Old school meets new school in Q&A
Catcher Schneider gets the scoop from assistant GM Boone
After a long day of working out at the Carl Barger complex in Viera, Fla., Nationals catcher Brian Schneider jumped at the chance to talk to assistant general manager Bob Boone and MLB.com's Bill Ladson about the art of catching at Longhorn Steakhouse, just minutes from Space Coast Stadium.
Boone is considered one of the masters behind the plate. The 59-year-old won seven Gold Gloves and made four All-Star appearances. Upon his retirement in 1990, Boone held the Major League record for games caught in a career with 2,225. The record has since been broken by Carlton Fisk.
Schneider is a very good catcher in his own right. In three of the past four years, the 30-year-old has been among the league leaders in gunning down would-be basestealers. In 2007, Schneider is being asked by manager Manny Acta to be in charge of a young pitching staff and be one of the leaders in the clubhouse.
When Boone and Schneider met, it was like a teacher talking to his student, and it appears that Schneider has learned a lot from Boone.
MLB.com: How much has the art of catching changed over the years?
Bob Boone: The biggest thing for me might be the umpires. There was a time when a catcher couldn't get out of the box. You couldn't get offsides at all. If you did, umpires would be saying, "Look dude, you are outside, you aren't catching." It was a little easier to get pitches because the umpires had their strike zone.
I think the addition of QuesTech has really forced the umpires into looking into the ball, and they don't care how the catcher catches it.
Brian Schneider: Bob could probably tell you that back in the day, catchers used to catch a lot more. Is that correct?
Boone: Well, a handful of guys did. People always say, "What happened to all the catchers? You had Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk and you." I said, "OK." Most teams have two guys who were kind of in a platoon. Very few guys catch 100 games. Those guys did. But when you look at it, there weren't really that many. But I don't think there is really a lot of difference, as far as the quality of catching.
Schneider: QuesTech has come into play a lot. The reason I say that is because, you ask an umpire, "Where is the ball at?" And a lot of times, he'll say, "That won't happen as a strike," or "I'm going to get graded on this." They are really worried about calling the right kind of game.
Boone: The equipment has changed a little bit. It's still the same game. You have to have a relationship with the pitcher. The good ones do.
MLB.com: What is the most important aspect of being a catcher?
Schneider: In my opinion, it's being there for the pitcher. You must have the pitcher show confidence in you, and you come calling. The pitcher wants to know that you're going to give your best and [that] you are going to block that ball. That's two less things they can worry about.
You are up the middle defensively. You are like an extension of the manager. If the manager needs something done, you have the leadership abilities to move guys around and get the job done.
Boone: Brian has hit it on the head. The reason a catcher is in the big leagues is to make the pitcher better. If he makes that pitcher better, you are worth your weight in gold. When you are building a team, you are building around a catcher who can make pitchers better. You go get a center fielder, because the center fielder can make your pitchers better. You go look at your shortstop. You want him to be good, because he makes your pitching better. You have to have offense with all of those things. The teams that have those people up the middle helps you win.
MLB.com: Over the years, we have seen managers sometimes blame the catcher for calling the wrong pitch or costing them the game. Is that fair?
Boone: Put it this way: When I teach about the art of catching, you have to develop a relationship with a pitcher, so you can get on the same page. You have to lead that guy. You can't beat it out of him. I always say, "The pitcher has the pitch in his hand." He can ultimately throw whatever he wants. There are probably five pitches that are key in the game. If you are really fighting over this, you should have a good enough relationship to say, "Time out," and go to the mound.
The way I would always do it is [I would] explain my case. "I want the slider because two days ago, in the same situation, Kirby Puckett sat on it and we got him out on that fastball in. I think he is looking for the fastball, so let's go with the slider. Now, what do you want?" Most of that time it was, "Let's do it my way."
Sometimes, you know, it's not going to be any good to keep pounding on the pitcher, so I let him throw what he wanted to throw. If the guy hit it, I would always make sure the pitcher knew that was the pitch he called for. So, it's really the responsibility of the catcher to get a good enough relationship with that pitcher to the point where the catcher calls the pitches. When you get to that point, and those pitchers follow you, they are going to throw whatever you want. Ultimately, yeah, it's the catcher's fault. But they rarely say, "Good call."
Schneider: Exactly. There are so many times where if a pitch gets hit, it might have been the right pitch to throw. But where was the pitch? It was a fastball middle to middle in. That's not what we wanted to throw. So a lot of times, when things happen, the catcher gets blamed. That's part of our job -- to take the heat. That's fine. But what happens is you have to see where I was set up or what the pitch was supposed to be.
