It remains one of the game’s unsolved mysteries. A batter hits a pop-up near the mound, and the person closest to it — a professional athlete wearing a glove — isn’t expected to catch the ball. Moreover, he’s not supposed to catch the ball. That job belongs to any one of several teammates, all of whom has traversed a greater distance. As often as not, they’re climbing a slope to get under the descending baseball.
Chaos can ensue as the infielders and the catcher converge. The multiple “I’ve got its,” are drowned out by crowd noise, and suddenly what should be a routine out becomes an adventure. We’ve all seen it. A bumper-car-like collision occurs, and the catch is made clumsily… or not at all.
Just last week, Red Sox right-hander Rick Porcello was charged with an error when he failed to catch a pop up in front of the mound. Not because of ineptitude, but rather because he was veritably mugged by his catcher as the ball was about to arrive comfortably in his glove.
Why aren’t pitchers expected to handle simple pop-ups? They’re perfectly capable, so it makes sense that they should be catching them. Right?
“I don’t know why, and yes, they should be,’ said Seattle’s Perry Hill, whom many consider the game’s best infield instructor. “They’re on on the field of play when the ball is in play, so they should be able to make a play. It’s practiced in spring training. That little short pop-up that nobody can get to. The third baseman is playing way back. The first baseman is way back. The pitcher is the closest guy to the ball. He’ll catch that ball.”