Prior to a recent Pirates game Jared Hughes, came up to me to discuss my Kris Watts feature and made a statement that confirmed what had become a popular school of thought.
“I’ll tell you what,” Hughes said, “so many catchers have made the transition into becoming a manager. Right away I think of Mike Matheny, Mike Scioscia, Brad Ausmus and it makes so much sense. They already have a lot of guys to manage, more than anyone else.”
His words were supported by many people and prove that there are various factors which show that the transition has become one that has become more of a constant.
Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus may have the most straightforward explanation for why the transition from catcher to manager has become more prevalent.
“Being a catcher gives you the inside track on watching the game that other positions wouldn’t necessarily gain,” Ausmus said.
Pirates coach Brad Fischer currently works with the team’s catchers and was a catcher himself. This came before he spent 12 years managing the Oakland Athletics Single-A affiliate Medford which began in 1980. In 1981 Fischer was named Manager of the Year and the next season won the Midwest League title.
“There has to be a lot of studying that goes on as a catcher and from that standpoint alone, catcher have invested a lot of time and effort in the studying of the game,” Fischer said. “That probably lends itself to a broader base knowledge of pitching and catching, especially pitching since that’s the majority of the game.”
His experiences as a catcher on a smaller scale helped make his transition be an easier one.
“The biggest thing for me was learning the personalities and dealing with that part of the game and the quantity of those personalities,” said Fischer. “How you treat one guy is not how you’re going to treat another guy. There’s 12-13 different individuals and you have to make yourself accessible and you have to get your point across to that many different personalities.”
Chris Stewart added that the accountability aspect of being a catcher is also an important part of the catcher’s role and can also be an integral part of transitioning into a manager.
“We’re not afraid get on somebody if they’re not doing things right,” Stewart said. “We’ve got to do whatever it takes to help our teams win whether it’s pumping guys off, getting on somebody if they’re not doing what they need to be doing to help the team. It’s a lot of the same things you see from the dugout.”
Some may not remember, but Joe Torre spent years as a major league catcher. Now in his role with Major League Baseball, he is using that role, as well as his past experience as a manager to try and find middle ground between umpires and managers.
As a manager, Torre had stops with the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, which totaled 24 seasons.
“A catcher has more communication with a manager since pitching is such a huge part of the game,” Torre said. “There is so much more a catcher has to do and that doesn’t even count the offensive part. I know I just felt very strongly how it was important for a catcher and manager to be on the same page because of the importance of pitching.”
Torre also cited the influence of Red Schoendienst and the six-year period they had together as to how he was able to help make the transition. This occurred while Torre was with the Cardinals. Schoendienst, 92, is still involved with the Cardinals organization as a special assistant coach. He has worn a major league uniform for 70 seasons.
“I always felt that [Red] Schoendienst made the biggest impression on me based on the fact that the game belonged to the players and a manager is there to sort of carve out a path and to have the players understand why it’s necessary to stay the course,” said Torre.
Matheny was known by many as one of the smartest catchers to ever play the game and finished his major league career in 2006. After spending a season as a Special Assistant in Player Development he was named Cardinals manager in November of 2011 and at age 41 at the time was the youngest manager in the MLB.
He also regularly talks to and learns from Schoendienst and cited his ability to communicate with him as a way to help him get through some difficult times.
Ultimately, however, Matheny deflected the credit to players and staff.
“There’s a lot of things that are similar with the catching and managing and a lot of things that aren’t,” Matheny said. “I’ve fortunately had a lot of people around me that are able to make up for what my shortcomings are.”
Fischer was also quick to point out something else that helped out a catcher, which is the current technology.
“The game planning part is a lot different than it used to be,” said Fischer. “Now everything is substantiated by numbers. The way things are dealt with today are totally different. On one hand, catchers learn to follow a routine or learn to follow a game plan, but on the other hand they haven’t had to learn how to figure things out themselves. That’s typical of society today with technology, you can find anything out without having to go dig for it.”
The catcher may be overlooked on a baseball diamond by the fans, however when it comes to managing they are becoming viable options for the job.