From baseball parents to up-and-coming players, many are caught by surprise after witnessing a catcher talk to a batter. Usually, the one discovering this chatter is on the receiving end of the distractive talk.
If you’ve found yourself muttering, “can a catcher talk to the batter?”, just know that there is a treasure trove of stories you’ve probably never heard, but these short stories must be prefaced by first answering the question, can a catcher talk to the batter?
As a general rule, a catcher can talk to the batter. There are no rules against catchers talking to batters, but unsportsmanlike conduct can be called against a catcher who uses abusive or hostile language.
In this post, we share some of the most insightful stories of catchers talking to batters. You will discover how catchers distract batters without using foul language or getting abusive. More importantly, you will have exciting stories to tell once you’re done reading.
1. Gary Carter Tells Tony Gwynn The Next Pitch
Gary Carter had a reputation for talking to batters without using hostile language. His words were measured and efficient in throwing the batter off his game. One instance that has been immortalized features Carter talking to Gwynn, leading to two strikes.
As Tony Gwynn approached the plate, Gary talked to Tony, opening with, “You know what, Tony? We’ve had no luck trying to trick you, so I’m just gonna tell you what’s coming.”
Tony tried to ignore Gary, but Gary continued, “Here comes a fastball,” and even followed it with “inner half.” Tony took the pitch because he didn’t believe Gary, and that was strike one.
Immediately after the first pitch, Tony Gwynn protested to the umpire, but he was told that there was nothing in the rulebook that prohibited civil talk from the catcher.
By the next pitch, Gary was back to his chatter with “Tony, breaking ball. We’re gonna throw you a backdoor slider right here.” This time, he even went ahead and gave Tony a directive, “you’re going to have to stay on it to hit it.”
Tony, of course, remained skeptical because he didn’t believe Gary would tell him the truth again. Needless to say, this led to strike two because Gary was truthful again.
Once again, Tony Gwynn protested the incident to the umpire because he didn’t want to know what pitch was coming next. However, he was told again that there was nothing in the rulebook about the catcher telling the batter what the next pitch would be.
This pattern continued until Tony Gwynn decided to ignore Gary and just react to the pitch. Tony Gwynn grounded out to the shortstop, but as he was walking back to the dugout he could hear both Gary and the home-plate umpire laughing at the incident. The only person who did not find it very funny was Tony Gwynn.
This is quite a reliable account, given that it came from Tony Gwynn himself and was published on ESPN.
More importantly, it is a helpful story as it shows two things:
- There is no pre-existing rule that prohibits catchers from talking to batters.
- This story reveals that you don’t have to trash-talk the batter to throw him off his game.
Catchers can use direct predictions, random calls, and even talk about things completely unrelated to baseball to throw the batter off.
If you are the batter and can’t help but get drawn in by what the catcher is saying, you should use earplugs or have a mantra you can keep repeating to yourself repeatedly.
In Gwynn’s own account, he recalls that he wanted to react to what he saw, so the predictions threw him off. What seemed to bother Tony Gwynn most of all was that he believed it was unfair for the catcher to tell the batter what pitch was coming next.
2. “Don’t Look At Me”
Chris Barlow, a forum user who talks at length about different baseball-related issues, once shared a story of his friend who “made it to the ‘The Show'” and had started in the major leagues.
In this story, the catcher didn’t initiate the dialogue to distract the batter. The batter, Barlow’s friend, glanced at the catcher just before the pitch because his friend wanted to see where the catcher was positioning himself. This, according to Chris, was due to his friend’s nervousness.
The catcher said, “don’t look at me”, which was a request that was ignored. Before the second pitch, the batter snuck another peek at the catcher to see where he was positioning himself.
The catcher noticed the batter stole another peek so, once again, the catcher said “don’t look at me!”
The batter also ignored this request and proceeded to look at the catcher before the third pitch of the at-bat.
The pitcher and the catcher must have had enough of the batter peaking at the catcher because the next pitch was aimed directly at the batter’s head. The batter escaped getting hit by the pitch by dropping to the ground.
The catcher simply smiled and said, “I told you not to look at me.”
The reliability of this story is not as solid as established Major League players giving their own accounts, but there’s also nothing in this story that is unbelievable.
When a batter looks at a catcher to see where they are positioned, they are violating an unwritten rule of baseball. This batter violated that unwritten rule three times in a row and it’s very believable that the catcher and the pitcher would retaliate by throwing a brushback pitch or a beanball.
3. Yogi Berra Jokes About His Pitcher’s Eyesight
In one instance, it is said that his fastball-throwing pitcher Ryne Duren was on his knees, repairing a hole on the mound. Ryne Duren was already an intimidating pitcher because he wore thick glasses and was known for having poor eyesight.
And if his 90 mph fastballs weren’t enough to inspire fear, the following happened: a rookie batter who had just stepped into the batter’s box asked Yogi Berra what Duren was doing. Berra told the batter that the pitcher was “trying to find the rubber.”
