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WSI News - News Watch

Calling a good game

By Jimmy Greenfield,

TUCSON, Ariz. -- When the question of how important it is for a catcher to call a good game was posed to White Sox backstop Sandy Alomar, Jr., it hovered in the air for a moment while he considered the implications of his answer.

Alomar settled on his honest opinion, of course, without worrying that he may be giving away a dirty little catcher's secret.

"That could be an overrated subject," Alomar said. "It all depends how you look at. You have to have the pitcher throw strikes. You can't call a good game if the pitcher doesn't throw strikes. Period."

Alomar is right on target because he can only tell pitchers what to throw, he can't do the actual throwing. However, White Sox manager Jerry Manuel doesn't think having a veteran catcher like Alomar calling a game is an overrated subject in any way, shape or form.

"No, not at all," Manuel said. "With the way pitching is in the big leagues now, and the industry the way it is that's very critical to be able to attack a guy's weaknesses and set up different things. It's very important."

With a pitching staff likely to have four starters under the age of 25, the 2002 season could hinge on how the inexperience of 22-year-olds Jon Garland and Mark Buehrle, 23-year-old Jon Rauch, and 24-year-old Dan Wright is dealt with by Alomar, a veteran of 12 seasons and hundreds of pitchers, young and old alike.

There shouldn't be too many instances when Alomar has his pitch calls shrugged off, though it wouldn't surprise him to have that happen.

"It takes time to make them believe in you," Alomar said. "The generation these days is different. They've got their own beliefs. They think sometimes they've got the world by the hand so they want to make the choice. Until they believe and trust, you can't go to the mound and tell them what to do. So you have to work with them and explain to them.

Alomar was out most of the second half last season and hasn't seen much of Wright or Rauch. Adding Buehrle into the same mix as Garland, Wright and Rauch doesn't fly since Buehrle was able to dominate much of the American League last season when he was only 22.

Perhaps the others can learn something from seeing the way Buehrle, who turns 23 on Saturday, lets Alomar lead him along.

"Buehrle's very good," Alomar said. "Buehrle always follows the catcher. Garland does a great job and so does (Gary) Glover. But their thing is just to get ahead. When Garland struggles and doesn't throw strikes, then he's going to have a hard time because he depends on the sinking fastball."

Pitchers constantly refer to having or not having command, a vague term that loosely translates to "toying with hitters or getting blown off the mound."

"I think command is everything," Wright said.

Besides command, which can sometimes leave a pitcher as mysteriously as it arrives, the most important thing about calling a game is simply knowing a pitcher's capabilities.

A distance second, according to Sox catcher Josh Paul, is knowing the strengths and weaknesses of a hitter.

"I firmly believe any pitcher can get any hitter out if the pitch is thrown in the right spot," Paul said. "(The key) is knowing whether or not that pitcher can do it that day, or that particular time in the game."

Hours before each game the catchers and pitchers will go over the lineup of the opposing team, discuss the tendencies of certain hitters and formulate a game plan that, despite all the planning ahead, constantly evolves.

"A plan that doesn't change is a bad plan," Paul said. "You have to be able to make adjustments in the middle of a game. Let's just say Jason Giambi, for example, hits sliders well. But if you see him take a couple bad swings on sliders why not go for it again? Everything changes, it's just a matter of adjustment."

Paul sides with Alomar that calling a game can be secondary to how well a pitcher is throwing, but he won't deny he loves the little mind wars that go on during the course of a game.

"It's the whole reason you want to be a catcher," Paul said. "It's fun to be in that cat and mouse game with the hitter and the pitcher and be a part of it."

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