Here’s a question for knowledgeable baseball fans. Cricket and baseball are similar in many features but there is one difference that puzzles me. In cricket, as in baseball, a batter gets out if he hits the ball and a fielder catches it before it hits the ground. In cricket, a common way this happens is if the batter is ‘caught behind’, i.e., touches the ball with the bat or glove and the fielder directly behind him (known as the wicket keeper) catches it.
Sometimes the contact is so slight that the ball barely deviates in its trajectory, making it hard to tell if there was contact or not. If the fielders appeal for a catch, the umpire has to make a difficult judgment. In international matches we now haul out technology that uses slow motion and sound and heat detectors to second-guess the umpire’s initial decision and determine if there was contact between the bat and ball. Here’s an example of how difficult the decision can be.
But in baseball nothing like that happens. When a batter swings at the ball and seemingly misses and it goes to the catcher, the batter is never given out unless the ball is obviously hit, goes up in the air and is caught by the catcher. As far as I know, catchers never seem to appeal if there is only slight contact that only they and the batter and the umpire might be able to detect. Why is this?
I asked a knowledgeable baseball fan about this and (if I recall correctly) he said that even if there was subtle contact between bat and ball, such contact is treated as merely a ‘strike’ (i.e., a swing and a miss) so the batter is out only if he already has two strikes against him.
This puzzles me. Why is a catch by the catcher, unless it is caused by an obvious hit that results in a fly ball, not treated like any other catch? There must be a historical reason for this.
I hope I have made the problem clear and that baseball mavens will enlighten me.