Yogi Berra was obviously joking about what Duren was doing on the mound, but nevertheless, a statement like that has the potential to paralyze a batter because of the implication that the pitcher can’t even see what’s in front of him.
This is an effective story in at least two respects.
First, it shows that talking is not against baseball rules.
And the second is that it also opens the door for the batter to talk to the catcher. In this story, it is the batter who initiated the dialogue. The catcher was just crafty and used the opportunity to maximize on the already terrifying notoriety of Ryne Duren’s ability to see clearly.
Most catchers won’t be able to use a line like this in a regular game because most pitchers aren’t known for having difficulty seeing. However, if there’s one thing you can learn from this story, it is that when a batter asks you a question, you can give them a terrifying answer they won’t want to hear.
4. “Come on. Put One Up Here”
According to an excerpt from Ty Cobb’s book Busting ’em: And Other Big League Stories, “Jack” O’Connor would often talk continuously and bring up literally everything that would worry a batter.
Jack had a favorite play where he would make sure a batter could hear him say “Come on. Put one up here.”, which would be accompanied by a glove raised up to the batter’s neck. He would also wave the glove, so the batter’s peripheral vision was occupied by it.
Obviously, a catcher making a move like this would make a batter think twice about where the pitcher is going to deliver the next pitch.
Of course, that’s not where the pitch went, but this tactic was used to make a batter think there was a possibility the ball was going to come at their head. One can only imagine that a batter would often let the ball pass the strike zone after this encounter with the catcher.
This is also a reliable story about what some catchers say to batters, given that the book was written by the baseball legend Ty Cobb.
5. Roy Campanella Loved Talking to Willie Mays
While most stories have a pattern where the catcher is obviously trying to distract or annoy the batter, Roy Campanella’s story is unique. Roy Campanella did not have a reputation for talking to every batter, and he rarely tried to annoy anyone with his words.
In fact, if he hadn’t revealed it in his biography, It’s Good to Be Alive, it would have gone unnoticed that he used to talk to Willie Mays whenever Mays stepped in the batter’s box. It was never overtly malicious, though.
According to Campanella, Mays initially had no idea that the reason Campanella talked to him was to distract him. This indicates that the conversation between the players was cordial. Eventually, though, Mays caught on to what Campanella was doing and quit answering his questions.
If there’s anything to learn here, it is that you don’t have to make it evident you’re trying to distract the batter. As long as it aligns with your personality, you can appear interested and genuine in your dialogue and distract the batter in the process.
6. Predicting Pitches Annoyed Pete Rose
The pitching legend Nolan Ryan’s autobiography is filled with stories of legends from his generation. In it, he mentioned that Pete Rose had a reputation for getting annoyed by knowing where the ball would go beforehand. It is evident that Rose, like most batters, wanted to witness the action and react according to what he saw.
Rose did not want to hear beforehand what was happening, but Ryan was in no position to exploit this. Even if he created an obvious pattern where Rose knew where the ball was going beforehand, Rose could still react to it.
But Nolan’s catchers were in the perfect position to help. Sometimes his catcher would predict where the ball would go. On occasion, the catcher spoke the truth. At other times, the catcher would lie.
At a minimum, these types of stories show that a catcher is allowed to talk to a batter.
If you are a batter, you must make sure people can’t easily tell what annoys or distracts you. And, if you’re a catcher, you can at least try to tell where the ball is going and see how the batter reacts.
7. Yogi Berra Talks Trash to Jim Piersall
This final story has absolutely no lesson in it, but it is a very memorable instance of a catcher talking trash to the batter.
Jim Piersall had a very bad year in 1958, where his batting average was .237 (far below his career average of .272). In the same year, he stepped into the batter’s box with Yogi Berra as the catcher. The context of this at-bat was that the Yankees pitcher had hit the two batters before Piersall’s turn at the plate.
Piersall warned Berra that if he was “knocked down” (hit by a pitch), he would get back up and hit him across his face with a baseball bat. “I am the guy who can plead temporary insanity,” he reminded the Yankee.
Yogi Berra simply replied, “Jim, we haven’t knocked down a .230 hitter all year.”
What Do Catchers Say to Batters?
After hearing a few short stories, you might have a better understanding of what catchers say to batters, but those short stories don’t cover the entire range of what catchers and batters could talk about. So, what do catchers say to batters?
Some examples of things catchers say to batters include talking trash, asking general questions about the batter’s life, talking about other sports, talking about the weather, discussing playing conditions, or anything else that might distract the batter.
The good news for batters is that catchers don’t talk to batters that often. It’s actually fairly rare for a catcher to actively distract a batter by talking, especially while the batter is in the batter’s box.
When catchers do talk to batters it’s usually some type of friendly conversation. The conversation isn’t always meant to distract the batter, but on occasion, catchers will try to throw a player off of their game by engaging them in some type of conversation.