Boone: A quick story about the blame factor: Gene Mauch and I had tremendous rapport, and we spent hours and hours together. When we lost (Game 5 of the American League Championship Series) on the Donnie Moore home run pitch to Dave Henderson. Gene was beside himself. He said, "How can you make him throw that pitch? You had to throw him a fastball in." Naturally, I argued with him. I said, "That was the pitch. It just tumbled." Donnie put it in a good spot, but he didn't have the same split that year. He had hurt his back. The pitch just kind of tumbled, and Henderson hit the home run. So we lost that game.
I'm still fuming with Mauch about the pitch. The Red Sox then play the Mets in the World Series. (In Game 2), Dwight Gooden throws Dave Henderson a high fastball in and hits it over the left center-field wall. I call Gene. I say, "Gene, Bob. Are you watching the game?" He said, "Yeah." I said, "There is your fastball Henderson can't hit." I then slammed the phone.
MLB.com: Brian, on Aug. 13, 2006, Mets outfielder Michael Tucker hit a game-winning home run, and Frank Robinson blamed you and Jon Rauch for the pitch selection. Did you think that was fair of Robinson to blame you and Rauch?
Schneider: There are times when you don't call that pitch. Was that the time? Yeah. Was that where we wanted the pitch? Absolutely not. There are a lot of things that go into it. A manager is entitled to his opinion. At that time, that's what he thought. It was the heat of the moment. Frank was hot after that. I was hot. Nobody wants to lose in that situation.
So was it fair? I don't know. Why not? He is entitled to his opinion, just like I could have come back and told my opinion. There are 150-160 pitches in a game. One time, we screwed up, it might have cost us the game.
Boone: Being on both sides of it, there's an art form for a manager to be critical of a catcher. That relationship is really touchy. Billy Martin, he buried catchers. With Gene Mauch, you better catch well. Gene respected me, and Gene treated me unreal. I was the first catcher he really trusted.
|"It's really the responsibility of the catcher to get a good enough relationship with that pitcher to the point where the catcher calls the pitches."|
A manager can't sit there and think, "I really have a dumb catcher." You have to trade him or get rid of him. But that's the horse you are riding. You have to have a relationship with the catcher, like he has to have a relationship with the pitcher. It's like an art form. It's like, "OK, you're so smart as a manager, take what you got in your brain and somehow before this game starts, you got to get what you know inside the catcher's brain." If you can't, then shame on the manager. To me, if the manager is going to be critical, he has to educate and teach him. The manager has to sell himself to the catcher in order to teach him.
MLB.com: Brian, have you ever had a teacher tutor you about catching in the Major Leagues?
Schneider: I think I was pretty lucky coming up. The guy who taught me a lot when I was coming up in Montreal was Charlie O'Brien. And then I had Jeff Torborg. He has been around a long time. He caught a lot of games and he caught no-hitters. He pulled Michael Barrett and I to the side and told us abut a lot of situations. Bob will come into town and he'll pull me aside and we'll talk. He just doesn't sit up there in that box. He watches the game. I guarantee, Bob has put himself in that situation at times, and so, that's why he can come in and talk to me. He'll tell me what he would have done. (Bench coach) Pat Corrales is going to be good, because he caught.
MLB.com: How good is it to have a former catcher like Corrales with you every day? You really didn't have it the past five years.
Schneider: I think it's going to be good. It's going to be new. We had Bob Natal for a couple of years, but he was always out in the bullpen. But we would talk about things after the game.
Pat has been around a long, long time. We talk about catching every day now. It's going to be a new thing for me. The things he talks about already, I really like.
MLB.com: Take us behind the scenes of a catcher. What things about the position are we not aware of?
Schneider: I think you are missing the homework we put into a game and the pride that goes into it -- the responsibility that's on us. An infielder and outfielder can just worry about playing this guy here and there. He doesn't have to know how to get this guy out or how he has been swinging prior to this series. You have to know the scouting reports. A pitcher can pitch for a couple of innings, but the catcher has to be back there the entire game and the next day. You have to continue to make adjustments. You have to be mentally strong.
Boone: The other thing a catcher goes through is getting banged up all the time. You always have to play with injuries and you playing the most physically demanding position. A catcher moves at full speed. For a catcher, there are a lot of physical things that have to be done in order to condition yourself like the other guys. He really has to do more. So you are preparing for the game just as much as the pitcher. You have a bigger load, but it is also what makes it the best position and the most fun, because you are in the middle of everything.
MLB.com: How tough is it to be behind the plate and also be a productive hitter at the same time?
Boone: It all depends how good a hitter you are -- I know it takes a toll. I trained so hard, so if my little .260 was going to fall off, it was never because I was tired. That has to do with the conditioning that I did. Because I did so much conditioning, mentally, I never thought of myself as tired.
