Find a League In Your Area
by Ken Rudolph
Photography and motion studies by Anthony F. Frascello
(This article appeared in the Summer 1998 issue of HardBall Magazine)
For purposes of instruction, I have divided the fundamentals of catching into four categories: receiving, throwing, plate management and working with pitchers. In this article, we will discuss receiving and throwing.
Before settling into the crouch, the catcher can check his position relative to the batter by stretching his glove arm forward. It should barely graze the batter's back shoulder. This is close enough to the plate to catch the ball in the strike zone without interfering with the batter's swing.
Squatting, a catcher's feet are about a shoulder's width apart, his right foot slightly behind his left [Figure 1].
The catcher should not be flat-footed, but balanced on the balls of his feet, enabling him to move laterally to block pitches in the dirt.
1. Watch the ball all the way into the glove. Concentrate. Focus on the ball.
2. Never anticipate the pitch going to any specific location.
3. As the pitcher releases the ball, let the glove hand nod forward slightly to take the tension out of the wrist and hands [Figures 2a and 2b]. Absorb the ball with soft (relaxed) hands.
4. Lean forward and never let the elbows drop inside the knees. With the elbows up, you avoid trapping your glove inside your thighs. Leaning and reaching creates forward momentum, making it much easier for the catcher to throw after he receives the ball.
To receive a pitch above the knees, the glove is held fingers up, heel down. If the pitch is below the knees on the left side, the catcher rotates the glove to the heel-up, fingers-down position. A pitch below the knees and to the right requires a more-or-less backhand catch.
Just prior to the release of the pitch, the catcher may shift laterally to the target area. Don't give away the pitch location too soon. Move your feet, not just your glove. Setting an outside target, the catcher shifts his feet so that the black line at the outside edge of the plate bisects his body. For an inside target, he centers on the black line at the inside edge. Positioned this way, the catcher does not need to reach to receive a pitch slightly off the outside corner, making it more likely to be called a strike.
Whether using pump or number signs, the catcher places his fingers between his thighs near the crotch. One pump or one finger may call for a fastball. Two pumps or two fingers, a curve, and so on. The catcher may indicate location by pointing his pinky or index finger inside or outside.
With runners on base, the signals may be changed. Also, if the catcher suspects a coach or baserunner of stealing signs, he may flash a predetermined signal which tells the pitcher to disregard the normal signs and throw a different pitch altogether. He hides the signals from the third base coach by placing his glove below his left knee.
To throw effectively, the catcher's feet and lower body must work quickly and in unison with his hands and upper body (3a-3f). Quick feet make quick hands.
No matter where he receives the ball, the catcher always brings the ball and glove immediately to the throwing position [Figure 3b]. This triggers the upper body rotation away from the target, which is the first step in preparing to throw [Figure 3c]. The left arm is the guide arm. When your upper body is perpendicular to the mound and the left shoulder extends toward the target [Figure 3d], rotate the trunk back toward the target [Figure 3e-3f] and throw.
Elevate the throwing elbow [Figure 3e]. Dropping the elbow below the shoulder during the throwing motion will cause the ball to sail and put strain on the shulder. Stay on top of the ball. Grip the ball across the seams [Figure 5] or it will tend to sail or dip. Find the seam as you reach for the ball in the glove.
The catcher executes a two-step delivery to quickly achieve balance and forward momentum. The idea is: Get your feet under you and throw. Receive the ball and explode forward from the crouch position with a 6- to 12-inch drive step with the right foot [Figure 3b, above]. The right foot should now be open, or pointed away from the target [Figure 4] to generate maximum power with the lower body.
Bring the ball to to the throwing position, step toward the target with the left foot [Figures 3c-3e] and throw. Complete the throw with a natural follow-through toward the target with the right side of the body, regaining your balance with the right leg [Figure 3f].
Depending on pitch location, the catcher may execute one or two variations in footwork: a small backward step or side step, if the pitch is thrown to the left side of the plate, and/or a large step to the right, if the pitch is thrown out of the strike zone to the right. The same basic principle always applies: use your feet to maintain balance before you throw.
Next, we will cover plate management (blocking the all, blocking the plate, fielding pop-ups and bunts) and working with pitchers.
Highly valued for his catching skills, Ken Rudolph played nine seasons in the big leagues, beginning in 1969 with the Cubs and finishing with Baltimore in 1977. He was a player-coach in the Cardinal organization in 1978 and managed the Cubs system in Sarasota in 1979.
Tony Frascello is an award-winning photographer and graphic artist and has been a contributor to Hardball Magazine since 1990. Originally from New York, he joined the Long Island MSBL in 1990 and currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Tony served as Commissioner of the Mesa MABL and can be reached by email at MesaLeague@aol.com.