The great thing about baseball is that every time you tune into a game, you have an opportunity to see something you have never seen before. Baseball hasn't seen a left-handed catcher in my lifetime -- the last time a southpaw was behind the plate was in May 1989, when the Pirates put Benny Distefano behind the plate for the ninth inning against the Braves.
Logan Schafer, a reserve outfielder on the Milwaukee Brewers roster, will serve as the Brewers' emergency catcher this season. Schafer happens to be left-handed, so there is a small chance we will see a left-handed catcher at some point during the 2013 season.
The notion of a left-handed catcher is such a foreign concept to baseball fans that when the Philadelphia Phillies signed a left-handed catcher, Dick Bernard, in the 1940s, Ripley's Believe It or Not actually wrote a feature on the subject. Jack Moore at Sports On Earth went searching for some of the reasons why we don't see southpaws behind the plate more often:
Explanations for what has become one of baseball's axioms are surprisingly hard to find. Bill Dickey, a Hall of Fame catcher for the Yankees from 1928 through 1946 who hit left-handed but threw right-handed, tried to solve the mystery. He was told, according to Henry McLemore in the March 22, 1941, edition of the Vancouver Sun, "a left-handed catcher would hit a right-handed batter in the head when he made a throw to second." As Dickey pointed out, the concept is absurd. "That's crazy, though. Why wouldn't right-handed catchers hit left-handed batters when they made a peg?" Easy as that, the idea crumbles.
Only about ten percent of the human population is left-handed, compared with about twenty-five percent of major league players and zero percent of catchers. In my opinion, one of the main reasons for this is that is a young left-hander throws hard enough to make the throws required of a catcher he is almost certainly made a pitcher. Left-handed pitching is a prized commodity in baseball, to the point that every left-handed free agent reliever that was available this offseason ended up finding a team.
The idea that a left-handed catcher would hit a right-handed batter in the head when they attempted to throw out a base stealer is indeed ridiculous, but a left-handed catcher would have a more difficult time throwing out runners. The throws of right-handed catchers to second base normally have an arm side run toward the second base side of the bag, toward the runner. A left-handed catcher's throw to second base would run toward the shortstop side of the bag and away from the runner, making it less likely the the base stealer will be caught.
The biggest concern with putting a southpaw behind the plate was touched upon briefly by Moore. A left-handed catcher would have to field throws from the outfield with their back hand, making it impossible for them to make a sweeping tag on a runner at the plate. A left-handed catcher would have to place himself directly in the path of the runner, greatly increasing his chance of being injured.
I'm sure there are points both for and against having a left-handed catcher that either Jack or I failed to touch on, so feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.