"You can’t catch/defend/defense a walk” means that a pitcher shouldn’t give up a walk (a free pass to first base) and should let the batter hit the ball, where a catch (or defense) is possible. The saying has been credited to Art Fowler (1922-2007), who was manager Billy Martin’s pitching coach for several teams, including the New York Yankees.
“You can’t catch a walk” has been cited in print since at least 1973, when it was said by Detroit Tigers manager Billy Martin.
Wikipedia: Art Fowler
John Arthur Fowler (July 3, 1922 – January 30, 2007) was an American pitcher and pitching coach in Major League Baseball. The 5 ft 11 in (1.80 m), 180 lb. right-hander was signed by the New York Giants as an amateur free agent before the 1944 season. He played for the Cincinnati Redlegs (1954–1957), Los Angeles Dodgers (1959), and Los Angeles Angels (1961–1964), and went on to be associated with manager Billy Martin as a coach with five major league teams, including four stops with the New York Yankees.
Fowler had a close friendship with manager Billy Martin, and was his pitching coach with the Minnesota Twins (1969), Detroit Tigers (1971–1973), Texas Rangers (1974–1975), Yankees (1977–79, 1983, 1988), and Oakland Athletics (1980–1982). Under his tutelage, Ron Guidry won the Cy Young Award in 1978.
15 April 1973, The Blade (Toledo, OH), “Perry Makes Bengals Four Deep In Starters” by Jim Taylor, pg. E1, col. 2:
“But I got on him about challenging the hitters. Make them hit the ball somewhere, and today I had Bill (catcher Freehan) stay on him. You can’t catch a walk.”
(Detroit Tigers baseball manager Billy Martin—ed.)
Google News Archive
13 April 1983, Tuscaloosa (AL) News, “Wildcats love Winters, especially in the spring” by Stuart Mason, pg. 21, col. 3:
“We played good defense, but you can’t defend a walk.”
(Central baseball coach Norman Lacey—ed.)
The Complete Baseball Handbook:
Strategies and techniques for winning (2nd edition)
By Walter Alston with Donald C. Weiskopf
Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon
Throw strikes! You can’t catch a walk.
The main thing in pitching is to get the ball over the plate with good stuff on it, and be able to get the breaking pitches over.
Google News Archive
11 November 1989, The News-Journal (Daytona Beach, FL), The Volusian, pg. 9A, col. 5:
There’s an old baseball axom. You can’t defense a walk.
4/13/06 3:37 PM ET
Notes: Posada sits as Stinnett starts
Small, Pavano do well; Sturtze looks for comfort zone
By Kit Stier / Special to MLB.com
Come, let’s stroll: Former Yankees pitching coach Art Fowler, who for years served manager Billy Martin, used to preach the following to his staff: “You can’t catch a walk, son.”
In other words, make the hitter put the ball in play and use the defense.
Just Play Ball
By Joe Garagiola
Flagstaff, AZ: Northland Pub.
Like pitching coach Art Fowler always said, “You can’t catch a walk.”
THE San Francisco Giants Blog
Reality and Writing and Baseball
Posted in Uncategorized by Flavor on November 10, 2011
willieD said, on November 10, 2011 at 7:58 am
I love baseball cliches, which are kind of like country songs that explain life
You can’t steal first base, or how much did M. Bourn help the Braves.
You don’t walk off the island…one of my fav books is Eastern Stars about life in san pedro de macoris, D.R.
Good field, no hit…and I’d gladly settle for Clint Barmes at SS, who isn’t dal maxvill
You can’t catch a walk…as bill king used to say in imitation of billy martin’s drinking buddy art fowler