Saturday, August 15, 2009

My Son Will Play Catcher!

Both of my kids are left handed which of course has made for some adjustments. They write differently, heck they even read definitely so I have had to become familiar with the unique challenges that left handed folks face.

But this New York Times article was pretty startling to me. Did you know there aren't any left handed catchers in the Major Leagues and haven't been for a very long time?

The letters keep coming. Every few weeks, Benny Distefano will open his mail and find a letter from a Little Leaguer, or a parent of one, asking for advice. He is the only person they know who understands.

Twenty years ago, Distefano, then a hanging-on major leaguer, served as a left-handed catcher in a major league baseball game. No one has done so since. Like Ladies Night and pitchers named Wilbur, left-handed catchers are effectively extinct — for reasons on which there is bizarrely little consensus.

“I have no idea,” said Joe Mauer, the Minnesota Twins’ All-Star catcher (right-handed, naturally).

“Is it because there are more right-handed hitters?” offered Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann.

“There’s been nobody come into a game for 20 years? Really?” said a nonplussed Joe Torre, an All-Star catcher throughout the 1960s. “Well, first off, left-handed pitchers don’t throw the ball straight.”

Major league teams have been panting for more catchers since shinguards, begging for mothers to allow their sons to play there, and yet they cut off an entire stream of talent that happens to throw left-handed. In the last 100 years, Dale Long caught two innings for the Chicago Cubs in 1958, Mike Squires the same for the 1980 White Sox.

And since Aug. 18, 1989, when Distefano caught for the last time, baseball has embraced retro uniforms and even revenue sharing — but not the likes of Distefano. The minor leagues do not have one left-handed catcher right now.

“It’s a slow-changing game,” said Distefano, now the hitting coach of the West Michigan Whitecaps, a Detroit Tigers Class A affiliate. “It takes a creative manager that’s willing to go with something that might be a little outside the box.”

I grew up playing baseball and I am a pretty big fan of our team down here, the Rays. But it never even occured to me that there were no left handed catchers. Well I can tell you one thing, if my son decides he wants to play baseball he will definitely play some catcher. I have a feeling that at some point they might be in demand if for no reason other than nobody else will have one on their team.

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