When a catcher could stop a shark

The tools of ignorance are actually pretty smart. The bigger mitt. Mask. Chest protector. Shin guards. Never play without a jewel protector, aka a cup. Add the throat guard and the goalie mask, though I prefer the old school helmet. I always felt as though this standard gear means you have things pretty well covered, at least the stuff that’s important.

But as it turns out, not all in the catcher’s arsenal stands the test of time.

You should, if you’re a baseball fan and have some time your hands, keep a copy of The Dickson Baseball Dictionary handy. The third edition includes more than 7,000 entries, and I keep it handy when watching games. Now that we are officially into the off-season, I need to do some exploring.

On a recent flip, I saw the seemingly innocent entry for “baseball catcher”. It turns out he isn’t referring to the position of backstop, battery mate or one of many words Dickson gathers from history to apply to the position.

backcatcher, hindcatcher…catch, backstop, backstopper, game-caller, grabber, hind snatcher, receiver, snatcher, stopper… wind paddist

The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, 3rd. ed., “catcher” definition, (p. 168), W.W. Norton & Co.

For the entry of “baseball catcher” he refers to a piece of equipment designed to, uh, catch the ball. For the catcher. Not in his glove. In his… catcher. Invented by J.E. Bennet, you’ll find wood, wire and imagination.

You can find the link to the Baseball Hall of Fame archive here. Note that there is no known copyright restriction for using this info and these images.

Also from the HOF archives is an article from Eric St. Peter on the invention.

“Unfortunately for Bennet, his invention didn’t seem to ‘catch’ on like he thought it would. It was never adopted in the big leagues and over time, the early catching mitts would evolve to make it easier for catchers to catch the ball and stay safe doing so.”

Eric St. Peter, http://www.baseballhall.org, retrieved November 4, 2021, (https://baseballhall.org/discover/shortstops/building-a-better-catcher)

Upon examination, it’s surprise the contraption didn’t receive acceptance, and it appears it was never used in a major professional league contest.

Would have helped Bob Uecker catch Phil Niekro’s knuckler? Maybe.

It’s no surprise why someone was looking for an answer to the errant pitch in the late 1800s. If you look at the list of career passed balls in Baseball Reference, you’ll notice all of the career passed balls leaders were born in the 1800s and almost all of the top 50 careers were spent prior to the common use the oversized pillow we know today as the predecessor to the Wilson A2430 in the 1880s and 1890s.

You have to go down to 48th all time to find a name I recognize, Lance Parrish. He spent most of his 19 seasons with Detroit, where he won three Golden Gloves, despite leading his league in passed balls four times.

Not sure if any of these still exist; there doesn’t appear to be one in the hall. So if you want to try it out, the plans seem to be pretty specific. Just don’t forget the cup.

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