What is the greatest catcher/pitcher combination in baseball history? The best duo to ever form a battery?
How do we answer that question? Where do we start?
First we must define what we mean by a great battery. The battery should be as balanced as possible. We don’t want a great pitcher with a merely good catcher. We don’t want the greatest catchers paired with a “pretty decent” pitcher.
We also want a duo that played together for a good amount of time. No one or two season teammates, we want catchers who caught a pitcher a lot. For that reason I looked at the great pitchers and who their primary catcher was. The guy who squatted behind the plate for the most games.
That’s why you don’t see Johnny Bench on the list with Don Gullett. Bench is the greatest catcher ever, while Gullett was pretty good for a few seasons, but not a Top 100 Pitcher. And you won’t see Tom Seaver and Bench on this list, because Bench didn’t catch Seaver that long and they weren’t at their peak together. Those two are probably the best battery ever, in regards to where they stand all-time at their positions, but they weren’t a great battery in Cincinnati, they just happened to play together in the second half of their careers. Bench caught Seaver 94 times, but Jerry Grote caught Tom Terrific 242 times. Heck, Carlton Fisk formed a battery with Seaver 56 times, but they aren’t one of the great batteries in baseball history.
We’re looking for two really good players who played catch between the mound and home plate a lot in their prime. Who had great success together. With that criteria we were able to identify a group of 12 batteries that stand out from the rest.
12. Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada
No catcher caught more games for one pitcher than Posada’s 598 with Rivera. But that’s not why this duo is on our list. Rivera is the greatest relief pitcher in history, hands down. He was so exceptional that he makes the list of Top 100 Pitchers of all-time. For his part, Posada was an All-Star catcher who spent his entire 17-year career with the Yankees, where he was the starting catcher on six pennant winners and four World Series champions. He fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after one season, which is absurd, because he ranks 17th all-time among catchers.
11. Jack Morris and Lance Parrish
These two were together for a decade in Detroit, where they helped the Tigers to the World Series title in 1984. Neither is elite, but they’re both in the group of near-greats, and were among the best at their position in the 1980s. Morris was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2018, and Parrish rates among the 25 best catchers ever.
10. Warren Spahn and Del Crandall
Of the players on this list, Crandall is the weakest, but he was still a very good catcher, ranking 35th all-time at his position. He was a large, agile catcher with a strong arm, and he could hit some too. Spahn is one of the dozen best pitchers ever, an all-time great. No catcher caught the lefty more than Crandall.
9. Catfish Hunter and Thurman Munson
They weren’t together very long, but Munson ended up catching Hunter more than any other catcher. Munson won an MVP Award the second season the two were together, and the duo combined to start four games in the World Series from 1976-78 too.
8. Christy Mathewson and Roger Bresnahan
This early 20th century duo helped the Giants to three pennants. Mathewson was the best pitcher in baseball for a decade, one of the greatest of all-time. Bresnahan was the best athlete on the team, so much so that when manager John McGraw didn’t use him behind the plate, Roger played center field. Both Matty and Bresnahan are in the Hall of Fame, one of three batteries on this list so enshrined.
7. Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan
This combo holds the record for most games together as a starting pitcher/catcher duo, 324 total. Freehan caught 70.6 percent of Lolich’s career starts from 1963 to 1975 when they were teammates on the Tigers. The two of them, arm in arm, formed one of the most iconic photos in Detroit sports history after the final out of the 1968 World Series.
Lolich and Freehan are on the edge of the Hall of Fame, both are excellent candidates for Cooperstown, though neither will probably ever get in.
6. Roger Clemens and Jorge Posada
The Rocket and Georgie spent six years together in The Bronx, helping the Yankees to four pennants. Clemens’ record with Posada as his battery mate was 59-29, and 7-4 in the postseason.
5. Dwight Gooden and Gary Carter
A fantastic battery, Gooden was just as talented as a pitcher as Carter was behind the plate, but drugs and off-field problems stopped Dr. K from reaching elite status. Still, the two men helped the Mets to great success in the 1980s. Together they were 74-20 as a battery.
4. Tom Glavine and Javy Lopez
Lopez was the most common battery mate for both Glavine and Smoltz, but Glavine was a smidge better. By the way, the most common catcher for Greg Maddux was Eddie Perez.
For eight years, Tiant and Fisk were both in their prime as teammates on the Red Sox. From 1972 to 1976, El Tiant was 96-58, finished in Cy Young voting and MVP voting three times, and Fisk was Rookie of the Year and a four-time All-Star.
1. Lefty Grove and Mickey Cochrane
On April 14, 1925, at Shibe Park in Philadelphia, Grove and Cochrane not only formed a battery, they both made their major league debut. It was the first of 224 games together for the future Hall of Famers in nine years on the Athletics.
Lefty and Mickey led the A’s to three straight pennants from 1929 to 1931, and the championship in 1929 and 1930. Both players are in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
About the Author
Dan Holmes is an author and baseball historian. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and Major League Baseball. He once defeated George Brett in Texas Hold Em poker and faced Phil Niekro's knuckleball. He has two daughters and he writes regularly about baseball and many other topics.