Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Brent Mayne: The Interview

There is no doubt that interviewing a professional baseball player is hit or miss. Some of them want nothing to do with you and would rather have their wisdom teeth extracted on the spot instead of spending a few minutes explaining the game to you.

Thankfully, Brent Mayne is not one of those guys. Most of you know Mayne as a big league catcher for 15 seasons with the Royals, Giants, Mets, Rockies, and others. Mayne has spent his post baseball life focusing on baseball by creating a website devoted to catching www.brentmayne.com and writing a book solely about the ins and outs of catching entitled The Art of Catching.

After listening through the interview I conducted with him again last night, I became giddy. Mayne's wealth of knowledge and detailed explanation into the art of catching and the baseball world would have any baseball fan mesmerized.

So in short, enjoy the interview. In the past I have done my best to transcribe the full interview, but that task became far too exhaustive this time given the detailed conversation and responses. So instead, I have transcribed part of the interview and I will put up the FULL audio of the interview with Brent Mayne tonight.

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Jorge Says No! Interview With Brent Mayne

Jorge Says No!:
You currently have out both a book and website devoted to all things catching. What do yo want baseball fans to learn and understand about the position?

Brent Mayne: I just want people to learn the right way. In my experience, from the earliest years until now when I'm retired (over 25 years of catching), I just never found that there was anybody who knew a whole lot about the position. We're talking about a game-baseball-that's pretty well dissected from every angle. If you want information about pitching, infield play, or hitting; it's a trip to the library or a couple of clicks on the computer and you get that information or quality people.

But catching, which I think next to the pitcher is the most defensive position on the field, just seems to slip through the cracks and most of the time its not taught at all and if it is taught, it's taught incorrectly. It become a matter of picking the biggest kid and slapping some gear on him and putting a bat in his hand. It's my experience that even at the highest level, there really wasn't a whole lot of instruction. So in writing the book my main priority was just to kind of help out the baseball community with a good piece of information about the position. How to do it safely and correctly while bringing the position into a modern day game.

Jorge Says No!: Why do you think it has taken so long for the catching position to advance and evolve statistically with the rest of baseball?

Brent Mayne: I don't know. It baffles me. Like I said, I think its like a real important position because the guy is touching the ball almost every time the ball is put in play. And we're not talking about some obscure sport, like I said, this stuff has been written about extensively so that the catching position has kind of slipped through the cracks baffles me.

That being said, it's kind of a good niche. I'm most happy to fill that role as catching guy.

Brent Mayne:
It's such a multi faceted position; you have to be a psychologist because your dealing with so many different personalities (umpire, pitcher, hitter). And at the same time, your trying to process all the game information and game plan...so there is alot your processing mentally. And at the same time, dealing with the rigors of catching over 100+ games every year. When you add all those things together, its an interesting dynamic. It's a great position, but there is so much to learn and so much technique that can keep people from getting injured and ultimately maximize whatever their God given talent is.

Jorge Says No!: I understand that you also give private lessons now as well. What's the most common problem you've seen with young catchers today?

Brent Mayne:
I've started doing them almost a year ago and I'd say that the most common thing that I see is improper throwing mechanics. For some reason there's a misconception that catchers have a real short arm, similar to a second baseman or something like that, but that's not the case. It's a misconception. It's more like that of a shortstop or something; it's definitely not as long as a pitcher or outfielder, but definitely not as short as a second baseman.

I think a lot of kids kind of whip their glove over their right ear trying to be quick and short and kind of losing all their power, throwing velocity, and arm arc in the process. All of those things gone in one fowl swoop. I have to correct that quite often.

Jorge Says No!: One of my favorite players growing up was Mike Piazza. But Piazza was absolutely terrible at throwing out base runners, no matter how much time the Mets tried to work with him on throwing runners out. What’s the secret to throwing out base runners?

Brent Mayne: It's similar to hitting because it's very timing related. You need to be quick. And in order of importance as far as effectiveness of throwing guys out it would be timing first, accuracy of the throw, then coming in a distant last would be velocity.

There are all kinds of players who can throw the ball so well that it makes your jaw hit the ground, but they just can't throw anybody out. Their quickness, timing, and accuracy just isn't good and it results in guys not getting thrown out stealing.

And it goes visa versa; I've seen guys with average to below average arms who can throw people out all day long. So I think velocity is a common misconception that you need to have a cannon to play behind the plate and be an effective controller of the running game. That's not true. It's more timing and technique than anything.

Jorge Says No!: How valuable is it to have a catcher who can throw out baserunners at a high clip?

