Lesson #125: The First Catcher’s Mask

Autobiographical note: I accidentally discovered the Cubs’ TV broadcast guys the other day and I loved them. Bob Brenly (who was the Diamondbacks  manager when they won the Series in 2001*) does their colour commentary and he’s *very* good. He talks about baseball like a manager. He doesn’t try to talk to his viewers like they have never seen a baseball game and/or they’re complete idiots; he talks to his viewers like they’re people who have had baseball in their lives all their lives. And I love that.** I love that he talks to me like I understand the fundamentals of the game and I know what he means when he talks about the fielders shifting or how a certain rookie’s scouting report is going note that he is impatient with the curveball (and no, that is not a reference to Pedro Cerrano). At no point during that game was I given any useless and/or meaningless stats, any inane chatter about nothing to fill time or told something that was so ridiculously obvious a nine-year-old girl could have pointed it out. I kind of have a baseball crush on them. Do you see what FOX Baseball has done to me? I get all girly over a commentary team that isn’t led by morons.

So it’s the bottom of the 17th in the Mets/Cards game.*** We’re on the verge of putting the fielders in to pitch. It’s not close to the longest game in history though. That game was a 33-inning minor league game that (mostly) took place on 18 April, 1981 between the Orioles’ and Red Sox’s AAA clubs…and involved none other than Cal Ripken, Jr. and Wade Boggs. You can look it up. I promise it’s true.

Anyway, I was just informed that the first catcher’s mask was used on 12 April, 1877 by a catcher at Harvard University. They didn’t say who (because it’s FOX and the FOX commentary is godawful),***** so I looked it up.

The mask was an adapted fencing mask adapted by Fred Thayer that catcher Alexander Tyng used in Harvard’s first game of the season; a game in which he committed only two errors. Two errors was apparently very low at the time.******

As I post this, we’re headed to the bottom of the 20th with the Mets up 2-1. We headed into the bottom of the 19th with the Mets up 1-0, so it may mean nothing. Go Cards.

*You know the one…the one where Luis Gonzalez hit that bloop single into short left-centre with one out in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded in game 7 to win it all over the Yankees. 

**One of the best things about my first baseball job was that I lived (more or less) with the hitting and pitching coaches. The pitching coach was a former major leaguer who had about 15 seasons and was given the very first million dollar contract (overall…it was not a million dollars a year). The manager, who would come and drink with us sometimes, had a Crash Davis type career in the majors and was very self-deprecating as regards his skills (all hitting, no fielding if I recall correctly). My roommates and I used to skip going to the bar with the players and other interns sometimes just so we could go sit out on the patio with them and have a few beers and just listen to them talk about baseball. The most I have ever learned about baseball came from those nights.

***The longest game I’ve ever worked was 15 innings as far as innings, but as far as a time, it was probably the Fog Game, wherein the game was put on hold at about midnight and finally suspended at about 1 am, and then resumed the next afternoon. Yes, this actually happened. I have pictures of it. By happenstance, one of the guys in that game is currently on the mound for the Cardinals.

****Seriously, Ken Rosenthal just told me, “I’ve located the happiest people in the ballpark…it’s the grounds crew, who are paid by the hour. They must have had some savvy asians negotiating their contracts!”

*****That information can be found here at the Encyclopedia of Baseball page.

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