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Left-handed catchers

- August 16, 2009

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The sporting-goods companies are still turning out catcher’s mitts for left-handers, but their market is just for the kids. No big leaguers, because there aren’t any left-handed catchers in the big leagues. Never were very many; now, none.

I can remember a couple — fill-ins, though, not regulars or even second-stringers. But not for a long time. Maybe, I thought, I don’t remember the recent ones because I don’t pay nearly as much attention to baseball as I used to. But according to this piece in the Times, what seems to be going on isn’t inattention on my part, but closed-mindedness among basebal people.

Okay, I concede that even though a baseball field is basically symmetric, it’s also laterally biased: Batters run from home to first base, not from home to third. And that tends to point the action in a certain direction, and perhaps confers small advantages on those better suited to deal with its lateral bias. But there are biases and counter-biases: A right-handed Sandy Amoros couldn’t have caught Yogi Berra’s fly ball down the left-field line, for example. And even though it may be unusual for lefties to come to the top in other sports where they operate at a disadvantage (like golf, where the doglegs tend to go in the “right” direction for right-handers), some left-handers manage to do pretty darned well. But baseball? Lefties play first base, or pitch, or an outfield position. Third base, second base, sortstop? Nah. And catcher? Don’t even think about it. An endangered species? More likely an extinct one.

Too bad. Not that being a catcher is a glamour job. It’s dirty and hot and injury-prone and nasty and hard and requires an unusual mix of talents. I never, ever wanted to be a catcher, and it’s not a profession you’d want your kids to aspire to. Unless, that is, you’d like them to find a job where, if they’re any good at it at all, they’re likely to last for a long time and, notwithstanding the gnarled hands, arthritic knees, and beat-up feet they’ll get for their stoop labor, they’ll have spent years in The Show — the ultimate dream of every little boy of my generation.