Why Do Baseball Catchers Paint Their Nails?

- September 5, 2023

When watching a baseball game on television, you may want to watch the catcher’s signals to the pitcher. It’s generally a wide array of a confusing-looking combination of fingers pointing. 

One thing you may have noticed is catchers with their fingernails painted. It’s not overly common, but it’s necessary for catchers to use nail polish in certain situations.

Baseball catchers sometimes use stickers or nail polish to make their fingers easier to see for the pitcher. Different colors on each fingertip make it more clear to the pitcher, making communication between teammates easier. It’s critical for the pitcher and catcher to be on the same wavelength.

It’s a lot more difficult than one may imagine reading sign language from 60 feet, six inches.

Here’s Exactly Why Catchers Paint Their Nails:

Allows Better Communication Between Pitchers and Catchers

If pitchers and catchers aren’t on the same page, a catcher could completely miss the pitch, allowing base runners to advance or even a run scored if a runner is on third base.

In addition, the pitcher may throw a ball right into a prime hitting zone for the batter, which could be detrimental.

The Catcher Could Get Injured

Let’s face it. There can be as much as a 15 to 20 mph difference on a major league fastball and an off-speed pitch such as a curveball or change up. 

For a catcher to purely guess correctly on every pitch and catch the ball cleanly would be nearly impossible. Imagine looking for a curveball, so as a catcher, you anticipate the break and move the glove downward. At the last moment, you realize the ball will not break and, if you’re lucky, will catch or at least deflect the ball with your glove.

If the ball is misread altogether, it can hit the catcher squarely, causing injury.

The Different Colored Fingernails Add Better Communication

Because of the need for pitchers and catchers to be thinking as a cohesive unit, some catchers paint their nails and paint them different colors. 

Painting their nails allows the sequence of signals to be easily recognizable, assuming the pitcher knows what each color means.

Colored fingernails help pitchers in poorly lit conditions

Sometimes ballparks, particularly the minor league level and lower, don’t have the best lighting conditions. Even the best-lit ballparks are the MLB level have times of the day, particularly dusk, that impede a pitcher’s ability to see the signs from the catcher.

These poorly lit conditions are at the tail end of a late afternoon starting game or the early innings of a regularly scheduled night game.

In such cases, it’s nearly impossible for there not to be a time when the lights are on, yet it’s getting a bit harder to see. The batters can’t see the pitches as well to hit, and the catchers then can’t see them as well to catch either. It’s vital that a catcher uses different colored nails. 

When a pitcher can’t see the catcher’s signals for whatever reason, he needs to talk to the catcher and take care of the situation as soon as possible. While a catcher cannot paint nails during an inning, he can add stickers between innings to ensure both he and the pitcher are on the same page.

Sometimes the Catcher’s Fingers Blend in with Their Pants

If the pants are light-colored, it’s easier for a catcher’s fingers to blend in with the pants. Dark colors pants are preferred, and easier to see signals. The fact that fingers can blend in with the pants is often overlooked for catchers to wear nail polish or stickers.

Major League teams have a variety of uniforms, including a throwback version. For most players not at the Major League level, catchers can choose the color of their pants. Sometimes, a catcher will end up wearing pants that blend in with their fingers. This blend is where using fingernail polish or stickers comes into play.

Whenever a pitcher cannot read the catcher’s signals properly because their fingers blend in with their pants, it’s time for the catcher to paint their nails or wear nail stickers. The nails must be distinguishable, so bright colors of varying kinds will stand out more.

Helps Pitchers with Poor Eyesight

Although most pitchers have relatively good eyesight, some pitchers have difficulty seeing clearly, even with corrective lenses. It’s incredibly beneficial for those pitchers to have a catcher that uses bright colors, nail polish, or nail stickers.

Like former major leaguer Jake Peavy, some pitchers are legally blind without corrective lenses and need the catcher to use different colored nails to give signals.

What Colors Do Catchers Paint Their Nails?

Bright colors such as yellow and white are standard. Sometimes, catchers paint their entire nails a single color or use stripes on their fingernails to make them stand out. Other stand-out colors would be orange, neon, or different bright, fluorescent colors. 

Any color that stands out to the pitcher, so the catcher and pitcher are on the right page, will be satisfactory. Like recently retired Giants’ catcher Buster Posey, some catchers used team’s colors on his fingernails. Catchers at all levels can purchase colored stickers made by Game Signs on various places online, including Amazon.

Other Ways for Catchers to Make Fingernails Stand Out

Sometimes, catchers may have forgotten their stickers or don’t like nail polish on their fingernails. There is another simple way that catchers can make their fingernails stand out.

Some use athletic tape. It’s a fabulous alternative to nail polish and stickers. After all, a teammate or athletic trainer will always have athletic tape around that can be used.

Catchers simply wrap each finger with the tape. However, catchers still have to throw the ball back to the mound or the bases, so too much tape can interfere with the grip on the baseball and potentially cause errant throws.

How Did the Tradition of Using Nail Polish Begin?

There is no concrete proof as to where and who started this practice. However, Russell Martin made headlines in 2011 when he used bright orange nail polish.

When speaking of his decision to paint his nails, Martin indicated he used Wite-Out, but that was difficult to remove. Therefore he switched to bright-colored nail polish.

Catcher’s Signals

Catchers will use many different types of signals. The index finger down generally means a fastball. The position of the finger will usually indicate location, either inside or outside. The position of the glove will show a high or low target.

Two fingers down is typically a curveball or slider, with three being a change-up or other off-speed pitch. Since pitchers throw a wide array of pitches, including sinker, cutter, two different types of fastballs, and so on, there can be various signals.

Also, when a runner is on second base, the catcher will generally change the signs so the baserunner cannot easily steal the signs. Based on an indicator, the catcher can use an array of signals where the first finger down is the pitch, or perhaps it’s the second or third finger down.

Why do Catcher’s Signal Pitchers?

The purpose for catcher’s signaling pitchers is so they know what pitch is coming. They also suggest what they feel is the best pitch in that situation, which depends on the player at-bat, the game’s score, the runners on base, how the batter fairs against the pitcher, and how well the pitcher is throwing during the game.

In the end, the pitcher can shake off the signs and throw the pitch he wants. If the pitcher and catcher are on the same page from the start, the pitcher won’t shake off the catcher.

The best pitcher-catcher combinations are those that are on the same page. Communication is the key, and sometimes that communication is as simple as painting fingernails.

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