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Left-Handed Catchers

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  • Left-Handed Catchers

    Hello Baseball Fever Fans:

    One of the most common questions at Baseball Almanac is whether or not my left-handed child can play catcher in the Major Leagues. An excellent reply to this was made on Yahoo! and it read / answered why not as follows:

    Two words: stolen bases.

    If you're a student of baseball, then you know that the catcher has many different duties: choosing pitches and signalling them to the pitcher; catching pitches; fielding pop-ups and bunts; tagging runners at the plate; and finally, perhaps the most difficult task, throwing runners out when they attempt to steal second or third base.

    The very best catchers in the Major Leagues rarely throw out even half of the runners that attempt stolen bases. A slow delivery from the pitcher, an off-speed pitch, a pitch in the dirt, or, of course, a speedy runner -- any of these complications can make retiring a runner a difficult proposition.

    So, you ask, how does being left-handed interfere with throwing out baserunners? It has to do with the fact that most batters are right-handed and therefore stand in the batter's box on the left side of home plate. A left-handed catcher would need to throw through that batter's box or move over and throw directly over the plate -- added problems that would hinder even the most talented athlete.

    Since most baseball coaches, from Little League to the Majors, are aware of the inherent difficulties of left-handed catching, they undoubtedly encourage talented southpaws to find other positions on the diamond -- outfield, first base, or even pitcher, where left-handedness is largely viewed as a competitive advantage.

    So, there you have it. The subtleties of handedness when it comes to being a baseball catcher. Other positions where left-handedness is all but unheard of: third base and shortstop.

    Lefty catchers are rare, but that's not to say that no left-handers have ever played the position. According to sites we found by searching on "left-handed catchers," both Mike Squires and Dale Long moved over from their regular positions and played multiple games at catcher.

    Perhaps most interesting was our discovery that the game's greatest player, Babe Ruth, was a left-handed catcher. At the National Sports Gallery, we learned that a young Babe caught left-handed, despite the lack of equipment. In his own words:

    "We had no catcher's mitt built for left handers, of course. We were lucky to have any kind of mitt. I'd used the regular catcher's mitt on my left hand, received the throw from the pitcher, take off the glove and throw it back to him left handed. When I had to throw to a base, trying to catch a runner, I'd toss the glove away, grab the ball with my left hand and heave it with everything I had."


    Answers a lot of things, but can they play or not? This led me to wonder and I've put together the following chart. It is a list of every left-handed player to catch in a Major League game. The list is ordered by number of games caught with ties alphabetized and links to player stats for further research.

    1,073 Clements, Jack
    272 Trott, Sam
    202 Tate, Pop
    186 Sutcliffe, Sy
    128 Harbridge, Bill
    99 Hines, Mike
    75 Humphries, John
    71 Tenney, Fred
    52 Twineham, Art
    50 Baker, Phil
    45 Donahue, Jiggs
    35 Oldfield, Dave
    34 Householder, Charlie
    21 Malone, Fergy
    16 McMahon, Jack
    12 Krehmeyer, Charlie
    7 Wall, Joe
    3 DiStefano, Benny
    3 Hillebrand, Homer
    2 Egan, Jim
    2 Long, Dale
    2 Squires, Mike
    1 Cassidy, John
    1 Eden, Charlie
    1 Marr, Lefty
    1 Mullen, John
    1 Powell, Martin
    1 Redmon, Billy
    1 Short, Chris

    Hope you enjoyed this Baseball Fever exclusive!

    Sean

    PS: In closing I leave you with the following Stengelese, "Left-handers have more enthusiasm for life. They sleep on the wrong side of the bed, and their heads get more stagnant on that side."

    PSS: No, I am not left handed

  • #2
    Another site that relates closely to the one you listed:

    Here's the article:

    Being left-handed in baseball, except in rare cases, means exclusion from the position of catcher. This is due in large part to the game's counterclockwise flow. There have only been 33 left-handed throwing players who caught in at least 1 defensive inning. If you exclude the ten men who only caught in a single game, then you're talking about just 23 players. If you count only those guys who caught a 100 or more games in a career, you're down to exactly five left-handed throwing catchers. However, if you're only counting career catchers (minimum of 1,000 games caught), then you have exactly one and that is Jack Clements.

