Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Peculiarity Of Clapp's Catching

John Clapp

We can almost safely say that the finest display of catching we have ever seen in a single game was that exhibited by Clapp of the St. Louis nine during the June contests in Brooklyn in 1876.  His play close behind the bat on these occasions was excellent.  A peculiarity of Clapp's catching the past season was his adoption of the rule of play behind the bat - mentioned in an article on catching published in 1866 - of a rapid return of the ball to the pitcher.  This is as important for effective play as is a rapid delivery by the pitcher; we don't mean as regards pace, but in sending in balls in rapid succession, by which the batsman is obliged to be on the alert all the time, with but little opportunity afforded for leisurely judging the balls.  Some catchers hold the ball, after receiving it from the pitcher, for some time, with a view of throwing it to a base, or being ready for that play.  But the best plan is to promptly return it to the pitcher, unless a base-runner has started to run on the actual delivery of the ball.  We have seen many a base stolen while the catcher has thus held the ball, apparently in readiness for a throw.  A prompt return bothers a base-runner, especially if the return throw is swift and accurate to the pitcher.  But the main value of it is that it enables the pitcher to play his strong point of catching the batsman napping by a rapid return of straight balls when the batsman is not ready to strike.  This point was played by Bradley last season almost as frequently as by Spalding, and its success was mainly due to Clapp's quick returns.  Clapp is another of those quiet players who are seldom heard of except in the way of fine play in their position. 
-Mears Baseball Scrapbook, Volume 4, 1856-1907

This is a great article because it's rare to get specific details about a player's idiosyncrasies like we're getting here with John Clapp and George Washington Bradley.  I knew that Clapp and Bradley were two of the best players in the NL in 1876 but, besides the numbers, I couldn't have given you a lot of details about what made them great players.  This little play, where Clapp quickly returns the ball back to Bradley who, in turn, quickly delivers it back, tells us something about why they were so successful in 1876.  It's a small but illuminating detail.    

1 comment:

Cliff Blau said...

It helps explain why Bradley was less effective with a different catcher in 1877.