instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

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.

4 Comments
Post a comment

Watching "Laura" During Astros-Yankees Playoff & Other Thoughts on October Baseball

You learn something new from a classic noir film every time you see it - it's like finding a new harmony in a great piece of music. During Game Two of the long-awaited Houston Astros-New York Yankees American League championship series, I switched during the interminable commercial breaks to TCM's (Turner Classic Movies) showing of Otto Preminger's classic 1944 film noir "Laura". 

 
I had seen the film at least a few times, but the dialogue never seemed fresher. I had long remembered early on when detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) is fiddling with a hand-held ball-bearing puzzle game called "Baseball".

 
This time I picked up something else. When supercilious Hollywood gossip columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) gets annoyed at detective Andrews for doodling with that game, Webb snaps: "Where do you get that? Something you confiscated in a raid on a kindergarten?"

"It calms me down," Andrews coolly replies.

 
I must admit, unlike Dana Andrews' detective Mark McPherson, baseball rarely calms me down. It stimulates me greatly, especially when the Orioles are playing. But in a post-season where I only really care that the Yankees' 10-year World Series-drought continues, I have enjoyed a lot of the games.

 
I am drawn in by the evident tension on the faces of the players.  This is not a time of year when "tomorrow is your best friend," a phrase I first heard from Bobby Valentine.  Every pitch is important in the post-season, and the best managers plan every game as if it is the seventh game of the World Series.

 
Obviously Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts hasn't learned that lesson.  He will return in 2020 and probably beyond because his LAD have won the NLWest division seven years in a row. But the Nats knocked out his Dodgers in the first round in a memorable climactic game in Los Angeles. 

 
Back-to-back homers by free agent-to-be Anthony Rendon and 20-year-old sensation Juan Soto tied it in the top of 8th off Clayton Kershaw, a great pitcher who is not used to being a reliever and is becoming a poster boy for October failure. 

 
Then in the top of the 10th veteran Howie Kendrick sent fair weather Dodger fans scurrying for the exits with a grand slam home run to dead center to cement a 7-3 victory.  I know it was a long game and LA fans always scurry to their cars at the first opportunity. It still struck me that the mass exit was extremely bush and insulting to the home team. 


Perhaps because I'm not emotionally involved with the Mets, I am happy for the Nats.  They exorcised their playoff ghosts by winning their first post-season series ever by beating LA.

 As I file this post, the Nats are one game away from their first World Series ever. 

 

By leading the Cardinals 3-0 in games, they are avenging their crushing loss to St. Louis seven years ago - when they couldn't hold a four-run lead in the 9th inning of the deciding game.

 
I'm someone who likes good starting pitching and Washington is loaded with great arms:  Former Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer, former number one overall draft pick Stephen Strasburg, the newly-signed free agent southpaw Patrick Corbin (who grew up a Yankee fan but wasn't offered enough $$$$ by Yankees), and the crafty veteran Anibal Sanchez.

 
If the Houston Astros can beat the Yankees in the ALCS - currently tied at one game apiece -  they also have big ticket starters in Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole (another onetime Yankee fan who chose to play at UCLA and later sign as free agent with Houston), and Zack Greinke. (Greinke suffers from a social anxiety disorder and it is painful to watch him do the required TV interviews with the press - I wish there were a way that he could respond in writing to questions from the probing scribes.) 

 

I'd rather take my chances with strong starting pitching and a couple of good relievers than using several pitchers just waiting for someone to not to have their best stuff that day. I am not a fan of "The Opener," a reliever who pitches an inning or two at the beginning and the rest of the bullpen completes the rest of the game.

 

The Yankees may do that in at least one of the upcoming games. They have not recently invested mega-bucks in starting pitchers.  It will certainly be interesting to see which philosophy wins out - the aces prepared for the long haul versus the ever-revolving door for relievers. 

 

It could be that the veteran Masahiro Tanaka and the young Luis Severino provide the innings that the Yanks will need to make their first World Series since 2009. Whatever, the old canard will still apply:  "Anything can happen in a short series."

 
Before I close, here's a tip of the cap to the Israeli Olympic baseball team that made the Tokyo 2020 competition by winning the European-African elimination tournament last month.  They beat out such amateur powers as Italy and the Netherlands.  

 

Danny Valencia, the former infielder with Twins-A's-Orioles, was perhaps the most recognizable member on the scrappy Israeli team.  I am proud to add that outfielder/DH Robb Paller, a mainstay on my alma mater Columbia Lions three-peat Ivy League champions of 2013-15, was also a key contributor to the victory. 

 
That's all for now but remember as always:  Take it easy but take it.

1 Comments
Post a comment