A lever is a simple tool that makes things easier. It was originally made by smart people. A pulley is a simple tool that makes things easier. It was originally made by smart people too.
It’s no surprise that smart people make things so their lives will be easier. Yet, Roger Bresnahan donned what has affectionately become known as the “tools of ignorance.” He did so for 1446 major league games.
The ignorant don’t make tools. Smart people make tools (forget for a second that levers and pulleys are more machines than tools). It’s a pretty incredible dichotomy to both be smart enough to design something to make your life easier, especially after years of people not figuring out how to do so, and being foolish enough to still play that position.
Ivan Rodriguez owns the career record for games caught at 2427. Only four other men have eclipsed 2000 games behind the plate. In fact, only 29 others even have 1500 games. Contrast that with shortstop, likely the second most taxing defensive position. Omar Vizquel leads the way with 2709. Eighteen others top 2000, and 62 others are over 1500. It’s really tough to be a catcher.
Based on rolling five-year data that Eric put together to help understand what kind of playing time disadvantage catchers had, we can see that the third most durable catcher played about 62.5% as much as the third most durable non-catcher. By the time Bresnahan caught his last game in 1915, the percentage was up to 83.3%. Since last year it was only 84.7%, it’s not unfair to say that the innovations to the tools of ignorance made during Bresnahan’s day are the most important in the game’s history.
After a 1905 beaning, Bresnahan experimented with a forerunner to a batting helmet, but it’s not in terms of hitter protection that we honor Bres. It’s for his contribution to the health of catchers. In 1907, Bresnahan started off the season wearing shin guards reminiscent of those worn in cricket. The next year he added padding to help cushion the blow caused by foul tips.
His innovations changed the game. They prolonged careers. And they may have been the greatest on-field contributions made by any hitter. They made the ignorant less ignorant. Roger Bresnahan was no fool; in fact, he was a pretty smart guy. And he’s now the sixteenth inductee into the Pioneer/Executive wing of the Hall of Miller and Eric, which means there are twelve more to go. Our next inductee will be announced in two weeks. Please check back then for #17.