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Mike Downey

As Casey Said: Without One, You Will Have a Lot of Passed Balls

May 03, 1987|Mike Downey

No wonder catchers are the only baseball players who have to play in foul territory. Catchers do not play fair.

They do things behind your back.

They hide their faces.

They go out and talk to the pitcher about you.

They know what pitch is coming before you do.

They sit while you have to stand.

They even get to use a bigger glove than you do.

Eventually, all you want to do is go home. But catchers won't even let you do that. They get in your way.

You can't trust a catcher. You can't turn your back on one for a minute.

Take this guy from Seattle, Bob Kearney.

Kearney is not responsible for a catcher's equipment being known as tools of ignorance. However, accused once of not making intelligent calls behind the plate, Kearney said: "Hey, there are different kinds of intelligence. Albert Einstein was bad in English. Of course, Einstein was German."

Because of a similar language barrier, Kearney got benched whenever Seattle used a Hispanic pitcher. "I don't speak Spanish," Kearney explained. "C'est la vie."

Well, this Kearney character was catching at the Kingdome the other night when a pitcher buzzed one right by a Boston batter's head. Maybe this was considered a way of welcoming somebody from Beantown.

A fight broke out, but nobody got hurt. Prevailing, as usual, was that legendary figure from the world of sports, Cooler Heads.

Before long, though, a Boston pitcher retaliated, hitting a Mariner batter. This was pretty foolish of him, considering the way most of the Mariners hit. But a pitcher's gotta do what a pitcher's gotta do.

So, another fight broke out. And Wade Boggs, the Boston third baseman and batting champion, was caught in the middle of it.

Literally caught. "Kearney had me from behind," Boggs said. "My arm was pinned behind my back, and I fell to the ground and wrenched my shoulder."

There was an ugly splotch of red on Boggs' right shoulder as he sat in front of his locker at Anaheim Stadium after a game against the Angels. "We had a little NCAA wrestling match, and I got body-slammed," Boggs said.

The thing about it is, a catcher is supposed to be big and tough. A catcher should be so tough, he should look uglier with his mask off than with it on.

You need a bad-act backstop if you're going to survive in this game. Know why the Phillies were so thrilled to sign Lance Parrish? Not because of his bat, or his defense. Because Parrish is built like Conan the Barbarian. "I want Lance on my side when the fight breaks out," said a practical Mike Schmidt.

Seriously, you have to have a catcher if you intend to be a winning team. Otherwise, all the balls would roll to the backstop, right?

No, come on. Seriously, now.

When the two teams that played for the 1986 American League pennant, the Angels and Red Sox, got together Friday for the first time since that wild series, their starting catchers were Darrell Miller and Danny Sheaffer.

Miller was batting .171. And Sheaffer was batting .179. Which was better than what Boston's other catcher, Marc Sullivan, was batting.

The Red Sox catchers are the sort of hitters who can spray the ball to all parts of the infield.

Ah, though. On this very day, the first of May, the Angels and Red Sox proudly announced that they had just brought stray cats Bob Boone and Rich Gedman back to the pack.

Between them, the two catchers had been to six All-Star games. But over the winter, they had become expensive free agents. For the benefit of Bob Kearney, that means expensive and free at the same time.

Nobody paid what Boone and Gedman demanded. So, they returned to their old teams, and should be playing regularly by the time the Angels and Red Sox meet next weekend at Fenway Park, if not sooner. Demons begone.

You would have thought teams could use a good catcher. Some of the other starters around baseball Friday were Ron Karkovice, Joel Skinner, Steve Lake, Junior Ortiz, Chris Bando, Jamie Quirk, Barry Lyons, Mark Salas, Bruce Benedict, Mark Bailey, John Russell and Mike Fitzgerald. Nothing personal, but there are few Yogi Berras here.

The Angels were delighted to have Boone back. "Plan A finally goes into effect," Manager Gene Mauch said.

The Red Sox were even more delighted to have Gedman back. "I'll be happy to have Geddy around," said pitcher Roger Clemens, "just as he'll be happy to get back to the game he loves."

The catchers of the last five World Series champions were Darrell Porter, Rick Dempsey, Parrish, Jim Sundberg and Gary Carter.

You want to win the Series?

Get yourself a big, tough, ugly, dirty, filthy, sneaky catcher.

If you don't have one, you will lose more than just the fight.

C'est la vie .

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