    Why left-handed throwers are effectively banned from catching is less obvious than why they can't play shortstop or third base. And perhaps completely wrong. The most common reason cited is that a left-handed catcher is at a disadvantage in making the throw to third base, especially with a right-handed hitter at the plate. While this may be true, the overall effect is debatable.

    The average major league team attempted 14.6 steals of third base during the 1998 season - - one every 11 games. Success rate of throwing out runners at third by a catcher was around 21% (3.07 caught out of 14.6 attempts). The success rate in 1998 at first base was around 40%. Right-handed catchers appeared to have little problem with the pickoffs at first base, the equivalent of a lefthander's throw to third.

    The lack of left-handed catchers is more of a traditional thing than reality say most scouts. There are obstruction issues on some of the throws a catcher has to make, but there are some advantages to being left handed as well. One advantage is a left-handed catcher's ability to frame a right-handed pitcher's breaking balls. A right-handed catcher catches a right-hander's breaking ball across his body, with his glove moving out of the strike zone. A left-handed catcher would be able to catch the pitch moving into the strike zone and create a better target for the umpire.

    However, consummate left-hander Bill Lee argues against the left-handed catcher. "Lefties can't play catcher because your head hangs over home plate when you make a tag." "You've got the ball in your right hand, you're blocking the plate with your left foot. When you go to make the tag, you're exposed. A lefty catcher would get killed."

    Several left-handed throwing major leaguers has a stint at catching early in their careers. White Sox first baseman Mike Squires even caught 2 games in the majors. Randy Johnson (Diamondbacks ace pitcher) caught for a little while.

    Another reason there are no left-handed catchers today may be simply because there are few, if any, left-handed catcher's mitts available to young players. Virtually all left-handed mitts have to be top-of-the-line gloves specially ordered.

    Just add that to the list of obstacles that have gone up without apparent reason. But, left-handed catchers have played in the major leagues, although there have only been a few. The first left-handed throwing catcher was Fergy Malone (1871-1877) who caught 27 games in 1871. This is the very first year of major league baseball, although there is some dispute as to whether or not the 1871 National Association should be counted as major league. The Last left-handed throwing catcher to play the position was Benny Distefano who caught 3 games in 1989 for Pittsburgh.

    The strangest left-handed throwing player to catch in the major leagues was Phillies pitcher Christ Short. As the story goes it was a defensive maneuver by manager Gene Mauch. Short caught for one batter so that Mauch could bring in a righty, then put Short back on the mound.
    Johnson and now Goligoski gone.
    I hope that's all.

    Comment


    • #3
      Another season list of left-handed catchers can be found here:
      The list: (again, the page is columnized and much more readable)

