Major League Baseball

Hail to the noble backstop!

MAKING A PLAY at the plate can be dramatic and painful (Angels photo).

By Jim Tortolano/Orange County Tribune

I have to admit I am partial to catchers. They work the hardest during a game, enduring a lot of fatigue and pain, and – at the same time – are expected to select the pitches, place the offense and in general endure the worst of the grind of squatting in the heat of a long season.

They are expected to be the last line of defense and the smartest guy on the field.

My bromance with the guy behind the plate has been fed by my own experiences, in my callow youth, as a human backstop. I was leveled by a 250-lb. baserunner who – despite being out by a kilometer – was not going to leave it at that.

I was hit in the head with a flying bat. I broke a finger diving for a really bad  throw about 10 feet wide of the plate. And during a coed game, I knocked out cold a girl I had a crush on as she ran to home, or tried to.

Despite their key part in the game, few catchers at the highest levels became household names. There’s Carlton Fisk, Johnny Bench, Josh Gibson (of Negro League fame), Yogi Berra (as famous for his language as anything) and Dottie Hansen (fictional character in “A League of their Own” movie).

And yet a ton of catchers become big league managers, such as Mike Scioscia, Yogi, Joe Torre, Joe Giradi, Brad Ausmus, etc.

The two LA-OC teams each have outstanding catchers: one already an established star, and one a star-in-the making.

Will Smith (the Dodger, not the actor, although the actor seems to pack a pretty powerful swing) has been a rock (no pun intended) for the Blue Crew since becoming a regular in 2019.

He is an above-average hitter with some pop in his bat, batting .263 in his career, with 75 homers. But like many catchers he is beat-up a lot, and – as of this writing – is on the seven-day injured list. Bad timing, because he was batting .333 with three homers and 12 RBIs before suffering a concussion.

Logan O’Hoppe (great baseball name, right?) plays for the Angels and looks like the team’s catcher for a while. But on Thursday, after getting his third hit against the Yankees he suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him.

A tough loss for the Halos, as he was batting .283 when sidelined, with a team-leading four home runs and 13 RBIs. Like most good catchers, he’s 50 percent talent and 50 percent effort.

“He works his butt off,” said Angel pitcher Aaron Loup of O’Hoppe. True of all great catchers, even if they don’t enjoy the spotlight of the Trouts, Judges and Ohtani’s of the sports world. But that’s the breaks, the bruises and the smashed fingers of the profession.

1 reply »

  1. I appreciate your comments regarding catching and catchers in general. Growing up I had no interest in catching as I pitched but my brother did and was quite good. As time goes on you play other sports or are not quite good enough to make the high school team. Tennis was my game but after my freshmen year where me and my buddy went undefeated in freshman tennis I opted out and tried out for the soccer team. That was the end of my sports career as I started working at 15 and a half . Back when you had to get a work permit to do so .
    Anyways some of my favorite angels were catchers like Bob Boone . Booney as we called him, was the kind of winning player you don’t find anymore. Great behind the plate and would always seem to make the right play. Move a runner over, hit the ball to the right side etc etc. The game has changed , but there will always be a place for a Booney in baseball.

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