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Catcher: How the Man Behind the Plate Became an American Folk Hero Hardcover – April 3, 2009

4.0 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Morris (But Didn't We Have Fun?) offers a thorough look at the evolution of the catcher from the 1870s—when the position became the ultimate example of the American ideal of the rugged individualist—to the early 1900s. Indeed, the position was not for the timid. Early catchers dealt with pitches and foul tips without the benefit of today's fancy protection, just a pair of gnarled hands and tons of grit. However, as baseball's rules changed and equipment such as chest protectors and mitts became part of the catcher's uniform, public opinion plummeted. Additional changes in the game saw the catcher valued again in the early 20th century, this time for his intelligence as he didn't need to endure pain to become a hero. Morris's superlative research and keen observation never leads to dry or academic writing. He has produced a fascinating merger of social and baseball history, taking an almost irrelevant subject and filling it with color—thanks to the generous use of old newspaper accounts—and stirring profiles of long-forgotten players who were daring, deranged or both. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


[Morris] gives us a sense of how changes on the baseball field reflected changes in America. (Christianity Today )

Nobody is better at recapturing how and why Americans played baseball. (History News Network )

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Ivan R. Dee; 1 edition (April 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566638224
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566638227
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,026,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Marc Ranger on May 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I'm a great fan of Peter Morris. I've read all his baseball books. He's a true expert on baseball origins and history and more often than not finds a way to explain things clearly.

Catcher is no exception. It's a romantic voyage through the transformations the position experienced over the years. I've learned about catchers I didn't knew, men like Nat Hicks, Alamazoo Johnson and so on. I've learn more about Jim White, Charley Bennett and all the other 19th century backstops.

The only drawback of an however very good book is that Morris spent too much ink about the relation of the catcher and old time American heroes like Daniel Boone and Ulysse Grant. True, they share some common grounds, but going over that relation over and over again finally gets one tired of it.

Morris best book, in fact one of best baseball books ever written, is "But didn't we have fun?". I cannot urge you to buy a baseball book more.

Nonetheless, I recommend this fine work to all students of the game, and to those who wants to learn more about baseball's transformation from a new professional game to the economic powerhouse of the 20's
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Format: Paperback
This is the first book I've read by Peter Morris. "Catcher" covers the evolution of the position from the "unadorned" iron men of the 1870's, to the technicians wrapped in "tools of ignorance" of the early 1900's. Morris stacks piles of research in his book to draw a link between the early days of catching and America's frontier spirit, using figures like Stephen Crane and Daniel Boone as benchmarks. With no military battlefields to serve on, or wild frontier to tame, young men used the catching position as proving grounds for the honor they coveted in their heroes. The book is abundant with tales of characters like Nat Hicks, Jim White, and the enigmatic Harry Decker. There are so many quotes from the writings of the great Henry Chadwick, he could be listed as co-author. Morris does his best to unfold this history in a storytelling style, but for some baseball literature junkies, the writing may be a bit research-heavy. Meaning the book can often read more as a collection of articles, versus a traditional story narrative structure. I was entertained and educated by the book, and I recommend it.
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Format: Hardcover
Peter Morris gives us a spendid documentary of baseball's field generals; the catchers. These are probably the most important players any teams will employee. The great ones control the flow of the game, keep the pitcher focused on the task at hand, keep an eye out on the defensive positioning of the rest of the team, and will frequently risk life and limb defending home plate from an enemy baserunner.

It's not a glamorous job by any means. However, the value of a good catcher can't be overstated. If their team frequently wins, it's usually because they were superior in their job description; and probably could hit as well. Witness the three Most Valuable Player Awards gathered by both Yogi Berra and Roy Campanella; long-time World Series rivals in the '50s. Certainly, both teams had their share of superstars, but it's unlikely either team would've made it to many World Series engagements without the engaging, dynamic forces behind the plate.

Any catcher tough enough to stick it out for longer than ten years is considered a war hero. A guy like Carlton Fisk, who hit one of the most memorable home runs in history during the '75 World Series, played over 20 years in the game's most demanding position, and he made it look easy; it was anything but easy. Just ask Ray Fosse, the former All-Star catcher for Cleveland. His career was essentially terminated during an exhibition game---the 1970 All-Star game---but to the player who slammed into him at home plate, Pete Rose, losing wasn't an option.

Throughout baseball history, the great catchers were not only terrific field generals, some were innovators; advancing the game with new and more sophisticated equipment.
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Format: Paperback
I enjoyed the first 100 pages of this book very much; it soon became clear, however, that Morris could have economized his fascinating thesis down to an excellent New Yorker length article.

Morris is incredibly repetitious. His central insight, that the Catcher came to embody the traits of traditionally defined heroism theretofore reserved for Daniel Boone pioneering is a fascinating one. With the rise of cities and professions therein which involved making a living in increasingly NON physical, abstract ways, the desire arose to find a vessel and model for heroism in postbellum America. This admiration for catchers, and for athletes more generally, became even more widely accepted when the intellectual requirements of the position became clear. There you have it. That's really the meat of the book. Then there are several hundred pages of support.

What I found most interesting about Morris's thesis is really that it helped answer a personal query I'd been considering. I've been reading quite a number of baseball books recently, mostly about players from around 1930-1960. I'd noticed that so many of these books, quite absurdly, have similar titles or subtitles: The Last Hero: A Life Of Henry Aaron, Willie Mays: The Life The Legend, Hank Greenberg: Hero of Heroes, Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero, Mickey Mantle: The Last Boy, The End of America's Childhood, etc. So many titles about heroism and the end of something.

After reading Morris's book, I began to understand why: in post WWI America, baseball became a stage upon which the heroism reserved for war and geographic expansion played out far more safely and clearly.
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