What do you get when you put Jerry Manuel, Ron Washington and Mike Scioscia on a Zoom call?
A dream team of successful big league skippers, and as much baseball knowledge as you can handle in 60 minutes.
The triumvirate represented three of the 2021 DREAM Series expert panelists, covering managerial strategy. Scioscia also sat down for the catching chat, joining moderator Darrell Miller, a former big league backstop now calling pitches for MLB's Compton Youth Academy. Also hopping on the call was longtime reliever Darren Oliver and Steve Soliz, who has years of experience as a Minor League catcher, bullpen backstop and coach at various affiliate levels.
The DREAM Series is a showcase event focused on the dynamics of pitching and catching for a diverse group of high school elite athletes -- predominantly Black athletes -- from across the country during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. The event, established in 2017, is operated by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball.
This year, MLB is proud to expand the impact of the DREAM Series in a virtual setting to hundreds of amateur athletes, coaches and fans. Participants receive daily presentations from current and former Major Leaguers, past participants and other industry professionals. The focus of this year’s presentations and panel discussions is to inspire athletes and provide keen insight from current and former star Major Leaguers and experts within the game.
The aforementioned panelists in the 2021 DREAM Series included the likes of CC Sabathia, 2020 National League Rookie of the Year Devin Williams, Marcus Stroman, Touki Toussaint, Jason Heyward and LaTroy Hawkins, among others.
'Despite being online for the first time, the sessions imparted a wealth of valuable info -- with a focus on fundamentals.
"I always gave my coaching staff autonomy, to be able to go out and carry my philosophy out, which is pitching and defense and baserunning," Washington said. "If you can't run the bases, if you can't pitch to contact and if you can't catch the ball, when it's put in play you're gonna have a whole lot of trouble trying to win ballgames."
Much of baseball strategy, according to Scioscia, begins and ends behind the plate.
"Growing up in the Dodgers' organization, baserunning was always a way to make an impact," he said. "You had to try to get into scoring position, try to give the guy at the plate a better situation to hit. On the defensive end, it wasn't usually the stolen base that beat you -- but trying to defend the steal.
"But as I got to be a manager, not every [opposing] catcher was schooled that way. And as we say, we got more aggressive on the bases during my early years with the Angels, whether it was going first to third, whether it was trying to put guys in motion -- hit and run or steal bases -- we certainly noticed a little change in some of the pitch selections with some catchers. And that was always an advantage we felt that we could harvest, that we could use the fact of the threat of the running game to create better pitches for us to hit or putting a pitcher in a slide step that he's not maybe comfortable with."
That Scioscia shifted from behind the dish to the manager's chair is no surprise; more than one third of today's MLB managers caught during their playing days. The lessons shared by the catching panel seemed to apply not just to the aspiring catchers of tomorrow, but to baseball's future on-field leadership.
Speaking alongside fellow baseball "lifers," Scioscia was equally as informative during Saturday's catcher breakout session.
"As a catcher, your sole purpose is to get your pitcher to execute his pitches," Scioscia said. "Understand counts, understanding the need to stay ahead of the count.
"The first critical part of a pitcher-catcher relationship is understanding how to get your pitcher to execute his pitch. I always look at it this way: If you took two catchers and gave them both 80 games, and in the course of 80 games one catcher was giving up a run less than the other catcher. On the offensive side, that catcher is [figuratively speaking] already 80 RBIs behind the [better defensive] catcher already, so he better be one heckuva hitter if he's going to make that up in 80 games."
Scioscia -- a big league backstop for 13 seasons and a skipper for nearly 20 -- certainly epitomizes "been there, won that," having been part of World Series-winning clubs in both his roles. When he stresses the importance of the pitcher-catcher relationship, most -- like Oliver -- nod in agreement.
"If you call a fastball away, and I shake it off, and you put it down again -- like you mean it -- most of the time, the pitcher is going to throw it," Oliver said. "And if the pitcher throws it and sticks it, and strikes the guy out, that's one good way to earn confidence in your pitcher.
"If you're calling the right game and you're getting outs, I promise you that pitcher won't be shaking you off too much longer."
Though many amateur-level catchers defer pitch-calling duties to their coaches, Soliz argues that young backstops can benefit from thinking about strategy before earning their time to officially call the shots.
"For all you young catchers out there, even though you're not calling your own game in high school or college, think along the lines of your coach or manager. Think about why he is calling pitches, so you can have that dialogue with him," Soliz said. "That is how you are going to get better and progress.
"And maybe one day, because [your coach] knows you're putting the work in, he says, 'Hey, you know what? You take next inning.' And you're better prepared for it, because you took it upon yourself to think along with him and think along with the game."