Schneider: You not only have to be in great shape, you have to be tough enough to not let the (bad things) bother you. You have to go out there and play.
MLB.com: Brian, there was a three-year period where Robinson was reluctant to sit you down because he didn't trust his backups. How did that affect your hitting?
|"A pitcher can pitch for a couple of innings, but the catcher has to be back there the entire game and the next day. You have to continue to make adjustments."|
Schneider: There are pros and cons to that. It gave me confidence you were going to get out there and work your way out of your slump. Or if things were going good, you can stay in there. I think you are going to have your ups and downs. I think it's up to you to be able to stay in the weight room. You have to condition yourself to know that you are going to play every day.
MLB.com: Bob, you've seen Brian play the past two years. What do you think of his game?
Boone: I think he's a terrific player. I think his best hitting years are in front of him. I think he will get better and better calling a game.
If you have a Livan Hernandez on your team, Livan is going to throw his game. Sometimes you have a tough assignment because of all the different speeds that Livan throws. Livan is going to throw his game. I'm assuming that is correct.
Boone: You are following, but he is not listening much, but he has had success, so you follow along. I'm not thinking this because Livan is gone, but Brain is going to have more and more responsibility with the pitchers now the way we are doing things with these younger guys.
When I went to the Angels, I had to live through it. Preston Gomez was the bench coach. He would tell the pitchers, "You just throw what he calls." I could call a knuckleball and they never shook me off. I told them, "Look, if you don't think something is right, shake your head and I'll probably agree with it. If I don't, I'll come on the mound and we'll talk about [it]." But when you get to that point, you have to earn it. You can't be wrong.
I think Brian is coming into that phase where the guys are really going to trust him. They are going to throw better because they are comfortable that they have Schneider back there. I think he has grown into it. He's going to start seeing a little difference with pitchers. With that comes responsibility to study more, talk more and see more because he is not allowed to make a mistake, because the pitchers are completely relying on him. I think he is coming to that point, as far as calling a game. I think the rest of his game is great. He blocks the ball; he throws extremely well.
|"I think Brian is coming into that phase where the guys are really going to trust him. They are going to throw better because they are comfortable that they have Schneider back there."|
Schneider: I know the hitting part is good. Half the battle is knowing where you want to be. When I had that success during the second half of 2006, we have that documented. We have it on video.
I know it's going to be a younger pitching staff, but I'm looking forward to that responsibility of knowing that I can maybe call a little more of my game. My game plan will not be just my game plan. I will be sitting every day with Randy St. Claire, sitting in with Manny Acta and the pitching staff going over the game plan. It's my responsibility to stick to that game plan.
MLB.com: How important is it for the catcher to be the leader?
Boone: You are responsible for half the staff, and in the end, they have to know that you are the leader. If they have a question about what we should do, they are coming to you because you are the leader. As far as everybody else, everybody's manager wants a clubhouse filled with leaders or gamer guys.
The leadership role from a catcher comes because I have a responsibility for you guys, and I'm going to show you that I'm going to take you guys by leading through this thing we call baseball.
The catcher is the guy who has to have a relationship with pitchers and spend a lot of time with them. It's like marriage I have to learn about this guy, how he thinks. So when we get into some heat, don't say, "Can we talk?" The pitcher never says I have to have a relationship with my catcher. The catcher has to initiate all of that -- that's a leader.
Schneider: Every pitcher has his own personality. You have to know how to be a psychologist out there -- if it's getting on them or telling them what they want to hear and give them the confidence. There are a lot of different ways for them to trust you.
Boone: I find that funny when I think about it: You have to know the guys -- who can I jump on, who I can't. There weren't many people I jumped on. I've said, "Let's go, you are better than that." That's as far as I've went in 19 years.
Schneider: With John Patterson, if you go out there and say, "What are you doing?" he might take offense to that. I might have to (say gently), "What are you thinking here?" I know with Chad Cordero, I can be a little harder because he has that personality. He is really laid-back. I'm not saying I would scream at him, because I would never do that.
With Patty, if you don't say it the right way, he could take it as a negative. If you do that, if you make a trip to the mound, he'll think about what you are saying to him. I don't think you would get a lot accomplished.
MLB.com: What advice would you give to young catchers today?
Boone: Play third base. I didn't become a catcher until my third year in pro ball. I really believe that you should convert from shortstop, third base -- somebody that could play, has good hands, a strong arm, smart and (jokingly) probably doesn't run too fast. That's what you make catchers out of. I think one of the things that allowed me to catch for so long is that I never had to squat during my early years.
Schneider: Coaches, managers don't want liabilities behind the plate. You have to work on your defense. Stick with the basics, pitch calling and all that.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.