The Scoop by Carla Maull

The Masked Man Behind the Plate
From the September 24, 1998 TV Times

When you think "baseball star", what comes to mind?

Power-hitting outfielder? Pitcher? First Baseman? Shortstop?

Did the catcher cross your mind? Probably not.

When I was in 6th grade, I saw my first Little League Baseball game and a very cute boy caught my eye. He was the catcher. I was hooked.

Since then, I have had an appreciation for catchers.

Rare are the superstars who come from this position. Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Darren Daulton to name a few. The last was known more for his hitting and good looks than his catching skills.

For the most part, the men who play this position often are not superstar material. Only 11 of them have made it to the Hall of Fame.

They are workhorses who go out game after game and do their job with little fanfare. It is interesting to note several have gone on to do color commentary in the broadcast booth, such as Tim McCarver, Rick Cerone and Bob Brenly.

I often wonder how many people could tolerate wearing a baseball uniform with shin guards, chest protector, helmet and mask in sweltering heat on a daily basis. Not to mention having to crouch down and jump up at a moment's notice while wearing all that equipment.

In my opinion, this is the most intense position in baseball. The catcher is the only player who has to be involved in every defensive aspect of the game.

He must keep track of the batters, call the pitches, watch any runners on base and make sure the pitcher is on top of his game. He also must know each pitcher's temperament, ability, arsenal of pitches and be able to talk him out of a bad situation.

The catcher must also be willing to "take one for the team" when a runner comes flying into home plate.

Few and far between are the catchers who are good defensively and offensively. Most sought after because of this are Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez, Sandy Alomar and Javy Lopez. While I find these guys fun to watch, they're not my favorites.

Though this season hasn't been his best, and his job at this point is in question, Chris Hoiles of the Baltimore Orioles is my favorite.

Hoiles won't get into the Hall of Fame as a catcher (few do), but after he hit two grand slams in one game in Cleveland earlier this year, at least a part of him will.

This feat has only been accomplished by a handful of players. And today, Chris Hoiles' No. 23 jersey hangs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In his nine years with the Orioles organization, Hoiles has consistently posted decent numbers, averaging close to a .300 batting average each season.

With inconsistent playing time this season, he still has managed to post some decent stats.

Hoiles is an unassuming and dedicated player who his teammates affectionately refer to as "tractor." Ray Miller once said of Hoiles that he had a calming effect on the pitching staff.

With the threat of several players leaving via free agency, Hoiles will most likely stay. If Lenny Webster takes over as starting catcher, it's rumored Hoiles will be moved to first base.

But for now, he, like his fellow catchers, continue without fanfare to don their "armor" game after game.

They will go out and do their jobs without much recognition.

They will call a brilliant game and let the pitcher get the credit.

They will throw out a base runner at second and still get criticized for not throwing fast enough.

They will be tackled by a base runner at home plate and still hold on to the ball.

They will continue to play the most intense and least glamourous position in baseball. All this for the love of the game ... and being a catcher.

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Carla Maull of the Delmarva coast site Cafe Locale writes a weekly sports column including this one about baseball catchers.

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