A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from August 31, 2015
Tools of Ignorance (baseball catcher’s equipment)

The “tools of ignorance” are a baseball catcher’s equipment, such as the catcher’s mask, chest protector and shin guards. ‘Tools of ignorance” has been cited in print since at least 1936 and was probably coined by baseball catcher Merv Shea (1900-1953).

The expression means that the catcher’s job is a dangerous one. The catcher’s protection are the tools used to help ignore the fact that catchers frequently get hit by balls and bats.


Baseball-Reference.com
The tools of ignorance is a nickname for a catcher’s protective equipment: catcher’s mask, chest protector, and shin guards. Different sources have credited Muddy Ruel and Bill Dickey with coining the phrase. According to either version, the usage was meant to be ironic, contrasting the intelligence needed by a catcher to handle the duties of the position with the foolishness needed to play a position hazardous enough to require so much protective equipment.

Wikipedia: Merv Shea
Mervyn John Shea (September 5, 1900 – January 27, 1953) was an American professional baseball player and coach. He was a catcher in Major League Baseball for all or parts of 11 seasons between 1927 and 1944 for the Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Browns, Chicago White Sox, Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies. By his final season, Shea was the oldest player in the National League. Born in San Francisco, California, Shea was 5 feet 11 inches (1.80 m) tall and weighed 175 pounds (79 kg). He threw and batted right-handed.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary
tools of ignorance
:  a baseball catcher’s equipment
Origin of TOOLS OF IGNORANCE
from the notion that a smart athlete would not play such a grueling position
First Known Use: 1939

2 May 1936. Arcadia (CA) Tribune, “Breadmen to Face Locals” pg. 1, col. 4:
Leroy Zimmerman, star local high school graduate, will perform on the mound for the Corpe squad with Max Purcell donning the tools of ignorance to handle his slants.

27 March 1937, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “The Sports X-Ray” by Bob Ray, pg. A11:
Ball players call a catcher’s paraphernalia “the tools of ignorance.” Supposition is that a guy must be ignorant ever to tackle such a tough job as catching.

3 April 1937, Riverside (CA) Daily Press, “On the Rebound” by Wilbur Fogleman, pg. 11, col. 1:
Tools of ignorance—Catcher’s paraphernalia.

Old Fulton NY Post Cards
26 August 1938, Buffalo (NY) Courier-Express, “How Much Do You Know?”, pg. 18, col. 4:
1. When ball players talk about the “tools of ignorance” what do they mean?

12 April 1942, Canton (OH) Repository, “Bill Dickey, Unusually Tall As Catcher, Good As Ever After 17 Years In Mask” by Harry Grayson (NEA Service Sports Writer), pg. 34, col. 6:
Unlike Merv Shea, the Detroit coach, and other back stops, Bill Dickey does not call catching equipment tools of ignorance.

Google News Archive
22 August 1942, Milwaukee (WI) Journal, “Catching Post Underpaid Job,”
“Therefore, they steer clear of what Merv Shea, the old catcher and Detroit coach, calls ‘the tools of ignorance.’”
(Spoken by baseball catcher Luke Sewell.—ed.)

7 March 1944, State-Times (Baton Rouge, LA), “Cincy’s Ray Mueller Caught 144 Games Which Was Outstanding for 4-F Player” by Harry Grayson, pg. 9, col. 1:
New York, March 7 (NEA)—It was Merv Shea, returning to the majors this spring with the Phillies, who tagged catching paraphernalia tools of ignorance. Shea didn’t mean that backstops were dummies. One doesn’t get very farunless he is quick on the trigger. It was merely Shea’s way of saying that squatting behind the bat was the toughest and most hazardous job in the game.

Urban Dictionary
Tools of Ignorance
n. - Another name for Catcher’s gear in baseball, including the face mask, skull cap, chest protector and shin guards.
Johnny Bench may have been the greatest ever to don the Tools of Ignorance.
by TyP July 26, 2007

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CitySports/Games • Monday, August 31, 2015 • Permalink