      NAME YEAR TM LG G TC SC PO A E DP FLD PB
      HARBIDGE, BILL 1876 HAR NL 24 159 127 97 30 32 0 0.799 9
      MALONE, FERGY 1876 PHI NL 20 139 108 78 30 31 0 0.777 25
      MULLEN, JOHN 1876 PHI NL 1 7 5 3 2 2 0 0.714 2
      HARBIDGE, BILL 1877 HAR NL 32 193 170 143 27 23 2 0.881 22
      CASSIDY, JOHN 1878 CHI NL 1 3 3 2 1 0 0 1.000 5
      HARBIDGE, BILL 1878 CHI NL 53 368 323 257 66 45 1 0.878 56
      REDMOND, BILLY 1878 MIL NL 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.000 1
      EDEN, CHARLIE 1879 CLE NL 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 1.000 2
      HARBIDGE, BILL 1880 TRO NL 9 53 47 37 10 6 2 0.887 12
      TROTT, SAM 1880 BOS NL 36 253 226 170 56 27 0 0.893 25
      POWELL, MARTIN 1881 DET NL 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.000 0
      TROTT, SAM 1881 DET NL 6 38 33 27 6 5 0 0.868 3
      EGAN, JIM 1882 TRO NL 2 15 15 13 2 0 0 1.000 5
      HARBIDGE, BILL 1882 TRO NL 3 13 11 9 2 2 0 0.846 7
      HOUSEHOLDER, CHARLIE 1882 BAL AA 3 13 13 13 0 0 0 1.000 0
      TROTT, SAM 1882 DET NL 23 236 210 172 38 26 3 0.890 22
      BAKER, PHIL 1883 BAL AA 19 120 106 93 13 14 2 0.883 23
      HARBIDGE, BILL 1883 PHI NL 7 34 23 18 5 11 1 0.676 9
      HINES, MIKE 1883 BOS NL 59 547 485 382 103 62 5 0.887 99
      HUMPHRIES, JOHN 1883 NY NL 20 124 101 71 30 23 3 0.815 31
      OLDFIELD, DAVE 1883 BAL AA 1 9 6 6 0 3 0 0.667 5
      TROTT, SAM 1883 DET NL 34 235 203 160 43 32 4 0.864 53
      BAKER, PHIL 1884 WAS UA 27 198 184 159 25 14 3 0.929 18
      CLEMENTS, JACK 1884 PHI UA 20 164 146 114 32 18 0 0.890 45
      CLEMENTS, JACK 1884 PHI NL 9 81 67 51 16 14 1 0.827 12
      FOSTER, ELMER 1884 PHI AA 4 26 23 15 8 3 0 0.885 10
      FOSTER, ELMER 1884 PHI UA 1 8 5 4 1 3 0 0.625 3
      HINES, MIKE 1884 BOS NL 35 347 319 255 64 28 7 0.919 42
      HOUSEHOLDER, CHARLIE 1884 BKN AA 31 206 183 140 43 23 5 0.888 56
      HUMPHRIES, JOHN 1884 WAS AA 35 281 250 198 52 31 6 0.890 44
      HUMPHRIES, JOHN 1884 NY NL 20 193 173 138 35 20 2 0.896 21
      KREHMEYER, CHARLIE 1884 STL AA 7 37 34 30 4 3 0 0.919 6
      MALONE, FERGY 1884 PHI UA 1 11 9 9 0 2 0 0.818 5
      SUTCLIFFE, SY 1884 CHI NL 4 41 40 34 6 1 1 0.976 11
      TROTT, SAM 1884 BAL AA 60 621 578 491 87 43 10 0.931 62
      CLEMENTS, JACK 1885 PHI NL 41 256 228 181 47 28 2 0.891 44
      HINES, MIKE 1885 BKN AA 3 18 18 12 6 0 0 1.000 11
      HINES, MIKE 1885 PRO NL 1 11 7 5 2 4 0 0.636 3
      KREHMEYER, CHARLIE 1885 LOU AA 4 22 20 12 8 2 0 0.909 6
      KREHMEYER, CHARLIE 1885 STL NL 1 7 3 3 0 4 0 0.429 4
      OLDFIELD, DAVE 1885 BKN AA 9 63 55 45 10 8 0 0.873 6
      SUTCLIFFE, SY 1885 CHI NL 11 68 57 46 11 11 0 0.838 17
      SUTCLIFFE, SY 1885 STL NL 14 84 74 59 15 10 0 0.881 19
      TATE, POP 1885 BOS NL 4 37 32 19 13 5 0 0.865 11
      TROTT, SAM 1885 BAL AA 17 127 112 86 26 15 6 0.882 16
      BAKER, PHIL 1886 WAS NL 4 7 6 4 2 1 0 0.857 0
      CLEMENTS, JACK 1886 PHI NL 47 398 370 318 52 28 3 0.930 30
      OLDFIELD, DAVE 1886 BKN AA 13 108 90 71 19 18 1 0.833 11
      OLDFIELD, DAVE 1886 WAS NL 12 79 71 54 17 8 0 0.899 7
      TATE, POP 1886 BOS NL 31 234 207 163 44 27 2 0.885 26
      CLEMENTS, JACK 1887 PHI NL 59 433 407 328 79 26 8 0.940 40