Brent Mayne:
I think it's really valuable. I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to understand that a guy blocking a ball or keeping a runner from going 1st to 3rd, or throwing a guy out at second base; maybe the next guy follows him with a base hit. That's basically an RBI for the catcher. It's not hard to make that jump. From that standpoint, I see the catcher's defense having a significant impact on the whole part of the game.

Having a good defensive catcher-a guy who can block the plate, control the running game, etc.- and we're not even talking about calling the right pitches or making sure that guys don't get hits. The catching position has a big impact on the game in general.

Jorge Says No!: One of the big stories in New York over the past month or so was that a number of Yankee pitchers felt uncomfortable with the way he called a game. What kind of preparation did you have to do?

Brent Mayne:
Well that was definitely where I made the house payments. That was the strong point of my game. I had the ability to call a game and get along with pitchers and excel at that part of the game. And for me, it boiled down to an instinct. It just got down to an instinctual call. Like I said, you have to assimilate a whole bunch of information. Every time we went to Yankee Stadium or something there would a binder there as big a dictionary from advanced scouts talking about guys.

For example, Jorge Posada: this is what he's hitting now, this is his weakness. Bernie Williams: this is what he's hitting now, this is what he's not hitting. All of this information about every hitter-a gameplan so to speak-about every hitter and what we're going to do. And come game time, by far and away the most important thing to realize is what your pitcher's abilities are and what he is comfortable throwing. It boils down to having him throw a pitch with heart and committment and you want him to throw his very best pitch in the very best situation. But you can't if you got Bernie Williams up, who is the best changeup hitter in the world, but you have Paul Byrd on the mound and his best pitch is a changeup-so I'm going to go with the changeup. I'm going to go with my pitcher's strength over anything.

And you know you have what the coaches want you to do, you have the game situation, and you've got what the umpires strike zone for that day; there is just so much stuff you have to assimilate for just any given pitch. And then also your talking about the hitter and how you've approached him the last 20-30 times. I think I had a really good ability to kind of recall what we had done and patterns and how we approached guys. Like I said, your assimilating all this information and you're supposed to spit out the correct answer every time. I think I was assimilating all that information, but when it came down to it, it was all instinct. You know, this guy was expecting this, so we'll throw him that...

Jorge Says No!: So behind every bottom of the 8th, up 3-2, it's a 2-1 count; there's a whole psychological aspect going through your head behind the plate?

Brent Mayne:
There is so much going into it that it's ridiculous. You have to understand how much teams spend on advanced scouts and how much research is done on particular players-if you can get a graph of that, then you can get a graph of anything. There is nothing to chance and every single pitch is charted and graphed and gone over after the game and analyzed and guessed.

Jorge Says No!: Who is your favorite active catcher to watch?

Brent Mayne: That's a good question. I liked watching Carlos Ruiz during the World Series last year. I like guys who are active. There's nothing that bores me more than when guys do the same thing all game long...just catch the ball and throw it back. I like guys with different stances and styles. I like the way Ruiz moved. I like the way Soto moved. I like both of their energy because there is a playfulness with their energy.

Earlier in the year I got to see Pablo Sandoval, who is actually a third baseman, from San Francisco and he was really fun to watch and I really enjoyed his game.

Jorge Says No!: Right now Twins catcher Joe Mauer is hitting .358 with 17 home runs while playing solid defense. How impressive is that considering the daily grind he takes just from catching?

Brent Mayne: He's unbelieveable. If I were to pick a catcher, and I don't think I'm going out on a limb here, I'd pick Mauer. He's a very solid defensive catcher, albeit a very boring defensive catcher (he's like watching paint dry), but he gets the job done. He blocks the ball well, he calls a good game, controls the running game pretty well, and he's a tough kid. Add on top of that the offensive numbers, and he's the guy.

Jorge Says No!: There has been a lot of talk about Matt Wieters, the Orioles young catcher who happens to be 6'5, being too big to catch. Do you believe this?

Brent Mayne:
I don't. I think a lot of the injury issues are mental with stress. I'd think 99% of injuries are stress related because you rarely see a guy snap a bone or something like that. I think most of them start in the head and then work their way down to another body part and pretty soon your on the DL. I think there's a mental component that goes into it and there is also the luck componet (not having Prince Fielder run into you) and simply the technique. I think doing things the right way and staying in an athletic position will keep you out of injuries for as long as possible.

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Stay tuned tonight for the full audio of the interview. Trust me, it's worth the listen.

In the mean time, please check out Brent's book, The Art of Catching, and his website http://www.brentmayne.com/

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