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

Awaiting Baseball's Opening Day March 29 + A Salute to UMBC

Any player or fan who doesn’t feel a special tingle at the prospect of Opening Day should be in another line of business or fandom.

In 2018 that all 30 MLB teams open on the same very early day, Thursday Mar 29. Reportedly the players wanted this adjustment in the latest collective bargaining agreement to allow for more off-days during the season.

I have no problem with this change though I feel for Cincinnati that used to have Opening Day all to itself in honor of the Cincinnati Red Stockings’s great 1869 team.

My Orioles just surprised people by signing former Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Alex Cobb to a lucrative four-year deal for nearly $60 million. Nearly two years removed from Tommy John surgery and coming off a solid 2017 season, Cobb will solidify a rotation that was the worst in baseball last year and the worst in the Orioles’ proud history (once they emerged in 1960 out of the carcass of the St. Louis Browns.)

I’m not into season predictions and fortunately don’t have to make them as part of my job. I’ve always been a “playing meaningful games in September” kinda guy. If Cobb
is healthy, he can solidify an all-right handed rotation with youngsters Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman at the top along with another free agent acquisition Andrew Cashner, and former semi-ace Chris Tillman coming off a horrible 2017.

I fell in love with the Orioles in 1970 - Earl Weaver’s only World Series-winning season - 1960 through the 1983 World Series championship season. Then the late owner Edward Bennett Williams started getting impatient and dark times set in.

I’ll never forget sitting next to him by pure chance at old Memorial Stadium in 1986 when he started grousing about Eddie Murray’s lack of production. “I’m paying $3.5 million for that man,” pointing at first base, “and I’m not getting any return,” I recall EBW saying.

About a week later he started going public with his criticism and at the end of the 1988 season he traded Murray to the Dodgers for journeymen pitchers Brian Holton and Ken Howell and infielder Juan Bell whose only claim to fame was that he was Toronto slugger George Bell’s brother. (At least the Orioles did turn Howell into outfielder Phil Bradley who played well in orange and black but then was unnecessarily traded for Ron Kittle).

The Murray trade was one of if not the darkest moment in Orioles history. The other one was the suicide of Mike Flanagan, an Oriole Cy Young award-winner, general manager, broadcaster, and great wit whose genuine humor masked his inner turmoil.

Though Manny Machado’s pending free agency after this season remains a dark cloud hanging over Baltimore, the pitching should be improved. And if Chris Davis’s bat and glove return to optimum form, hope may have returned to Charm City for another competitive season.

One last note on Baltimore - I was thrilled with #16 seed UMBC’s shocking dispatching of number one overall seed Virginia in the NCAA basketball tournament. I taught American Studies at UMBC in the early 1970s and introduced with my dear friend and colleague Tot Woolston one of the first college classes on “Sports and American Culture.”

UMBC, which stands for University of Maryland Baltimore County (and not what some students called You Must Be Crazy), is a fine academic institution. Under the long-term leadership of president Freeman Hrabowski III, it has made its mark as a leading math and science school.

Hrabowski, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, has been featured on "60 Minutes" and other media outlets for shepherding the Meyerhoff scholarship program that encourages minorities to excel in science and math. And that they do.
The school has also won plaudits for its nationally-ranked chess team.

UMBC had another great moment of recognition this past weekend. The Paul Taylor Dance Company honored its former dancer Liz Walton and UMBC dance professor at its Saturday shows. It added to its wonderful array of pieces a special memorial performance of "Aureole" in which she starred and performed with legendary Rudolf Nureyev.

The exciting company of Paul Taylor, a former swimmer at Syracuse University, ends its NYC run on Sun March 25 but keep your eyes open for appearances in your community. Their piece "Piazzolla Caldera," danced to the music of the late great Argentinian tango-influenced composer, continues to resound in my marrow.

Let's give it up for the UMBC Retrievers and their many creative achievements!

That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
 Read More 
2 Comments
Post a comment