I had a question from one of our media people about one of our young catchers. I was taken aback when they asked me if I had been calling the pitches for him in the game. I laughed and then I realized that they were serious. It really shouldn't have been a surprise to me as an overwhelming percentage of youth coaches have decided to call the game for their young catchers. I believe this to be a mistake.
As an organization, we are amazed how few of our young catchers know how to call a game for their pitchers. We get frustrated by their pitch selection and their lack of game knowledge. The real issue is that these kids are not to blame...their previous coaches are. More and more often, we are seeing coaches at every level above tee-ball that feel that they must sit on their bucket in front of the dugout and give a complicated set of signs to their young catcher who then regurgitates the same sign to his pitcher, with little to no thought as to why they are throwing the pitch they are about to throw. My question is this: If the man sitting on the bucket knows which pitch is the right pitch, then why doesn't he teach the catcher how to do it? It may take some time, and some (a lot) of patience, and it may actually cost the team a couple of wins (heaven forbid) but it will give these aspiring players the foundation of what it really means to wear the "tools of intelligence."
I count myself very fortunate that I had a former catcher as my coach in youth league, and in college. I had one year in college, as a freshman, where my college coach called every pitch from the bench. I felt worthless behind the plate. Fortunately, my sophomore year, Bill Freehan (former Tigers all-star catcher) became our college coach. Coach Freehan was appalled that the game calling had been taken away from the catchers and went to work helping us learn our pitchers and how to get the most out of them.
This particular blog is going to be a little longer than most, because this is something that really has bothered me for a while. As a player, the most frequently asked question that I received from fans, was "When you are looking into the dugout, is Tony (LaRussa) calling your pitches?" I get the same question in regards to Yadi still today, and the answer is a very clear "Of course not." There is no way that I could ever have a better sense of the game, or see the subtle things that only a catcher could see, from the dugout.
Your rebuttal may be that your young catcher simply doesn't have the ability to handle such an important task. My reply is that you must not be a good enough teacher. Excuse my blunt approach to this issue, but once again remember that my goal is to help kids enjoy the great game of baseball, and one of the greatest joys as a catcher is the cat-and-mouse game of pitch selection.
I never once had Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa call a pitch for me, nor have I ever called one for Yadi...and I never will. We do, however, talk about pitch selection every single day, and we are always learning and challenging ourselves to be better at it. Help your kids, no matter how young or old, do the same.