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Baseball Is In His Blood
Peter Gammons
July 04, 1988
At 40, Bob Boone, the son of a ballplayer and the father of another, is still the game's best catcher
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July 04, 1988

Baseball Is In His Blood

At 40, Bob Boone, the son of a ballplayer and the father of another, is still the game's best catcher

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"There are only a handful of pitches in each game that are crucial, so you'd better not overdo the rest. Getting a young pitcher through a day when he's got mediocre stuff is more fun than going 4 for 5. All that stuff is the fun part of the game. It certainly isn't fun getting beaten up."

"Boone is amazing in that one immediately feels confident putting the pressure into his hands," said Angel pitcher Dan Petry recently. "He's a genius when it comes to the subtleties of building confidence. My fastball was being hit, it was only going about 84 miles an hour, and I was reluctant to throw it. But he kept calling for fastballs. Soon my confidence returned, and the last three or four starts I'm back around 90, where I was three years ago." Says reliever Donnie Moore, "Pitching to Bob Boone is like having a love affair. You just fall in love. It's so easy to adapt to him."

"Boone had a lot to do with my development," says Angel pitcher Mike Witt. "He helps in a lot more ways than calling the game. He frames pitches [a technique in which a catcher moves his glove gently to catch the ball in the webbing while most of the mitt stays directly behind the strike zone] so well that he steals strikes that are four or five inches out of the strike zone. He works so hard to go down in the dirt for the hard curve-ball that you never worry about bouncing it back to the backstop. With a lot of catchers, you're so afraid of the wild pitch that you choke the curveball and leave it hanging."

Boone says his catching skills "just evolved. I never thought much about framing or receiving. Those things came with playing. Of course, I couldn't have done it all these years without the vast amount of stretching I do. Fisk does it, too. Flexibility is everything to a catcher. When you start to lose it, you can't catch anymore. The toughest thing for me now, at 40, is blocking balls in the dirt. When a catcher gets older, he tends to come up on those balls. The key is deadening your body to take the ball off your chest, but it gets harder and harder to do that. I had some difficulty with that earlier this year, and all I can do is work harder on stretching and Gus's flexibility exercises."

The most tangible aspect of Boone's defensive prowess is his strong arm, although he feels that stats measuring how many base runners a catcher throws out don't by themselves reflect his value. In fact, Philadelphia was happy to sell Boone, because he and catcher Keith Moreland threw out only 17% of those who tried to steal on them in '81. "The Phillies soon found out it was the pitchers' fault, not mine," says Boone. In his six-plus years with the Angels, Boone has thrown out would-be base thieves at a rate of 46%, far and away the best in baseball. "I've never had trouble throwing because I've always had good mechanics," he says. "I transfer energy from my legs. Of course, the leg strength goes back to the workouts. And in the last 10 years I haven't even had dead-arm periods because of all the weightlifting I do in the off-season."

Boone doesn't know how many more years he'll continue to play. He no longer thinks about medical school, and he isn't that interested in going into business. He may get a chance to start managing, though, before his playing days are over.

"Catcher-manager?" Boone says. "It would be tough to do, but it wouldn't be impossible. It would require a top-flight righthand man who could handle a lot of situations. I do know that after all these years, yes, I want to stay in the game. I'd like to manage. That's not to say I will manage, because the circumstances and conditions might not ever be right, in which case I'd have to think of something else to do. I don't know what that would be, though. Stanford wouldn't be too proud of some guy who at 40 just wants to stay in the game."

Boone is wrong there. Stanford will forever be proud of this guy who will one day take the tools of ignorance all the way to Cooperstown.

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