There are quite a few contenders for the most difficult position on the baseball field: the catcher, the pitcher, third baseman, and even shortstop! A lot of votes tend to gravitate towards “catcher” at first thought, but don’t be so sure! Each position has its fair share of troubles and we’d first need to completely understand what each position has in store to cast our vote.
People argue that the most demanding position to play in baseball is the catcher because not only does he have to catch all the pitches thrown by the pitcher but he also calls the game because he calls the pitches along with the pitcher.
But wouldn’t you say the pitcher has a lot more stress to handle and no room for error because he’s the one actually pitching the balls, isn’t he? And what about the third baseman in the “hot corner”, who barely gets time to rest? Or the shortstop who has to cover the most ground in the infield? It’s hard to rule anyone out right away.
We’ll talk about the responsibilities and level of difficulty for each position in a bit so you can decide for yourself, but first, are you aware of the basics? Let’s go through the fundamentals of how baseball works and what positions are there on the field, before we actually decide which is the hardest to play.
How baseball works: A Quick Summary
A baseball game is played between two teams and each team must have a minimum of 9 players. More than 9 players can be helpful for substitutions so every professional team has much more than 9.
Just like in cricket, the teams take turns to bat and field. The batting team is called the offensive side, and the fielding team is called the defensive or defending side.
The team that is batting has minimum one (hitter) or maximum 4 players (the hitter and 3 runners, one on each base), out on the field, while the defending team has to take up nine positions on the field.
While the batter/hitter stand’s in the batter’s box next to the home plate and tries to hit the ball the pitcher throws at him, his goal is to hit the ball far enough to start running towards the bases, or let other runners advance along the bases before the fielding team can pick the ball and throw it towards a base.
If the fielding team either directly catches the ball hit by the batter, tags a runner with the ball, or grabs the ball and touches a base that a runner is trying to get to before he does, it’s an out. Similarly, if the pitcher gets three strikes (pitches the ball in the right zone and the batter does not swing, or swings and misses, or hits in foul territory) it’s also an out.
If a hitter or baserunner is able to reach the home plate again after crossing first, second and third base, he scores a run. The goal of the batting side is to score as many runs as possible before the defending team gets 3 outs. After 3 outs, a half-innings is over and it’s the next team’s turn to bat.
The team with the highest score after 9 innings wins, or plays a tiebreaker if there’s a tie.
Now that we know what the game is basically about, we can understand the field positions next.
Field positions and their challenges
When we talk about what position is hardest to play, we are talking about the 9 fielding positions or “defensive” positions that the fielding side must take in the ballpark.
There are 9 total positions on the field and hence a 9-player team. The positions are as follows:
He is the one who throws or “pitches” the ball to the batter. He stands on the pitcher’s mound which is located at the center of the infield diamond or baseplates. Then he faces the home plate where the batter stands and pitches the ball at him. He tries to pitch the ball in a way that it’s either a strike or out.
There are also different types amongst pitches i.e. starters, relievers and closers. This is considered not just a physically demanding position, but mentally stressful too, because a pitcher can really win the game if he pitches well enough.
Also, if he pitches badly (meaning he pitches outside the strike zone and the hitter does not even swing), it’s called a ball and 4 balls mean the hitter will get a free stroll to the first base. There is certainly pressure on him to get the pitch right.
In short, a lot of physical and mental action goes down at the pitcher’s mound, and this position is also a contender for the hardest position on the field!
He is positioned behind the batter. He squats behind the home plate and attempts to catch the ball when the pitcher throws it. He fields the region around the home plate. Once the ball is put into play, like other fielders, he tries to grab the ball and touch home plate before a runner reaches it or throws the ball to the other bases to get a runner out.
Now this is, by common public opinion, the hardest position for multiple reasons.
Firstly, he has to assume the squatting pose for 2-5 hours in a game, and that is a lot of intense physical exertion.
Secondly, he wears the heaviest protective gear among all the fielders, so that is an added thing to weigh down.
Thirdly, he has to be quick and strong, because he has got to catch all the throws by the pitcher. He has to be alert at every throw, throughout the game. He also has to watch out for any players trying to steal bases.
Lastly, but quite importantly, they say that a good catcher is the smartest player in the game. He calls the game or he is the one “calling the shots”. This is because he calls the pitches, along with the pitcher. It is part of the responsibilities of a great catcher to know the situation, know his own team, especially the pitcher, and the other team’s hitters too.
Only then can the catcher call the right shots. The way that the catcher does this (suggest to the pitcher how to pitch the ball next) is through furtive hand signals between their legs, such that the hitter or anyone else from the opposing team cannot see them.
All that said, the catcher is considered to be the most difficult position to play in baseball.
This guy fields the area near first base. Many throws are directed towards first base, so the fielder must be attentive and able to catch the ball with whatever stretches and dives it may take.
He fields the area between first and second base, so the area he has to cover looks a bit smaller. However, you have to be quick and know how to turn a double play. A double play is when the defending team tries to get two runners out in the same play.
Typically, the fielding team throws the ball to second base first, and then to first base. So here the second baseman must be very responsive and not get confused. This is also considered a difficult position to field in baseball.
He also guards the middle infield along with the second baseman. He is placed between the second and third base. A shortstop is supposed to be a good sprinter- i.e. he must be quick and ready to cover both second or third base if needed. He covers the most ground in the infield.
The third base is called the “hot corner”. This is because right-handed hitters hit the ball this way a lot. So, although he does not have to be a great runner, he must have great strength and reflexes.
He must have a really good arm because he has to throw the ball the farthest- to first base. It is not a position every player can manage because there is little room for error. Some people say the hot corner is the toughest position to play.
Left, center, and right fielders (The Outfield)
The outfield is quite big and covered by only 3 fielders.
The left field fields the area to the left of the batter, the right field to the right, and the center field must cover the middle part of the outfield which is the largest ground. So for an outfielder, speed is his biggest trait, because he has to cover a lot of ground fast.
Secondly, they must have a great arm because they constantly have to throw the ball to the bases.
Out of all three, the left and center field sees the most action while the right field sees little. So it is a well-known secret that the players with the poorest defense are kept at the right field (they are in the team more for their skill with the bat).
Those were all the 9 positions in a baseball defense (as well as their responsibilities). The catcher has always been the top contender for the hardest position to play, followed by the pitcher, third base, second base, shortstop, and first base. The outfield is generally not considered the most demanding position, especially the right field.
With the challenges of each position outlined above, would you agree that the catcher is the most difficult, or would you vote for a different position?