MLB Experimental Rule 7.13 Regarding Home Plate Collisions

Major League Baseball has finally published the language for the new rule regarding plays at the plate and home plate collisions. Like the Designated Pinch-hitter rule, this is “experimental.”

Personally, I don’t understand why this language was necessary — the rules are/were already pretty clear in terms of what fielders at any base can do and not do depending on whether or not they have possession of the ball. Further, this new rule is written in a much different style from the rest of the rule book; it’s inconsist in style — though, that’s just me being nit-picky as an editor.

Here is the rule: [Read more...]

Buster Posey Aftermath: What Should Be Done?

The awful result of a homeplate collision that ended the season of Giants catcher Buster Posey has prompted many to pose questions about the catching position, MLB rules, and Posey’s future. What should change, and what shouldn’t?
[Read more...]

Catching: Proper Footwork Starts with the Feet

Nearly every catching instructor you speak to, and every published book and article on catching, will point out that footwork is the key to success for a backstop.

However, most of these sources either don’t elaborate on how your feet should be, or they offer information that does more harm than good. [Read more...]

Treating Jammed Fingers

Splint for sprained fingersIf you are a catcher, and have been catching for any significant length of time, then you know all about jammed fingers. A jammed, or sprained, finger is often the result of your bare hand being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Similarly, if you are a baseball player that plays “hard”, you’ve likely sprained a finger while sliding headfirst into a base or diving for a fly ball.

When one of your fingers gets bent backward or sideways much further than God intended, the result is what’s technically known as a sprain. It’s probably the most common of all sports injuries, and in most cases, not much to be concerned with. Assuming all you have is a minor sprain, you can usually play through it, albeit with pain.

Before you decide to play through a jammed finger, however, you need to make sure it is indeed a sprain and not a dislocation or fracture. The symptoms of a simple sprain is pain, redness, and swelling around the joint/knuckle, and limited range of motion. If the pain is in the middle of your finger bone, you may have a fracture and should get X-rays immediately. Similarly, if the pain is acute, and/or you can’t move the finger at all, and/or the finger looks abnormally twisted or disfigured, get out of the game and seek medical attention. Also, if the injury was the result of a direct blow to the tip of one of your fingers — such as from a foul tip — you will want to seek medical attention in case it is “mallet finger“, which if left untreated could cause permanent deformity.

Let’s get back to the sprain. If you’ve jammed or hyperextended one of your fingers, there is going to be some pain, and a lot of swelling. You can grit your teeth and get through the game, but immediately afterward you should ice it several times that day and during the next 3-5 days — 15 minutes on ice, at least 25 minutes off. This will reduce the swelling, as will taking some aspirin, ibuprofen, or similar anti-inflammatory.

Should the sprain be in one of your knuckle joints, and you don’t have a game the next day, you may want to splint it. It can be as simple as taping a popsicle stick to your finger to keep it straight, though it’s better to see a trainer, school nurse, or doctor and have a professional splint it for you.

If you’re a dumb, bullheaded lug like me and too tough to see professionals — and insist on playing the next day — you can “buddy tape” the injured finger to the one next to it and continue to play. Regardless of whether you’re smart and seek some medical attention or a mule such as me, try to avoid using the jammed finger as much as possible, and continue ice treatment, for several days. Once the swelling starts to go down, you should start doing easy motion exercises — such as simply turning the finger around in circles or gently bending it back and forth. As the swelling and pain continues to diminish, do the same exercises with some resistance — a few rubber bands work well and allow you to gradually build up strength. You can also squeeze a pink rubber ball or anti-stress device. Once the swelling goes down, you’ll want to get that digit moving and working sooner rather than later.

Treated properly, your jammed finger should be back to normal within a few weeks — often sooner. Remember the two key phrases when dealing with sprains: “Ice is nice, and, motion is lotion.” Ice for immediate treatment of swelling and pain, motion after the swelling and pain subsides.

The Ripken Way

Cal Ripken, Jr., and his brother Billy teach baseball fundamentals in a style they call “The Ripken Way”. This is the book behind the style. [Read more...]

Catching: How to Frame

Nearly every young catcher I meet is either proud to show me how well he can “frame” a pitch, or he wants to know how to do it.

So here I will teach all about framing, for the masses who do not have the pleasure to learn from me. However, you may be unhappy with what I have to say.

The best way to “frame” a pitch is to catch the ball where it is pitched — and don’t move!

That’s right — no turning the wrist, moving the body, or otherwise “easing” the ball into the strike zone. Just catch it and “stick it” (meaning, hold it there — “sticking” is a term stolen from gymnastics, to describe a gymnast holding his/her form at the end of an exercise).

