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The fact that Voltaggio did not unload Newman is hardly surprising. Very few catchers are ejected. In 1977 only five American Leaguers ( Ray Fosse of Cleveland, Darrell Porter of Kansas City, Charlie Moore of Milwaukee, Manny Sanguillen of Oakland and Munson) were thrown out for offenses ranging from loudmouthing to fighting. The National League had nine ejections—Houston's Joe Ferguson, Cincinnati's Bill Plummer and Philadelphia's Tim McCarver leading the league with two apiece. The previous season only one major league catcher, Fosse, was ejected, for the unpardonable offense of angrily bumping an ump.
Normally there is very little physical contact, even by accident, between catchers and umpires. The Crawford family—father Shag, who retired in 1975, and son Jerry, who now works in the National League—is an exception. In the Crawford style, the umpire rests a hand between a catcher's hip and rib cage. "It keeps him under control," says the younger Crawford, "and it lets me know where he is going. I ask the catcher if it bothers him, and only Jerry Grote has complained." But as all National League umpires attest, grousing is part of Grote's game.
Where and how an umpire positions himself depends on what type of protector he wears. All National Leaguers must use one that is worn inside the uniform shirt, while American Leaguers can choose between the inside pad and the balloon protector, which is worn outside the uniform. (Those who favor the pad say it is less cumbersome than the balloon, which the umpire must prop up with his hands before each pitch. Those who use the balloon feel it gives better protection.) An insider positions his head in what is called the slot, the gap on the inside corner of the plate between the catcher's head and the batter's shoulder.
"If my slot isn't there, I adjust," says American Leaguer Jim Evans. "All the catchers are right-handed, so when a lefty is at bat and the sign is given for an inside pitch, the catcher wants to avoid moving his glove across his body and catching the ball backhanded. Instead, he slides his body over to block the ball and field it squarely. By doing this he also narrows my slot, which forces me to move with him to get a full view of the pitch."
Outsiders call balls and strikes by looking straight over the catcher's head—if the receiver is squatting directly behind the plate. The catcher may move to set an outside or inside target or to field a pitch, but a balloon ump should never budge from his original position.
"When a catcher slides over I have to look over his ear or shoulder even though I'm accustomed to working over his head," says Springstead. "It throws me off, but it doesn't happen a lot."
It is important to umpires that the catcher stay low. If he obscures any portion of the plate from the ump's view he risks having the strike zone shrink, because there is an umpire's axiom that says, "If I can't see it, I'm not going to call it a strike."
Oriole Catcher Elrod Hendricks is 6'1" and long-legged. "I can steal pitches by getting down real low," he says. "By steal, I mean I get strikes called on pitches that other catchers my height may not get even though the pitches really were strikes. That's because a lot of tall catchers block the umpire's vision."
Stealing pitches is as integral a part of Hendricks'—or any other catcher's—game as stealing second base is of Lou Brock's. By positioning himself on the outside corner, for example, the home-team catcher sets up a situation in which the umpires' judgment—and courage—are pitted against the crowd's reaction.
If the pitch is outside, if the umpire sees it miss, if the hitter doesn't swing, but if the catcher doesn't budge, fans assume it was a strike. And if the catcher wants to "get cute" he can hold the ball there for the entire ball park to judge.