‘THOSE GUYS DON’T JUST DROP OUT OF THE SKY’
With so much on the catcher’s plate, you would think that attention, acclaim and money would come with it. But by and large catchers don’t get much attention unless they also happen to be great hitters, regardless of how well they play defense, handle pitchers and call games. Among all Major League Baseball players, only relief pitchers ($1.95 million) are paid less on average than catchers, who make just more than $2.5 million a season.
This tells you something about baseball’s value system: It pays to hit, not to catch.
One reason for the pay disparity is that good hitting catchers are often moved to less taxing positions to save wear and tear on their bodies. Players who are able to take the pounding and continue to be elite hitters are rare. Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins was just such a rarity. But Mauer, a career .323 hitter and the only catcher in baseball history to win three batting titles, has also seen his share of injuries, playing only 82 games in 2011 — 52 of them behind the plate.
The lessons of Mauer and Posey have made teams wary of losing a great hitter to a catching-related injury. Leary understands this, and is charged with teaching proper defensive techniques to Cleveland Indians catchers — including their own young slugging phenom Carlos Santana, who missed nearly half of the 2010 season to a frightening knee injury — to help reduce injury risk.
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“Those guys don’t just drop out of the sky,” says Leary. “So when a Carlos Santana loses half a season, when a Buster Posey misses a whole season with a really nasty injury, you’re talking about a guy that’s in the middle of your batting order. Those are huge, huge losses for a team.”
But what about the average catchers, the non-elite hitters? With all that they do on a daily basis, are they undervalued? Suzuki doesn’t think so, saying that hitting is “just what organizations lean towards. It’s hard to find a guy who can hit .300 with 35-40 homers you know? I think those guys are a little bit higher on the priority list.”
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But maybe it’s time to appreciate the craft a little bit more, and realize that hitting is only a small portion of what a catcher handles on a daily basis.
“We’re the hardest workers of anybody on the field,” says Olivo. “One little mistake we make, and the game is over. One bad (pitch) call, you don’t block the ball with a man on third, or you make a bad throw. Little things.
“People need to realize that and give more credit to the catcher.”
Taking a look at some of the greatest catchers off all time.