While you may on occasion run into an umpire who will call strikes when you pull a pitch into the strike zone, the better umpires — which you will hopefully see as you reach more advanced levels — will be wise to your ways and nearly always call “ball” when they see you move your mitt.

The best thing you can do as a catcher to help your pitcher — and the umpire — is to catch the proper half of the ball (left, right, or top) with soft hands and HOLD your mitt exactly where you catch the ball. Even if it’s an inch or two out of the strike zone, just HOLD IT THERE. Give the umpire a good one- or two-second look at where the ball is. By doing this you are putting coins in the umpire�s trust bank; little by little he will trust you and where you receive the ball. Build up this trust over the course of a game, and maybe — just maybe — you will be able to ever so slightly ease a pitch an inch or two over to the left or right and into the zone.

So I lied, sort of. There is an art to framing a pitch into the strike zone, but it is an advanced skill, and one that should be used sparingly — like once or twice a game at most. And actually you “frame” more with a lateral, subtle move of your body than with the glove. The problem with learning to frame is that most young catchers (old ones too — watch Mike Piazza) will try to pull nearly every ball into the strike zone. This only irritates the umpire and causes him to eventually disregard the end of the ball’s flight.

Rather than try to force pitches into the strike zone, a better plan is to attempt to catch the ball when it passes through the strike zone. Coach Dave Weaver uses a term I like; he says “beat the ball to the spot”. Again, this isn’t something you can do on every pitch — unless you have a guy like Tom Glavine who is always around the plate. Most pitches will move a bit — to the left, right, or vertically — and sometimes you might be able to catch the ball just as it’s passing through the strike zone. At times this is early, so you need to reach out to get it, while other times you will need to keep the glove back and receive the ball deeper, after it breaks. We’re talking a matter of inches here, not feet, and your ability to decipher whether to reach or wait will come with experience — both your own and your time with a particular pitcher.

Try it next time you’re catching a pitcher in practice. Pay close attention to the movement on that pitcher’s pitches, and learn to anticipate its mild breaks. Try to figure out ahead of time where the ball is going to pass through the strike zone and “beat it” to that spot with your glove. Remember to keep soft hands, and make gradual movements — as opposed to jerking at the last second to snatch the ball. Receive the ball and hold it, so the umpire can take a picture of it. The umpire will thank you — and so will your pitcher.

Catcher’s Gloves: Recommended

Through the years, I’ve used catcher’s gloves from Wilson, Rawlings, Spalding, Mizuno, and most recently, Akadema. As a youngster, and through high school, I used a glove with a double break; one break on each side of the wrist pad. It was a clumsy, heavy design, and in college switched to single-break gloves. The Rawlings gloves had a good feel in my hand, and strong, durable leather, but the leather lacing was thin and weak. Since I caught a few guys throwing over 90 MPH, the lacing around the webbing would break. So I started using Mizuno gloves, which had stronger lacing and were much lighter, thus easier to handle. I swore by the Mizuno’s until recently, when I was introduced to the Akadema “Reptilian” series.

There are a few things I love about the Akadema gloves. First, the quality of the leather (including the lacing) is top-rate. Years ago, Rawlings’ “heart of the hide” was supposedly the best leather but today’s examples don’t hold a candle to Akadema. Secondly, the unique design makes much more sense than the conventional / traditional catcher’s mitts. It is a double break, but the “second” break is way up along the top of the thumb, and actually serves to form the pocket. That design is crucial for two things: it makes it easy to catch the ball in the pocket, and it prevents thumb injuries. Conventional gloves have one long pad on the thumb side, and thumb sprains occur if you catch a hard thrower who is frequently crossing you up wild inside, or if you get a foul tip against the pad. The way these “Reptilian” gloves are designed, your thumb is in a very safe spot, away from the shock of those situations. The third thing I really like about this glove is the break-in period, which was extremely quick. In the past, I always had two catcher’s mitts: one for games, and one for practice that I’d break in. The break-in period generally took 2-3 months of catching pitchers every day. These gloves take 2-3 weeks.
This is the 32.5? catcher’s glove, suitable for younger / smaller catchers:

Akadema Praying Mantis-Catcher APM42 (32.5\'\'), Praying Mantis Series, Ball Gloves, Akadema AKA-APM42

Catchers with larger hands and frames (high school and up) will probably be more comfortable using the 33.5? glove. This is the glove that I use. It took only about two weeks to break in for game use, and is hands-down the best glove I’ve used in over 25 years of catching.

Akadema APM40 Reptilian Praying Mantis Series 33.5\