Calling Pitches

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.

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  • Thank you!

    I just had a conversation with my 10 year old son's district LL coach. He asked how he could get my son (a pitcher) to slow down between pitches so they could give signs for location from the bench to the catcher. I actually laughed and said that's huge overcoaching (probably saying too much) and if you slowed him down that much, he'd probably get impatient (he's 10) and be less effective. He likes to get the ball and throw it. This was the first thing Google found for me when I searched for some opinions on this and I can't imagine a better reinforcement of what I was already thinking. Thank you and keep up the good work.
  • Awesome Blog Coach Mike

    I coach a 12u travel team, called the Ohio Cardinals. I debated this and after reading the article I cannot agree more. Last year in a championship game in late innings the catcher called for a pitchout without asking me. The result was he threw the tie run out at second and we won the game. My assistant asked me if I was mad. I said no I am proud.
  • Calling Pitches

    Thank you for this article from Mike Matheny regarding pitch calling. I get do irritated when I hear our young players are clueless when it comes to this part of the game or even the game in general. Why wouldn't they be if they are never allowed to make mistakes and given the responsibility to be in charge of the game?
  • calling pitches

    Very good article! I feel the same way but every game I look at the other coach sit on the bucket and call pitches and wonder if i should be doing the same. This article makes me realize that i was right all along. Thanks!
  • Calling Pitches

    Nice article. Ive always felt this same way. Now I will put my emphasis on letting the kids call the game , instead of me trying to call it from the sidelines.
  • I have been coaching for

    I have been coaching for years and I have done both. Some of my catchers I have faith in but others dont understand how to call a game. I understand its the coaches job to teach this but when you coach some kids it doesnt hit home or sink in. I also coach a travel team which is the top players in the age group and i let my catcher call the game except for a key pitch or two. I trust my kids in every aspect of the game once we start playing game. I take every chance i get during a game to teach the right thing. GO CATS !
  • Perfect timing for this post.

    Perfect timing for this post. I coach a competitive 10U team in Kearney, MO (sorry KC Royals country) and my assistant coach just told me about this blog two days ago. On the same day we were discussing how we should go about teaching our catchers to call pitches/location. This was very helpful.
  • Too many coaches forget they

    Too many coaches forget they are their to teach. They need to remember what "coaching" means. How does a catcher ever learn the art of pitch selection if it's always done for him. Keep up the great work Mike. I believe you can turn this culture around. Huge respect for what you're doing.
  • Your post only confirms my

    Your post only confirms my belief that life can be best explained through baseball. Parents should use this example of letting the kids play the game and learn how to do it themselves, and then do the same with situations in their children's everyday life. The future depends on our children growing up to become participants and leaders instead of followers.
  • I simply agree with you 100%.

    I simply agree with you 100%...I coach 8th grade and our coaches insist on calling pitches which I try to tell them everyday let them learn the game. Also the high kids wear arm bands like football players so when the coach gives a sign all the infielders are looking down to see what pitch is coming as well. Blows my mind to see this happening but you are right it's the lack of intelligence by the coach. I will keep this in mind for our young kids.
  • Thanks for this great post

    Thanks for this great post coach! As the dad of at least 1 son who loves baseball and loves to catch, I am refreshed to hear such great advice going out to those who coach my son. We are now in our first year with the Warrior organization and the positive impact it has had for myself and my son is amazing. Thank you. It is my hope and prayer that more teams learn and apply these principles.