NEW YORK -- Jeff Francoeur was just a 19-year-old prospect in 2003, playing Class-A ball in the Atlanta Braves' system. But he can still remember vividly his reaction to seeing Javy Lopez, the Braves' All-Star catcher, sitting on the bench when Greg Maddux pitched for the big club.
"Javy had 43 home runs that year, and you know he's not going to be playing every fifth day," Francoeur said. "That's tough. Last year, you had Jorge Posada, another All-Star, on the bench in Game 2 of the World Series. I don't know, man."
This is the sensitive nature of the personal catcher, a baseball-unique situation in which a regular catcher gets passed over because of poor communication or just a bad personality mix with a starting pitcher.
It can be a bit of a mine field, as Joe Girardi knows all too well. Girardi stepped aside for Jim Leyritz, who was Andy Pettitte's catcher in 1996; Girardi then himself became Pettitte's catcher once Posada took over as the regular catcher after the 1998 season.
And Girardi was the one to make the decision as manager to sit Posada in favor of Jose Molina during A.J. Burnett's postseason starts last fall.
"I think it's important players recognize that people are trying to do what they think is best for the club," Girardi said. "Players aren't always going to agree with your decision, and you want players who want to play every day. But you're doing what you think is right.
"The job is to get the most out of your pitcher every day."
That can certainly be difficult in the ego-laden baseball world, whether it's a manager who doesn't want to use personal catchers and risk upsetting one of his star pitchers or a pitcher who simply refuses to work with a catcher.
"Your ego takes a shot, for sure," said John Flaherty, who was Randy Johnson's personal catcher with the Yankees in 2005 and was passed over by Rays starter Wilson Alvarez for backup Mike DiFelice in 1999.
"When you're a receiver and you take pride in catching a staff, you want to make it work with everybody."
Like Johnson, Steve Carlton fell into the great/cantankerous category. Tim McCarver was Carlton's catcher for five straight years in the late 1970s in Philadelphia, when the Phillies' front-line catcher was All-Star Bob Boone. That was one of the first examples of a star pitcher using the backup as his own guy.
Maddux employed the "ABL" theory when he was racking up Cy Young Awards with the Braves in the 1990s -- Anyone But Lopez. First, it was Charlie O'Brien, then Eddie Perez, then Paul Bako, then Henry Blanco, who also was Maddux's personal catcher with the Cubs in 2005.
"When a guy like Greg Maddux can throw to the same guy every day, it makes those guys feel comfortable every time they go out there," said Blanco, who joined the Mets this season. "We had good communication and that was important. I'm sure there were times Javy didn't want to take a day off. That was the hardest part for the team, and for him."
For pitchers, the communication is the key. "You just don't want to be out there shaking your head 20 times," said John Smoltz, who was Maddux's teammate for a decade in Atlanta. "Greg's the one who made it famous, but he's a Hall of Famer. He had a certain style and everyone got used to it."
Mike Pelfrey learned last season that he needed some better credentials before requesting a personal catcher. During his struggles with command in 2009, Pelfrey asked Jerry Manuel if he could work more regularly with Brian Schneider.
"I think I had Omir Santos catch me five straight times after that," Pelfrey said. "I guess it wasn't the right time."
Part of it is who decides. Girardi made the call for Burnett to pitch to Molina over the pitcher's last six regular-season starts and in the postseason; there was no request from Burnett.
Manuel, who played with the 1976 Tigers when Bruce Kimm was Mark Fidrych's personal catcher, said he's hesitant to pull a starting catcher who's hitting well, as Santos was last season.
"You have to take into consideration how it's going to affect the offense," said Manuel, whose clubs the past two seasons could not afford to lose a decent bat. "If I think it's a good situation, I'll give it a try."
There are hundreds of pitchers who don't require such special attention. Smoltz said he "must have pitched to a dozen guys before I even got to the big leagues. It never really mattered that much to me."
Johan Santana doesn't care. CC Sabathia doesn't. Pettitte, now a dozen years further into his career, has a fine working relationship with Posada.
"As long as everyone can put their egos aside, even for a little while, there's not going to be a problem," said Rod Barajas, who broke into the majors with the Diamondbacks in 2002 as Miguel Batista's personal catcher.
Flaherty didn't become Johnson's main guy until Joe Torre saw that it wasn't working between Johnson and Posada in the second half of 2005. Ironically, it was Girardi, then Torre's bench coach, who told Flaherty what the arrangement would be.
"I went right to Jorge and said, 'Hey, we have a good relationship, I want to make sure there's no tension here.' The front-line guy has to know you're not after his job," Flaherty said. "And it worked for half a season."
Of course, Johnson, with Flaherty starting, imploded in Game 3 of the Division Series against the Angels.
"It definitely did not work in a big game," Flaherty said. "I was surprised Joe Torre went with it in the postseason, to be honest. And it's disappointing it didn't work out."
As long as pitchers need to be kept comfortable, there will be personal catchers. Blanco said that the trend seems to be waning somewhat, but he was Pelfrey's regular catcher the first four starts of the season, when Pelfrey was on fire.
Managers notice the difference in numbers between two catchers, and that's when the tinkering begins.
"From a catcher's standpoint, it's easier to catch one guy and know you're catching one guy every time," Girardi said. "As a manager, you have to manage people and feelings, but you also have to manage your club. You've got to do what you feel is best."