OF "A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN," PENNY MARSHALL'S DELIGHTFUL INSIGHTFUL MOVIE ABOUT THE ALL-AMERICAN WOMEN'S BASEBALL LEAGUE, MADE A NOTEWORTHY ADJUSTMENT. 

 

THEY TURNED GEENA DAVIS'S MAIN CHARACTER, DOTTIE HINSON, INTO A CATCHER AT THE CENTER OF ALL THE ACTION - ALTHOUGH THE REAL LIFE MODEL FOR DOTTIE WAS THE OUTSTANDING FIRST BASEMAN DOROTHY KAMENSHEK. 

 

SO WHEN SPRING TRAINING SOON STARTS ANEW, DO KEEP AN EYE ON THE METS FREE AGENT NEWCOMER JAMES MCCANN TO SEE IF HE REALLY HAS COME INTO OWN AS A CATCHER.  

 

AND YANKEE FANS, DO CONTINUE TO WORRY ABOUT WHETHER YOUR OFT-MALIGNED  CATCHER GARY SANCHEZ  WILL EVER LEARN THE BASICS OF THE POSITION.   BECAUSE AS CASEY STENGEL SAGELY NOTED, "WITHOUT A CATCHER YOU WILL HAVE A LOT OF PASSED BALLS."

 

That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it!  and please stay positive in attitude, test negative with the virus.

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