      TATE, POP 1887 BOS NL 53 344 318 209 109 26 6 0.924 24
      TROTT, SAM 1887 BAL AA 69 519 475 373 102 44 6 0.915 54
      CLEMENTS, JACK 1888 PHI NL 85 645 598 494 104 47 6 0.927 39
      HINES, MIKE 1888 BOS NL 1 12 9 8 1 3 0 0.750 2
      SUTCLIFFE, SY 1888 DET NL 14 125 109 75 34 16 5 0.872 0
      TATE, POP 1888 BOS NL 41 295 252 188 64 43 6 0.854 19
      TROTT, SAM 1888 BAL AA 27 207 188 156 32 19 4 0.908 14
      CLEMENTS, JACK 1889 PHI NL 78 499 457 380 77 42 7 0.916 34
      MARR, LEFTY 1889 COL AA 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.000 0
      SUTCLIFFE, SY 1889 CLE NL 37 279 249 179 70 30 3 0.892 23
      TATE, POP 1889 BAL AA 62 406 381 306 75 25 3 0.938 42
      CLEMENTS, JACK 1890 PHI NL 91 630 595 503 92 35 12 0.944 36
      SUTCLIFFE, SY 1890 CLE PL 84 429 379 264 115 50 9 0.883 55
      TATE, POP 1890 BAL AA 11 52 48 33 15 4 1 0.923 6
      CLEMENTS, JACK 1891 PHI NL 107 564 523 415 108 41 10 0.927 31
      SUTCLIFFE, SY 1891 WAS AA 22 105 95 65 30 10 3 0.905 17
      CLEMENTS, JACK 1892 PHI NL 109 699 664 557 107 35 12 0.950 29
      McMAHON, JACK 1892 NY NL 5 24 22 19 3 2 1 0.917 3
      CLEMENTS, JACK 1893 PHI NL 92 429 404 329 75 25 5 0.942 17
      McMAHON, JACK 1893 NY NL 11 46 41 33 8 5 0 0.891 6
      TWINEHAM, ART 1893 STL NL 14 69 64 48 16 5 1 0.928 9
      CLEMENTS, JACK 1894 PHI NL 45 222 210 178 32 12 4 0.946 12
      TENNEY, FRED 1894 BOS NL 20 84 75 55 20 9 3 0.893 3
      TWINEHAM, ART 1894 STL NL 38 197 185 147 38 12 1 0.939 17
      CLEMENTS, JACK 1895 PHI NL 88 360 349 280 69 11 7 0.969 13
      TENNEY, FRED 1895 BOS NL 21 88 87 69 18 1 1 0.989 8
      WRIGHT, JOE 1895 LOU NL 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.000 0
      CLEMENTS, JACK 1896 PHI NL 53 207 200 149 51 7 3 0.966 9
      TENNEY, FRED 1896 BOS NL 27 143 133 102 31 10 3 0.930 8
      CLEMENTS, JACK 1897 PHI NL 49 211 203 163 40 8 3 0.962 7
      CLEMENTS, JACK 1898 STL NL 86 379 368 287 81 11 8 0.971 17
      TENNEY, FRED 1898 BOS NL 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.000 0
      CLEMENTS, JACK 1899 CLE NL 4 16 15 8 7 1 0 0.938 1
      CLEMENTS, JACK 1900 BOS NL 10 58 55 45 10 3 2 0.948 1
      DONAHUE, JIGGS 1900 PIT NL 2 9 8 7 1 1 0 0.889 2
      DONAHUE, JIGGS 1901 PIT NL 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.000 1
      DONAHUE, JIGGS 1901 MIL AL 19 104 97 73 24 7 0 0.933 4
      TENNEY, FRED 1901 BOS NL 2 13 12 10 2 1 0 0.923 0
      WALL, JOE 1901 NY NL 2 3 3 3 0 0 0 1.000 0
      DONAHUE, JIGGS 1902 STL AL 23 114 109 80 29 5 2 0.956 10
      WALL, JOE 1902 BKN NL 5 28 25 22 3 3 0 0.893 3
      HILLEBRAND, HOMER 1905 PIT NL 3 9 8 7 1 1 0 0.889 2
      SHORTEN, CHICK 1921 DET AL 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.000 0
      SHIRLEY, MULE 1924 WAS AL 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.000 0
      LONG, DALE 1958 CHI NL 2 1 1 0 1 0 0 1.000 1
      SHORT, CHRIS (Pitcher) 1961 PHI NL 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.000 0
      SQUIRES, MIKE 1980 CHI AL 2 1 1 1 0 0 0 1.000 0
      DISTEFANO, BENNY 1989 PIT NL 3 2 2 2 0 0 0 1.000 1
      Johnson and now Goligoski gone.
      I hope that's all.

