His mark on the game is seen in every contest at every level, whenever a catcher dons shin guards.
Roger Bresnahan, however, did more than revolutionize how catchers dressed. He changed the way the position was played.
Born June 11, 1879 in Toledo, Ohio, Bresnahan – known as “The Duke of Tralee” due to his Irish roots – began his big league career as a pitcher in 1897 with the National League’s Washington Senators. By 1901, Bresnahan found himself with the Baltimore Orioles of the new American League. The Orioles catcher, future Hall of Fame manager Wilbert Robinson, was sidelined with an injury.
As a pitcher, Bresnahan was displeased with the Orioles’ backup receivers, leading manager John McGraw to ask if Bresnahan wanted to catch. From that day on, Bresnahan was a catcher.
“I never thought catching was hard,” Bresnahan said. “I liked it.”
Bresnahan hit .268 that year as a first-year receiver, then jumped to the National League along with McGraw in 1902 to play for the Giants. In 1903, Bresnahan hit .350, then led the Giants to NL pennants in 1904 and 1905. He hit .313 with three runs scored in the Giants’ 1905 World Series win over the Philadelphia Athletics.
In 1907, became the first catcher to wear shin guards – another in a long line of protective gear innovations, including a rudimentary batting helmet, that Bresnahan brought to the game.
“Boy, they sure called me lots of names when I tried on those shin guards,” Bresnahan said. “They must have been a good idea at that, though, because they tell me catchers still wear them.”
Bresnahan retired as an active player after the 1915 season having played 17 big league seasons. He compiled a .279 career batting average with 1,252 hits. He also managed four full seasons with the Cardinals (1909-12) and one with the Cubs (1915).
“Roger is a fighter,” wrote Fred Lieb in Baseball Magazine. “He was a fighter when he was a pupil of (John) McGraw’s, and he instilled this fighting spirit into his team.”
He passed away on Dec. 4, 1944, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1945.