I'd Rather Catch

A New Hampshire Yankee, George (Birdie) Tebbetts of the Boston Red Sox has been voted by the fans the most popular catcher in the American League, and this is his thirteenth year of major league baseball. After forty-four months in the Army Air Forces he returned to the diamond rusty and, some thought, past his peak. But he has made a remarkable recovery, and today there is no keener, quicker mind behind the plate. Off season, Mr. Tebbetts is associated with the Paul Sadler Insurance Agency of Nashua, New Hampshire.

WHILE most of the big stars were getting booed by the unruly postwar crowds, Ted Williams got a thorough going-over from the Boston fans and press way back in 1942, after leading both major leagues in batting with a .406 mark the year before. He didn't bat .400 in '42, but his .356 average was good enough to lead the American League. The fans thought he should have done better. The boos soured Ted on the fans and the press. He hasn't recovered from them to this day.

I think Williams is the best player I have ever seen. He is an outstanding team player and a great man up at the plate in the clutch. He is not demanding on his teammates as some of the game's other high-priced players are. He minds his own business, is highly popular with the team, and doesn't ask for extra consideration. He can run and throw with speed and accuracy, and is the best left fielder in the game.

Ted calls everyone "Bush." But it is not a derogatory name with him, it's a term of affection. He will call Stephens, our slugging shortstop, "Bush," then turn around and call the newest and greenest rookie by the same name.

I believe Ted would break Babe Ruth's record of sixty home runs in a single season if he were playing at Yankee Stadium, Briggs Stadium, or Sportsman's Park, where the right-field barriers are short. Fenway Park's short left-field wall (315 feet from the plate) is a haven for right-handed batters, but it takes a good poke to get a homer to right.

The Yankee Stadium right-field barrier is extremely short, and Chinese homers are frequent there. Because fans sit behind the right-field fences in New York, Detroit and St. Louis, it gives the illusion that the fences are farther away. Fenway Park's high left-field wall, with no fans behind it, looks as if it were directly behind third base. The only park that really tests a batter is Chicago's Comiskey Park, where the left- and right-field fences are equidistant from the plate.

If I were called upon to pick my American League All-Star team from l936 to the present, I would choose Lefty Grove, Newhouser, Charley Ruffing, Bob Feller as pitchers, with Johnny Murphy in relief. The catchers would be Cochrane and Bill Dickey. The infield would have Greenberg, Charley Gehringer, Cronin, and George Kell, with Lou Boudreau as utility man. The outfield would be made up of Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Earl Averill, with Jimmy Foxx as utility man. My All-Star manager would be Joe McCarthy, with Art Fletcher and Del Baker the coaches.

Cochrane and Dickey were great inspirations to their respective teams. Cochrane had a dynamic personality. He worked his pitchers hard and was the greatest catcher I have seen at blocking the plate. Dickey was one of the best clutch hitters. He was always cool and at ease. Both Cochrane and Dickey were blessed with superior pitching staffs.

The average catcher's major league career is longer than the average of any other position, and because of this longer experience, he becomes more valuable to his team. The average career of a major league catcher is approximately ten years. Mike Tresh of Cleveland has been in the majors ten years, Hegan of Cleveland eight years, Buddy Rosar of Philadelphia eleven years, Bob Swift of Detroit ten years, Al Evans of Washington nine years, and I have thirteen years of service.

Dickey, Cochrane, Rick Ferrell, Luke Sewell, Rollie Hemsley, Ray Hayworth, Merv Shea, Frank Pytlak, Frank Hayes, catchers who have retired in recent years, had from twelve to twenty years of service. The catcher who takes care of himself lasts a long time in the majors. He must do stretching exercises in the off season and quite often remedial exercises to improve his speed. The continual crouching can cause an enlargement of thighs with the resultant loss of speed.

I love baseball and get a challenge out of every game I play. But catching is not a breeze. It is a big job and a self-effacing one. It is a good catcher who remembers that the pitcher is the one who must look good and not himself. It is a great catcher whose spirit and determination will lend confidence to his pitcher as he faces the different issues during the course of a game. He alone sees the entire baseball field, he alone is in front of the pitcher, and from his actions the pitcher will get the feel of those players whom he cannot see. He must always remember that the pitcher and the entire baseball team are looking at him on every pitch, and his actions can either lift a ball club up to its desired key, or let it down. He must know that a game is over only when there are three men out in the ninth inning and his team has won or lost.

That is a large order, and I lay no claims to greatness. But it is a great game.

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