11/06/12 9:41 AM ET
Little wonder that catchers make good managers
Unique position makes them uniquely qualified to understand and run games
By Marty Noble / MLB.com
In their limited spare time, catchers nurse assortments of bruises, scrapes and mangled fingers, deal with profound fatigue and erosion of the components in their knees and develop hitches in their get-a-longs. Three or four times a day, they try to hit big league pitching with hands compromised by foul tips, and at least three times each season, they make it their business to run doubles into singles.
No wonder catchers are ready for any challenge the game presents once they shun their shin guards and retire their aches.
Almost inadvertently, they evolve into baseball know-it-alls because their defensive assignment entails so much. If they don't, they're not catchers for long.
Catchers routinely become apprentice managers, candidates to run a team and a game even if they have no designs on appointments to permanent dugout duty. Baseball acumen comes with the territory behind the plate. And an enhanced grasp of multiple facets of the game is what moves a seemingly inordinate number of masked men from behind the plate to the front of the dugout. Consider:
A canvass of 30 big league dugouts found 32 men who managed this year. A dozen were catchers at some points in their careers: Sandy Alomar Jr., Bruce Bochy, Tony DeFrancesco, Joe Girardi, Clint Hurdle, Jim Leyland, Joe Maddon, Mike Matheny, Bob Melvin, Mike Scioscia, Eric Wedge and Ned Yost.
Now, the Marlins have appointed Mike Redmond, a man with a working knowledge of chest protectors and that oddly-shaped leather object that may share a name with the Republican presidential candidate. One more member for the catcher/manager fraternity, Kappa Skipper Gruntwork.
And why not? Catchers are suited for success. Consider how the dozen dugout denizens fared in 2012. Bochy, Leyland, Matheny and Girardi managed their teams into the League Championship Series. Try to find another postseason with former catchers managing all the teams in October's Final Four. Moreover, Melvin's A's team staged a comeback reminiscent of those produced by the 1951 Giants, '78 Yankees and '95 Mariners, and Scioscia's Angels and Maddon's Rays overcame sluggish first halves and gained late-summer relevance. Hurdle's Pirates were in contention into August.
So it is that the Marlins have summoned their inner Yogi and chosen Redmond to help repair the damage of 2012 and take the Fish where one-time catcher Jack McKeon took them nine years ago and Leyland took them in 1997. "It stands to reason," says Tim McCarver, the catcher's catcher. "A general manager would have to be blind not to notice the success catchers have had."
Lest we forget, Joe Torre began his playing career as a catcher and eventually found almost unrivaled success managing. Bobby Cox was a third baseman, but he developed the knees and the know-how of a catcher and was ultra successful as a manager.
McCarver, who caught in parts of four decades, has parlayed his extensive catching experience into a second career in the game. His expertise makes him the gold standard among television analysts. He changed the way the game is presented. That expertise and resume and his comfortable Memphis delivery put McCarver in Cooperstown last summer. He won the Hall of Fame's Ford C. Frick Award, presented annually for outstanding work in the broadcast booth. And he had offers to manage.
"While catchers are improving at their own position, they're learning the others and not knowing it," he says. "It's their business to know that the second baseman is covering if a right-handed hitter is getting a breaking ball. They have to be aware of who's guarding the line. They see the gaps the way the hitters see them. They have so much responsibility, they can't help but learn what the other players have to know."
A catcher learns more than the Xs and Os. He serves as friend, pitching coach, motivator and/or psychologist when he visits the mound.
Diplomacy is necessary, tolerance essential. Rare is the experienced pitcher who welcomes guests to his mound. McCarver loves to tell the story of running to the mound to comfort, calm or merely communicate with a snarling Bob Gibson. Before McCarver reached the dirt, his friend assaulted him. "What are doing out here? The only thing you know about pitching is that it's hard to hit."
Insults, playful or otherwise, cold stares or other abuse can't deter the catcher. He returns when he must. Catchers have to keep their egos to themselves, too. So do managers.
"Some pitchers just 'yes' ya," the late Elrod Hendricks said once. "They're lying. You know it. They know you know, but you can't act like you know." Hendricks caught for the Orioles teams of Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar and Mike Flanagan. "The truth was they never wanted to come out, they always believed they could get the next guy. ... So maybe they weren't lying."
Managers must accept deceit in their jobs. Consider how Girardi must deal with Derek Jeter about almost any injury short of a fractured ankle: "'I'm great.' That's what he always tells me," Girardi says.
Catchers develop patience. It is an essential component of their job descriptions. It is for managers as well. And managers must treat each half-inning as a separate entity. The failure of his team to produce in the bottom of the fourth can't distract him in the top of the fifth. Ideally, players separate their hitting from their defense. Catchers must.
"More than any other position," Hurdle says, "you have to leave your bat in the dugout. You've got pitches to call. Catching demands your full attention. It demands that you be unselfish. Catching exposes selfishness if you have any." Managing will as well.
Hurdle's experiences were different from that of most catchers. Not until the fall instructional league in 1984, after Mets manager Davey Johnson urged him to slip into something uncomfortable as a means of prolonging his career, did Hurdle catch. He had been primarily a right fielder with some assignments in left field and at first base. His perspective changed when he caught 114 2/3 innings for the 1985 Mets.
"Catching added things to my game that I never would have gained otherwise," Hurdle says, reinforcing McCarver's point. "It definitely brought greater depth to my game. I tried to be a student of the game when I played right field. But you see what's in front of you. And that was limited."
When Hurdle caught and gained the responsibility of field general, he linked that experience to his time as a scholastic quarterback. "I took it upon myself to know everyone else's responsibilities -- where they had to be, what they had to do," he says. "You learn to appreciate other parts of the game."
The same happened when he caught, and catching helped create a new and different passion for baseball. That passion directed him toward the dugout. He has played and coached successfully in the big leagues. The dugout is where Hurdle has had his greatest impact, though, and his time behind the plate was a significant component in his preparation.
If he's not a know-it-all, he is at least a know-a-lot.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.