Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Other Temrinal of the Battery

I only saw the 9th inning of Roy Halladay's no hitter last night, only the second ever in a playoff game. But when it happened, you got the standard shot -- the catcher jumping on and embracing the pitcher, the two of them sharing a brief moment before being mobbed by the rest of the team. And it is appropriate, the catcher has a special role, one that interestingly is diminished in the record book.

It is always the pitcher who gets credit for the no-hitter. In Cooperstown there is a display case with a photograph of every pitcher who has thrown a no-no and a ball from the game immediately beneath. Nowhere is the catcher listed. In the interview last night, you got the standard complement of a pitcher who has just thrown a great game -- "He mixed his pitches well, kept our hitters off-balance." But, of course, it wasn't the pitcher who mixed the pitches, it was the catcher.

The two parts of the battery are truly a team. The catcher is the brains of the outfit, deciding what to throw, when, and where. It is the catcher who is playing chess, getting inside the batters' heads, figuring out what the pitcher is doing well, what the batter is expecting, chatting to the batter to throw him off and set him up, and making the calculation as to what would most likely do the trick each and every pitch. The pitcher executes the plan, but it is the catcher's plan that works or doesn't.

Yet, the catcher receives none of the credit. Jason Varitek has called the most no-hitters of any catcher, four of them -- the same number thrown by Sandy Koufax (only Nolan Ryan threw more, seven). Why isn't Varitek universally lauded for this feat to anything approximating that of Koufax? Why do we not applaud the intellectual work behind the deed, only the physical?