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There are many trends related to baseball. Surprisingly, many seemingly small practices have strong reasoning behind them. One such practice is catchers wearing bright, noticeable nail polish or nail stickers. Let us know more detail about ‘Why Catchers Wear Nail Polish In Baseball?’.
Why Catchers Wear Nail Polish In Baseball?
The main reason behind the nail polish is for the pitcher to see the catcher’s fingers more clearly, so they can effectively coordinate on the next pitch using sign language. Doing so helps the catcher prepare to catch the ball rather than miss it and also protects them from injury because an unexpected pitch can catch them unawares without giving them time to dodge. There are many scenarios where a pitcher might not be able to see the catcher’s fingers clearly, so the nail polish helps prevent misunderstandings and even disaster. However, some alternatives to nail polish are in use nowadays, too.
We will look at
- How the nail polish helps
- Cases where unpainted nails are difficult to see
- Common colors used.
- The sign language used.
- History of nail polish for catchers
How the nail polish helps?
Teamwork is an integral part of sports, and it is necessary for catchers and pitchers – two of the most important players – to agree on what pitch should come next so catchers can prepare to catch the ball accordingly. There is a great difference in the speed of a fastball and a curveball, and if the catcher does not know what to expect, they might get hurt. They also need to communicate the location of pitches beforehand so that fielders can know where to expect the ball to come and field accordingly. The catcher can also do subtle things to fool the batter in terms of what pitch to expect. The nail polish also helps identify catchers during MLB television broadcasts.
Cases where unpainted nails are difficult to see
It is difficult for the pitcher to see and understand fast-moving hand signals accurately even if they have excellent eyesight because the distance between them is over 60 feet. Some things can make it even harder, for example
- If it is dark, for example, a late afternoon/evening match, or one in a poorly-lit place.
- If the baseball player’s hands match the color of the uniform.
- If the pitcher has difficulty seeing for any reason, although this is not often the case.
Common colors used: Why Catchers Wear Nail Polish In Baseball?
White, yellow, orange and any neon variations that would be a contrast to the players’ uniforms are popular colors. Some teams may have striped nail polish with colors that coordinate with, and still stand out on, their uniforms. The idea is to make the nails more visible.
The sign language
Catchers are primarily responsible for deciding on the pitch to be used. Before the pitch, the catcher squats and flashes hand signals using one hand in front of him.
After the baseballers paint their nails to signal to one another, it becomes important to ensure that their opponents cannot see or understand their signals. There might be plants in the audience or fellow team members who can see the signs and relay them to the batter quickly. Therefore, players signal to each other using signs their team is familiar with but the opponents are not. There are often people in the crowd watching out for these signs so they can figure out what they mean and remember them for the next match between the teams, but – as mentioned – the sign language can be changed to confuse the opponents even further. However, changing signs too often or making them too complex can also lead to cross-ups within the team.
For smaller, less competitive matches or training, the basic standard signs used are:
- One finger for a fastball.
- Two for a Curve Ball.
- Three for a slider.
- Four fingers / wiggling fingers means Change Up.
History of nail polish for catchers
It is difficult to trace back to the first time nail polish was used to make nails more visible. One early instance was when former New York Yankees catcher Russell Martin was widely noticed for wearing bright orange nail polish in 2011. His reason for doing so was that the Wite-out he used to use was difficult to remove after the match, and because some team members had difficulty seeing during their spring training. However, chalking hands and using athletic tape and Wite-out has been common for much longer.
Players can now use nail stickers that are even easier to apply before the game and remove after it. However, some still prefer to use nail polish or even athletic tape.
An alternative is for catchers to use body signs to convey their message: to move their hands across their body in such a way that the pitcher can see the sign clearly and it is not just an easy-to-miss wrist movement. However, along with the pitcher, the opponents can see the signal easily too, so it is necessary to have a complex (but not too complex for your team!) sign language to communicate with.
Another effective alternative is a wristband number system: the coach, rather than the catcher, calls out a 3-digit number, and players check their wristbands to see which corresponding play is coming up. However, it is often rejected by fans because catcher-pitcher coordination is such an integral part of the game. MLB does not use this method because its catchers call the pitch rather than the coach.
Now We’ve learnt about ‘Why Catchers Wear Nail Polish In Baseball?’, It is a challenge to communicate secret signals across the field in such a way that team members understand it and opponents do not, and using sign language from the player behind the batter to the pitcher in front is an excellent way to do it. Now you know why baseball players wear something that looks as out of place as bright nail polish!
- Q: When does the catcher signal to the pitcher?
A: The catcher can only give signals after the umpire puts the ball in play and the pitcher has their foot on the rubber. Taking signs before that is considered a balk and can give the runners a ball or a free base.
- Q: Why does the catcher give more than one sign?
A: Giving more than one sign is an example of the aforementioned secret sign language. The players agree in advance on which sign will be the one they actually mean to give.
- Q: Can other players use nail polish?
A: There are no rules regarding nail polish for other players except for the pitcher, who should not wear it because the color can confuse the batter. At the very least, they are not allowed wristbands or white gloves.