Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Some Raw 1880's Catching Video

Here's some clips from last weekend's Providence v. Atlantic game on Long Island:

Raw Catching Footage: Atlantic v. Providence, April 2013 from Tom Hoffman on Vimeo.

After a sample of the Atlantic's pitcher's quick delivery with men on base, the first catcher is an athletic but relatively inexperienced back-up (his name escapes me already, but I'll get it). The Atlantic are primarily a 1860's, that is, underhand pitching, team so they don't get a lot of practice at the overhand game, but overall they do an excellent job at it.

Gear-wise, he's got an early 1880's vibe going, with a big domed mask and single unpadded glove. This is an 1884 game so that's right when chest protectors hit the market, and catchers were adding as much padding to their still small gloves as they could as pitchers were allowed to throw fully overhand for the first time.

In terms of gameplay, he did a great job. Good hands, strong arm, alert, etc.

My concerns go directly to the reason I want to document this process and come up with some kind of guide for the prospective 1880-style catcher, which currently doesn't exist.

Mixing a more modern crouching style with 1880's equipment is neither accurate nor safe. Or, put another way, it is not accurate because catcher's at the time would have perceived it as unsafe.

If you crouch and stick your un-mitted hands out in front of yourself to catch, you're going to end up exposing your individual fingers too directly to foul tips and ugly fractures and dislocations. The first and most important rule in 19th century catching -- behind the plate or in the field -- is to keep your hands side by side at all times, whether your fingers are pointing up or down. You can still mess up your fingers, of course, but you minimize the risk, present a bigger target for the ball, and dissipate the shock of impact between your hands.

The Grays Gil Faria is the master. He's been doing this for 15 years -- longer than this style of catching persisted in the 19th century, since the mitt was invented after three years of overhand pitching in 1888. He is wearing a heavier glove on his left hand than would have been used in 1884, but I think that's a reasonable concession to safety and cost, as long as you also use accurate two-handed technique, as Gilly does. There's not much to say except he makes it look easy.

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