I was having a friendly conversation with a friend of mine, and we both realized that we were baseball fans.
While we were still enjoying the pleasant coincidence, my friend blatantly posed an important but rather unique question, “Hey, why do catchers paint their nails?”
And even though I consider myself a somewhat knowledgeable baseball fan who knows quite a lot about the game and its history, I was stunned by the question and was forced to think about it for a few minutes.
I told him his question was excellent and that I had never thought about it!
So, I came home and decided to do my own research on the subject.
In case you are curious about the same thing, here is everything I found out about baseball catchers painting their fingernails:
Why Do Catchers Paint Their Nails?
Catchers painting their fingernails is not something rare or new; it is just something a lot of people don’t notice or pay much attention to!
Those who have observed the frequency of such a scenario are often curious why it is such a tradition.
The following reasons are the most important and prevalent ones why baseball catchers paint their nails:
The first and primary reason why catchers paint their nails is so they can communicate with the pitchers.
It is not easy to understand sign language and signaling for several hours from a distance of 60 feet!
Brighter, more visible nails help pitchers understand catchers’ signals from such a great distance.
One finger means a fastball, while two fingers represent a curveball.
Three fingers mean a slider is coming, and four wiggling fingers represent a changeup.
The catcher and pitcher can pre-decide what numbers they want to choose to represent a specific pitch call.
If catchers are not fully aware of the incoming pitch, there is a high chance that they can get severely injured.
The distance between a curveball and a fastball is typically around 10 to 15 mph, sometimes even more.
Hence, if the catcher is expecting a different pitch from the one that’s actually coming, it could be a huge miscalculation and could potentially result in an injury.
So, they must communicate adequately for safety purposes, and colored nails can help do that.
Apart from the great distance, there are other contributing factors to minimal visual.
Sometimes, the game is longer than expected, and the daylight starts to go away.
Similarly, if it’s cloudy all of a sudden, there’s a lot of fog, or it starts to rain unexpectedly, visibility can go down by several folds.
In case the environment is poorly lit, or if the players have eyesight issues, colored nail paints can help signals be more visible.
Bright colors, neon, and statement nail stickers can help make things much easier for players.
For Reducing Camouflage
Fingers of the players often blend in with the pants they’re wearing.
Most MLB players have uniforms with mix and match combinations, and there is a high chance that, at a certain point, their baseball pants will camouflage their fingers, and it will be hard for the pitcher to see the signs they’re holding up.
In such scenarios, contrasting, painted nails that stand out make them much more visible and easy to spot.
When Did Baseball Catches Start Painting Their Nails?
After answering, “why do catchers paint their nails?” another important question comes to mind: when did it start?
During the early times, players would use athletic tape (usually white in color) and wrap it around their fingertips to make them more visible.
However, as brilliant as it was, it was not very practical. The tape would often reduce the functionality and get in the way when players threw balls or gripped them.
No particular dates determine when exactly it started, but a few of the earliest headlines on the subject date back to 2011.
When Russell Martin started becoming famous for this practice, fans and audiences noticed and questioned this concept.
Russel reportedly made a statement that he initially used whiteout to make his nails more prominent.
However, washing it was always very messy after the game, so Russell eventually decided to opt for standard nail polishes.
He used an orange color because it was bright and easily visible.
Soon after this, the media started noticing and reporting that player Jorge Posada also frequently painted his nails.
Other players were also noticed and observed to use the same practice. Thus, painting nails slowly became more and more popular and common in baseball.
What Color Do Catchers Paint Their Nails?
The most common colors that catchers often use on the nails include yellow and white.
Some even prefer painting stripes to make the nails even more prominent. Neon, orange, and other bright colors are also common preferences.
The rule of thumb is the brighter, the better!
So, players can choose any color that ensures that their pitcher will understand what they are trying to signal them.
Similarly, stickers can also work, but they have to follow the same rule: they must be bright and prominent to be easily visible from a significant distance.
Dark, dull, or subtle colors can completely defy the purpose of wearing nail polish in the first place.
Also, players are to acknowledge the color of their pants during the game and refrain from colors that might blend into them.
They use contrasting colors that will stand out and be significantly different from the clothes they are wearing.
This way, they do their best to reduce the possibility of any camouflage whatsoever.
What Are The Alternatives To Painting Nails In Baseball?
You probably wonder what players do if they don’t want to paint their nails since not all players are usually seen with bright-colored fingertips.
Well, there are alternatives to painting your nails when you are a catcher or pitcher in baseball.
Some of the most prevalent alternatives are the following:
When painting fingernails was not a common practice in the game, pitchers used body language and physical signs to communicate.
For example, they would touch various body parts to represent something in particular.
It was an excellent hack for people who had problems identifying signals from 60 feet away.
The disadvantage of this method is that even the opponents can see what signs are being communicated.
Because of this, catchers usually have to create more complex signs to communicate with the pitcher but keep the opponent confused.
Using generally the same idea as colored nail paints, some players also use colored wristbands to send play calls.
This method has slowly evolved and gotten more famous in college baseball games.
The coach shouts a number (usually with three digits), and every player at the plate and base checks the respective wristband they get for the game.
This way, the chances of missing a particular sign are incredibly low.
Does MLB Use The Wristband System?
So far, MLB prioritizes and prefers using nail paints for players.
But it is not definitive whether MLB will ever introduce the wristband system.
Some people say that there are some chances of it happening in the future. However, others disagree entirely.
Some people argue that inappropriate signals and hand signs are a drawback of using painted fingernails in the game.
While that is true to some extent, worse things happened during MLB baseball games.
Hence, it’s safe to say inappropriate hand gestures are not one of the 99 problems baseball players have!
Besides, such immaturity and unprofessionalism are often a part of college, high school, and other lower-level baseball games.
When it comes to high-level Major and Minor League Games, players are far more professional.
So, the simple assumption that hand gestures can sometimes be unprofessional is not a reason valid enough to eradicate a system that players have become compatible with.
Introducing an entirely new and unique system can damage the game, the players, and the audiences.
That being said, what will happen in the near future is not certain, and particular circumstances might lead to such a change.
But, so far, there are no prominent signs that indicate it is happening, and players are more than happy with painting their nails bright orange and white!
Do Any Other Baseball Players Wear Nail Paint?
Other position players on the field do not have a restriction, and they are not prohibited from wearing nail paints; they can very much do so if you want.
However, they don’t have a valid reason to do it, so you will probably not find other players painting their fingernails.
All in all, I’m glad my friend asked me, “why do catchers paint their nails?”
Because if we hadn’t, I would probably never look it up and find all this amazing information!
So, the next time you notice some baseball players having lunch with painted nails, you’ll understand precisely why they did it.
In fact, you may even identify the catchers in the group and impress everyone!