      Comment


      • #4
        Hello Chisox:

        Thanks for the updates. Chuck Rosciam is a friend of Baseball Almanac and a regular lurker here at Baseball Fever. He is the webmaster at Baseball Catchers and his knowledge of catchers has no equal. Even I send him a help message every now & then and Chuck has never let me down.

        As for his article, it is very good. I did not ask him for permission to reprint it in time when I was making my initial list, but I will check to see if it is ok that we leave it here for others to see...

        Thanks again,

        Sean

        Comment


        • #5
          I'm surprsied there weren't more in the early days.
          I share pictures from my collection of baseball photographs on twitter @PastimeClassics

          Comment


          • #6
            Thank You

            Thank You for the wonderful post on left handed catchers. My son caught his first game today with a normal mitt. I asked about getting a left handed catchers mitt for him and was told that leftys don't catch. I was sure that I had seen left handed catchers before, so I did a seach online. With my son beside me we read through the messages and I could see he felt so much better about being a left handed catcher.

            Thank You for giving my son confidence.

            Tracey

            Comment


            • #7
              I own a left handed catcher's mitt. They're very, very hard to find.
              "Simply put, the passion, interest and tradition surrounding baseball in New York is unmatched."

              Sean McAdam, ESPN.com

              Comment


              • #8
                left hand catcher's mitts

                My son's a 14 year old lefty catcher who's gone through 4 mitts over the years. Don't know if it's dumb luck, but we've never had a problem finding 1. Thank goodness for the interet!

                Comment


                • #9
                  There was another thread on this subject from awhile back, here is the link.......click here......Lefty Catchers thread
                  GO PADRES AND ANGELS ALL THE WAY IN 2008
                  Strike 3 Forums/NFL Forums

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Puddlypoo
                    Thank You for the wonderful post on left handed catchers. My son caught his first game today with a normal mitt. I asked about getting a left handed catchers mitt for him and was told that leftys don't catch. I was sure that I had seen left handed catchers before, so I did a seach online. With my son beside me we read through the messages and I could see he felt so much better about being a left handed catcher.

                    Thank You for giving my son confidence.

                    Tracey
                    I for one am really glad to see your son follow his desire. So many baseball fans as you can read here, are prejudiced against anything that is different from the "norm", whatever the norm is supposed to be.

                    There is absolutely NO reason why a lefty cannot be behind the plate. Mammals are adapative. It is like a three-legged dog, they adapt and live a happy, normal life. Giving a kid a mental handicap and stifling him/her from the get-go is no way to instill the love of the game and build the confidence.

                    Three cheers to you and your son for thinking outside of the box and going for what you want. I hope he goes far and continues to love the game. We need youth in the game to keep it alive.
                    GO PADRES AND ANGELS ALL THE WAY IN 2008
                    Strike 3 Forums/NFL Forums

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I understand your thinking; however, as any player progresses to each higher level of baseball, you will not see leftys playing non-traditional positions. Any high school coach worth his salt, will not have a lefty play catcher since he would not get drafted or get a scholarship at that position.

