It’s a role that many players would prefer to avoid and that few ever get to experience fully: the emergency catcher.
Teams can go years — in some cases decades — without using an emergency catcher. The role tends to exist more in theory than it does in practice.
Yet most teams carry just two catchers on their 25-man rosters, which means managers must know who they would call on should both catchers become unavailable due to in-game moves and injuries.
Earlier this month, for example, Toronto Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia was hit by a pitch on the hand after pinch hitting for Henry Blanco in a game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Arencibia was able to stay in the game and catch, but if he had been forced to exit, the Blue Jays would have been in trouble.
In that specific instance, Emilio Bonifacio would have donned the so-called ‘tools of ignorance’ had Arencibia been required to leave the game. But manager John Gibbons has said that in general utility player Mark DeRosa would serve as the team’s emergency catcher.
It’s not a role DeRosa has practiced for -- Gibbons has not yet asked him to work out in catcher’s gear -- but it’s one he’s most certainly open to.
“If I could go back in time and start my career over, I would have caught,” DeRosa said. “I just enjoy the game.”
DeRosa has spent much of his career playing second base and shortstop and he enjoys being able to watch the catcher’s signs from the centre of the field.
“When I’m playing up the middle I like knowing what pitches are coming,” he said. “I would like to control the game.”
He’s not the only member of the Blue Jays who has had to prepare for the possibility of catching. Shortstop Munenori Kawasaki, who’s listed at 5’10” and 165 pounds, worked out in catcher’s equipment last year, when he was the emergency catcher for the Seattle Mariners.
Kawasaki never caught, but in some cases emergency catchers do have to make appearances. Infielder Neifi Perez caught one game for the 1998 Colorado Rockies. The next year outfielder Raul Ibanez caught four innings for the Seattle Mariners.
Earlier this year, manager Joe Girardi expressed hope that Ichiro Suzuki might become the emergency catcher for the New York Yankees. Suzuki won’t catch, even in an emergency, but keep a close watch on Milwaukee Brewers games, as their third string catcher is the left-handed throwing Logan Schafer.
DeRosa has played first base, second base, third base, shortstop, left field and right field over the course of his 16 MLB seasons. Yet even after 1,182 MLB games he has never been asked to catch. He has tried on catcher’s equipment in the past, and it doesn’t feel quite right.
“It’s uncomfortable because I’m not used to it,” DeRosa said. “But I have nothing but respect for catchers. It’s not an easy job.”
Hopefully for the Blue Jays it's not one DeRosa will have to try any time soon.