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Catchers, managers and Gold Gloves

June 25, 2013

Thirteen of the 30 Major League Baseball managers have been catchers in their minor or major league playing careers. Yes, 43 percent of today’s managers are former catchers, with six managers being former outfielders, and five managers who were shortstops in their playing days. I’ve always had an idea of the reasoning of why so many catchers become managers, but former Arkansas Razorback and St. Louis Cardinal three-time winning Gold Glove catcher Tom Pagnozzi simplified it for me.
“Because they’re the smartest baseball players, that’s why,” Pagnozzi joked.
Pagnozzi spent his entire 12-year major league career with the Cardinals, won Gold Gloves in 1991, 1992 and 1994, and said he has spoken before on why the majority of major league managers are catchers.
“What makes so much sense is they are the only guys that understand all phases of [the game],” Pagnozzi said of catchers. “They understand pitching because they work with them on a day-to-day basis. The whole game is always in front of them. A position player, they know about hitting, not that the guys don’t understand pitching, but until you go through it, you don’t understand what [catchers] go through on an everyday basis.”
Bryant Hornet baseball Coach Kirk Bock, a two-time 7A State Championship winner with the Hornets and a former catcher himself, agrees.
“I think it’s because the catcher runs the show,” Bock said. “They set the tempo. You have to know about every position. Obviously you have to know about pitching. You’re working that guy. You have to know about catching and hitting, but also you have to know about positioning players. A lot of that has to do with catchers. You learn the total baseball experience being a catcher, where you may not being a different position player.”
Benton Panther coach and 6A State Championship winner Mark Balisterri didn’t catch in his playing days (he was a shortstop), but gave his theory on why there are so many former catcher managers.
“The catcher is the one person on the field that sees everything,” Balisterri said. “He has to know how to call pitches. That’s a huge part of the game. He touches the ball every time there’s a pitch thrown. He’s kind of like a manager on the field. That’s what you want. You want your catcher to be that guy.
“Everything on the field is in front of him and he’s the only player on the field that has that. Maybe a catcher, in the long run, when you’ve played for as many years as those guys did (former catcher now managers), maybe they learn the game faster and have a better perspective of the whole game – the bigger picture. They see the big picture every day.”
Pagnozzi went into more detail on why a catcher has an advantage in game preparation than other position players do.
“When you’re an everyday player, you’re caught up in just yourself, worried about what you’re doing,” Pagnozzi said. “When you’re a catcher, you’re worrying about what your 12-man pitching staff is doing. An outfielder might go a week without talking to the manager. A catcher doesn’t go an inning or two without talking to the pitching coach or the manager. The relationship, the preparing for a game has so much more to do with it and I think that’s why you see more catchers as managers.”
Speaking of catchers as managers, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny is a former Cardinal catcher and Gold Glove winner. Matheny won four Gold Gloves, but didn’t win the first until his first year in St. Louis after spending his first five years with the Milwaukee Brewers and one with the Toronto Blue Jays. Throw current Cardinal catcher Yadier Molina in the mix with his five Gold Gloves, and St. Louis catchers have won 12 of the past 21 Gold Gloves at catcher. So why have Cardinals’ catchers been so successful, especially defensively?
“One reason, the man has since passed away, but Dave Ricketts had us all when we were in the minor leagues,” Pagnozzi, who played for the Arkansas Travelers in 1985, said. “[Ricketts] was the big-league catching coach, bullpen coach at that time when I first came up. He worked every fall in instructional ball, in spring training, he was a great technician, a great teacher of catching.”
Ricketts died of renal cancer in July 2008, and played for the Cardinals for five seasons (1963, 1965, 1967-69) and the Pirates (1970) for one before becoming a coach. He was always known as a great clubhouse guy who got along with everyone, regardless of race or nationality. Pagnozzi credited Ricketts for Matheny becoming a good catcher.
“Matheny was released twice, he came over to St. Louis and all of a sudden Matheny was a good catcher,” Pagnozzi said. “To me that’s because Dave Ricketts got a hold of him. And then Yadier came up through the system and worked with Ricketts.
“When I first came up, the Cardinals had unbelievable catching. Not all of them panned out, but there were a lot that got to the big leagues. Mark Salas, Tom Nieto, Bob Geren, Randy Hunt, Mike Lavalliere, we had a ton of catching. I think a lot of guys would tell you that their work with Dave Ricketts had a huge influence on all of us catchers.”
And with the kind of season Molina is having for St. Louis this year – leading the league with a .366 average, 94 hits and 24 doubles – I asked Pagnozzi who the best catcher in the game is today. I got my predicted answer.
“Overall, I’m very partial to Yadier, not only because he’s a Cardinal, but the way he handles the staff and what he does offensively,” Pagnozzi said. “Buster Posey might be there. He hasn’t done it on a long-term. Yadier has developed the trust in the pitching staff, the throwing ability, he’s a smart baserunner; I think he might be one of the best players in the game. If you want to take offense and defense, I don’t think there’s a more valuable player than Yadier.”

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