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Why Catchers Wear Nail Polish in Baseball

When watching a game of baseball you may notice something that seems out of the ordinary – the catcher with their nails painted. Although nail polish for catchers is not a common practice in baseball, it is something that has become a necessity for catchers in certain games.

Why do catchers wear nail polish in baseball? Baseball catchers use nail polish or nail stickers to make their fingers more visible to the pitcher. A different color on the catcher’s fingertips makes it easier for the pitcher and catcher to communicate on what pitch is coming next.

A youth baseball player in catcher's gear is signaling the next pitch

Seems simple enough – pitchers need to be able to see the signs from their catcher, but can you imagine trying to read sign language from 60 feet 6 inches for a few hours?

Painted Nails Allows Pitchers and Catchers to Communicate

In any game of baseball, it’s imperative that the pitcher and catcher are on the same page. They need to always be communicating with each other so the catcher is aware of what pitch is coming next.

If the catcher does not know what pitch is coming, then there’s an increased chance the catcher can get injured.

There is usually around a 10-15 mph difference between a fastball and a curveball (it can even be 20+ mph in the Major Leagues) so it would be close to an impossible mental task to ask catchers to guess what the pitcher is throwing next – and to do that all game.

If a catcher is expecting a curveball, but the pitcher throws a fastball, the catcher will not have as much time to react to the pitch and could very easily misread the pitch. When catchers misread a pitch, it leads to passed balls or it leads to catchers getting hit by a pitch.

Different Color Fingernails Allow Pitchers and Catchers to Effectively Communicate

Because of the necessity around pitchers and catchers needing to be on the same page, some catchers have decided to change up the color of their fingernails in order to make the pitch calling sequence more visible to their pitchers.

Not all pitchers are able to perfectly see what signs their catcher is giving them and this can depend on a lot of different factors.

Different Color Fingernails Helps Pitchers in Poorly-lit Conditions

When playing at a ballpark that has poorly-lit conditions, the pitcher can have trouble seeing what the catcher is signaling. Poorly-lit conditions for baseball can depend on the time of the day, like dusk, or it can depend on the ballpark itself.

Probably the most common occurrence of a poorly-lit baseball condition is when a game is being played in the early evening and it’s scheduled to go into part of the night.

In these scenarios, it is inevitable that there will be a window of time where the baseball diamond does not have it’s lights on, even though it’s getting a little more difficult to see. This would be the perfect time for a catcher to either paint their nails a different color or use some type of a sticker for their nails.

I’ve even played at ballparks that have had terrible lighting during the day. So poorly-lit conditions can really vary from ballpark to ballpark, but once a pitcher understands that it’s difficult to see the catcher’s signs they can work with the catcher to make sure they are both on the same page.

As an example of a game where pitchers had trouble seeing the catcher’s signs, check out the one-minute video below where the catchers of the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers both were wearing colored stickers on their nails in order for their pitchers to clearly see what pitches were being called.

Different Color Fingernails are Beneficial When the Catcher’s Fingers Blend in With Their Pants

Another, often overlooked, reason for catchers wearing nail polish is that sometimes their fingers will blend in with their pants.

A lot of teams have different jerseys for their home games and their away games and some teams even have different colored pants to complement their different jerseys. In the Major Leagues, most teams often have throwback uniforms or some other variation of their uniform that they will end up wearing for games.

For players not in the Major Leagues, some players just have different colored pants and they pick and choose which pants to wear for their games. All of these different mix-n-match combinations means there’s a good chance that a catcher will wind up with a pair of baseball pants that just happens to blend in perfectly with their fingers.

Whenever a pitcher is having trouble reading the catcher’s signs because their pants are making it difficult to read, it would be beneficial to both the pitcher and the catcher for the catcher to wear some type of nail polish or some type of nail stickers so the catcher’s fingertips are a different color and stand out more.

Different Color Fingernails Help with Pitchers Who Have Difficulty Seeing

Although it’s rare in baseball to have a pitcher who has difficulty seeing, it does happen. And for these pitchers who have difficulty seeing, it is very beneficial for them to have catchers who will use a different color for their fingernails.

A famous example of a pitcher who has difficulty seeing is Jake Peavy. According to an article from the Boston Herald, Jake Peavy is legally blind without corrective lenses. Because of the difficulties he has with seeing, his catcher would use different colors on his right hand in order to help Jake Peavy see the calls.

What Color Do Catchers Paint Their Nails?

Common colors for catchers to use on their nails include white and yellow. Catchers have also been known to paint white stripes on their fingernails in order for their fingernails to stand out.

If you’re a catcher looking for different colors to put on your nails, some other colors to consider would be neon or orange. If your team colors include a bright color – use that! Really, any color that can ensure your pitcher understands your play calls will do the trick.

As another great example of a Major League catchers using different colors on their nails, check out the clip below of Buster Posey effectively using his team’s colors.

In case you’re looking for some catcher stickers to use during a baseball game, check out these colored fingernail stickers on Amazon that are made by Game Signs.

What Else Can Catchers Use to Make Their Fingernails Stick Out?

Sometimes catchers want to help out their pitchers, but they don’t want to use nail polish or stickers on their fingers – or maybe they’ve forgotten their stickers at home. So, what else can catchers do to make their fingers stick out more when calling pitches?

Athletic tape can be a great alternative to effectively calling pitches as a catcher. Even if you’ve completely forgotten your fingernail stickers at home, there is a good chance that a teammate has some athletic tape they would let you use.

To use athletic tape in place of nail polish and nail stickers, just wrap each individual finger with some athletic tape. Just make sure to not over-do it because you’ll still need to throw the ball back to the catcher!

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Steve Nelson

I'm the owner of Baseball Training World. I live in Denver, Colorado and I enjoy playing baseball in an adult baseball team in the surrounding area. Read more about Steve Nelson.