                      It may seem like a little thing, but lefty catchers do things "backwards" and pitchers are quite fickle, do not like things that deviate from their norm. A left handed catcher is an aberration. Also with a majority of batters being right handed, that does hamper throws to second and third base on steal attempts and pick-offs.

                      Another point is that lefty catcher, when receiving a throw from the field on a tag play at the plate are more vulnerable and must reach across their body to make the tag as opposed to catching the ball and bringing it back across like rightys do.

                      While there seems to be limitations on leftys playing catcher, they are a premium at pitchers and first base. Professional pitchers that are left handed last a lot longer in baseball than most other players as far as career longevity. Also left-handed hitters are also a priority.

                      "Thinking outside the box" can be an admirable trait, but it may not be beneficial to advance a baseball career in this case. You may call it predjudice or other terms, but baseball people do not like lefty catchers. Sports is not a politically correct culture. Coaches and teams want to win, that is the bottom line, and most in the positions that matter do not like left-handed catchers.
                      Last edited by Bluesteve32; 04-01-2006, 10:35 PM.
                      http://www.baseballhalloffame.org/ex...eline_1961.jpg

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Left Handed Catcher

                        I've been reading all I can about leftys. My son plays aau baseball. He is a lefty. 12 years old. Pitches, first base and also catches. I am very proud of every position he plays. I don't expect him to go to the big leagues as a catcher. I realize he is more valuable at pitching and first. But, when he told us he wanted to catch, why not? It really keeps him focused we have noticed. He has done a great job. He can throw down to second much better than the other catchers and he can really snag those balls. I feel at this level he is very valuable to his team and if some coach wanted to use him as a catcher in middle school, high school and college, he would have that option. I can absolutely see what you are saying about the other positions being important, but we want him to keep his options open. We just have to find him a good pitching coach to make him all he can be because we feel that is the "ticket".

                        I have really enjoyed all of the discussions I have seen on this site and will continue to read and learn. Knowledge is power and this is a very powerful site. Thanks.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Concerned mother of little leaguer

                          My 10 year old son has been pitching for a year now and has been enhancing his skills through private lessons. He joined a new team this year where the coach wants him to catch, against my sons wishes. How should my son handle this situation with his coach without making his coach think he's whining? My son gives 110% at any position he's assigned but his heart is at the pitcher's mound and 1st base. I don't want him to be stuck in a position where his future as a pitcher is dampered.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by longkim
                            My 10 year old son has been pitching for a year now and has been enhancing his skills through private lessons. He joined a new team this year where the coach wants him to catch, against my sons wishes. How should my son handle this situation with his coach without making his coach think he's whining? My son gives 110% at any position he's assigned but his heart is at the pitcher's mound and 1st base. I don't want him to be stuck in a position where his future as a pitcher is dampered.
                            I know this refers to higher-up levels ,but they say the fastest road to the majors is catching. 1st base, at high levels, requires great hitting. If he's a great hitting catcher, so much the better. Maybe if your son agreed to catch at least half the time, the coach would agree to let him be the starting pitcher one out of four?
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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by RuthMayBond
                              I know this refers to higher-up levels ,but they say the fastest road to the majors is catching. 1st base, at high levels, requires great hitting. If he's a great hitting catcher, so much the better. Maybe if your son agreed to catch at least half the time, the coach would agree to let him be the starting pitcher one out of four?
                              The fastest way to the majors is a lefty, except at catcher where it would be an impediment as most HS coaches would not consider it and college coaches would never give a lefty catcher a scholarship nor would pro scouts consider signing or drafting any lefty catcher.

                              Pitcher, first base, outfield are the positions for leftys, and they are at a premium especially at pitcher. So I don't feel necessary to shed too many tears for leftys in baseball.
                              http://www.baseballhalloffame.org/ex...eline_1961.jpg

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