On Monday a bit of a Twitter conversation broke out between four or five different parties. Andrew Kneeland asked which position in baseball is most important, to which I immediately replied "General Manager". He was writing for a specific assignment however, and his idea was that the answer had to be a position on the field. My new answer was: "Catcher".
What makes this question such a fun one to talk about was that it was open for a bit of interpretation. From the outset, when I answered "General Manager", I interpreted the question to mean which position in the sport. But you could also interpret as which position is the most important in a single game or the most important over the course of a season or if you were building from the groun-up which position would you choose? Maybe for you, they’re all the same answer.
My answer is defined by the conversation I had with Andrew, which was the latter option. What seemed to be the deciding factor for him at the time was my comment "The cream at the top [of the catcher position] is much thinner than [any other position]".
Why else would I choose catcher over anyone else? Read on after the jump.
1. As a catcher, you need to know everything about everyone at all times.
You hear it all the time: Catchers are a manager on the field. And as cliché as it is, it’s true…and not just when the guy gets out of the crouch and jogs out to the mound in the middle of another meltdown.
A catcher needs to know each hitter in every lineup and on the bench. He needs to know what they like, when they like it and where they like it. Sure, the starting pitcher needs to know this too, but he only needs to use that knowledge once every five days. A starting catcher needs to put that knowledge to use four or five times a week, and that includes the pitcher’s day…or inning.
A catcher needs to know each of his pitchers as well. How does he feel, which pitches are working, does he bounce his curveball, can he put the fastball where we need it, how can we use what he has to beat this hitter, what can I do to keep him under control…the list can go on. The catcher needs to know the pitcher just as well, if not better than, the pitcher knows himself. It’s why certain pitchers and catchers develop an affinity for each other.
On top of that a catcher needs to know how his defense is positioned, what its strengths are, and then needs to put all of these things together in order to jive with what the manager wants and what the game situation dictates.
2. Catcher is the most physically demanding position in the game.
It just is, and it’s not even close. The hell a pitcher goes through on his arm, and I won’t argue that it’s not hell because it is, is matched by the times a catcher has to crouch, stand up, crouch, stand up, crouch, stand up…
If anyone doubts this, simulate a game in your living room or bedroom later. For ten minutes, crouch for 15 seconds, stand up for 10 seconds, then crouch again for 15. Then take a ten minute break. Then do that again seven more times. Then imagine if you had to do that 130 more times over the next six months. If you think you’re in shape, that will test you.
3. A catcher must be talented enough to at least hit .200.
Even the most talented defensive catchers still need to get a hit sometimes. All that strategy and planning and tactical information running through your mind about having to catch against Boston’s 3-4-5 hitter’s to lead off the next inning? Forget about it. 100% of your focus needs to be right here, right now. At all times.
4. The catcher has to be a diplomat.
Protect the pitcher by talking to the umpire, expanding your pitcher’s strike zone without expanding your own, framing pitches and making it look good, harass opposing batters without getting thrown out, negotiating a pitcher’s meltdown to get everyone through the inning, letting a pitcher know he’s done without fracturing his ego more than absolutely necessary…
5. There are fewer good, all-around catchers than good, all-around players at any other position.
Corner outfielders and hitting first basemen are a dime a dozen. Nobody will argue that the DH is the most important position on the field. Good center fielders, middle infielders and third baseman are even easier to find than a good catcher. Joe Mauer, Brian McCann, Carlos Ruiz, Buster Posey, Matt Wieters, Geovany Soto, Carlos Santana...how deep can you go? Not very. Even in that short list you're crossing the line between potential and a player that can deliver year after year.
Those are my arguments. Who do you like and what are yours?
I'll add links to around the Blogosphere as I collate them...