The Greatest Catchers of All-Time

hitting
Best with The Lumber
  • 1. Johnny Bench
  • 2. Mike Piazza
  • 3. Gary Carter
  • 4. Joe Mauer
  • 5. Roy Campanella
fielding-catcher
Best with The Leather
  • 1. Ivan Rodriguez
  • 2. Johnny Bench
  • 3. Carlton Fisk
  • 4. Jim Sundberg
  • 5. Yadier Molina
Most Underrated Catchers
  • 1. Bill Freehan
  • 2. Jim Sundberg
  • 3. Darrell Porter
  • 4. Wally Schang
  • 5. Thurman Munson

The Top 100 Catchers

Johnny Bench

1967—1983
HALL OF FAME

1

Bench was a dangerous hitter and a Gold Glove catcher when he was 21 years old, and arguably the best player in baseball when he was 22. He won two Most Valuable Player awards by the age of 24. He led the National League in RBI’s for the third time when he was 26 years old, the same year he won his seventh Gold Glove. His fame transcended baseball. He was a handsome Oklahoma boy with broad shoulders and long sideburns and a country western singing voice.

Gary Carter

1974—1993
HALL OF FAME

2

Of the great catchers, only Carter and Mike Piazza learned how to play the position in the minor leagues. Carter was drafted as a shortstop and Piazza was a first baseman when the Dodgers drafted him. Carter was a fantastic athlete (he was offered a scholarship to play quarterback at USC) and worked hard to become a Gold Glove catcher.

Pudge Rodriguez

1967—1983
HALL OF FAME

3

Pudge II was the best defensive catcher to ever play the game: more agile than Bench and with at least equal arm strength. He was fearless, willing to fire the baseball behind runners and unafraid to block the plate. As a hitter, Rodriguez was somewhat like Cochrane, though far more willing to swing at balls out of the strike zone.

Mike Piazza

1992—2007
HALL OF FAME

4

The worst defensive catchers in the Top 100 are: Piazza, Jorge Posada, Mike Stanley, Victor Martinez, and Mickey Tettleton. Piazza hit 90 home runs to the opposite field in his career. There are no records on how many opposite field home runs Johnny Bench hit, but safe to say it was far fewer than 90.

Carlton Fisk

1969—1993
HALL OF FAME

5

You have to be a great athlete to get noticed when you’re growing up in Vermont. In college, Fisk was offered a basketball contract by the Boston Celtics, but wisely realized his future was in baseball.

Yogi Berra

1946—1965
HALL OF FAME

6

“So I’m ugly. I never saw anyone hit with his face.” — Yogi Berra

Thurman Munson

1969—1979

7

At his peak Munson was better than Berra, Dickey, and Cochrane, but he didn’t have the chance to finish out the back end of his career.

Roy Campanella

1948—1957
HALL OF FAME

8

“The colored ballplayers have their own league. Let them stay in their own league.” — Kenesaw Mountain Landis

“Campanella will be remembered longer than any catcher in baseball history.” — Ty Cobb

Mickey Cochrane

1925—1937
HALL OF FAME

9

Only seven players have been the starting catcher for as many as three World Series winning teams. Six of them did it while with the Yankees, Dodgers, or Giants, and then there’s Cochrane, who won two titles with the Athletics and one World Series later as catcher/manager of the Tigers. He never played on a team that finished lower than third place.

Joe Mauer

2004—2018

10

Winning three batting titles before his 27th birthday will secure Mauer a place in Cooperstown, but his switch to first base prevented him from moving higher on this list. He is the only catcher in the top ten who never played for a pennant-winning team.

Bill Dickey

1928—1946
HALL OF FAME

11

Lefty Gomez, the great Yankee pitcher and purveyor of nicknames, called Dickey “The Man Nobody Knows” after a group of fans neglected to recognize the All-Star catcher during a night out in New York City with teammates. The name never stuck, but the humble Dickey didn’t mind, he liked being in the shadow of his more famous Yankee teammates.

Buster Posey

2009—

12

With three World Series titles and several years to add to his crowded award shelf, Posey has a chance to finish among the all-time greats at the position. Only Johnny Bench, Thurman Munson, and Posey have won both a Rookie of the Year and an MVP award.

Joe Torre

1960—1977

13

Joe Torre is the only major leaguer to win 2,000 games as a manager and also collect 2,000 hits in his playing career. The Baseball Gods like to try to even things out: Torre never played a postseason game, but he managed more postseason games than anyone.

Ted Simmons

1968—1988
HALL OF FAME

14

Simmons had a squat body, a lot like Roy Campanella and Yogi Berra, with tree-trunk legs, calves and a thick midsection. He had heavy eyelids and he kept that long hair that surrounded his strong face. He hit well from both sides of the plate, and in the 1970s he batted .297 and made six All-Star teams.

Bill Freehan

1961—1976

15

The Detroit Tigers gave Freehan a $100,000 bonus off the campus of the University of Michigan. That was probably the best money the team ever spent. Freehan was the premier catcher in the American League for a decade, and he’s the only receiver with that distinction not in the Hall of Fame.

Gene Tenace

1969—1983

16

Tenace could always hit, but in the 1972 World Series he shocked everyone when he homered in his first two at-bats in Game One and then hit home runs in Game Four and Five. He was ahead of his time, sort of a sabermetric darling before anyone realized how important walks were, and how unimportant batting average was. He led the league in walks twice and averaged 103 per season.

Gabby Hartnett

1922—1941
HALL OF FAME

17

He played more than 1,700 games behind the plate for the Cubs and helped them win four pennants in three-year intervals from 1929 to 1938. He was still getting MVP votes when he was 38 years old.

Jorge Posada

1995—2011

18

He was a middling defensive catcher, but Posada did other things, like draw walks and hit for power with his pee-stained hands. He was overshadowed by famous teammates, which is a recipe for Hall of Fame injustice.

Jim Sundberg

1974—1989

19

Sundberg was the first player to catch 130 games in a season ten times, something Tony Pena and Jason Kendall later also accomplished. He’s the only player to catch 90 percent of his team’s games six times. “Sunny” wasn’t in the lineup because he was healthy, he was a hell of a catcher.

Yadier Molina

2004—

20

Has little chance to crack the top ten now. He’s more likely to end up somewhere between Bill Freehan and Jorge Posada, that’s if he plays regularly until he’s 39. If he somehow puts up one more great season or two, it’s possible he leapfrogs the group that includes Joe Torre and Ted Simmons.

Jason Kendall

1996—2010

21

Through the age of 30, Kendall sported a .306 career average and an OPS over 800. He survived and came back from a grisly injury where his leg bone snapped and protruded through the skin, but Kendall’s body betrayed him in his 30s and eventually he couldn’t lift his right arm to make throws and had to retire. He was the fifth catcher to appear in 2,000 games.

Lance Parrish

1977—1995

22

Lance’s strengths were his throwing arm and power, and his weaknesses were making contact and running the bases. He was raw as a catcher when he first came up, but after tutelage from Bill Freehan and a lot of hard work, Parrish made himself into a Gold Glover.

Darrell Porter

1971—1987

23

Porter helped his team reach the World Series three times. In 1982 he was MVP of both the NL Championship Series and the World Series for the Cardinals. He and Mickey Cochrane are the only catchers to score 100 runs, drive in 100 runs, and draw 100 walks in the same season.

Roger Bresnahan

1897—1915
HALL OF FAME

24

Many catchers have switched to a corner infield position, but Bresnahan is unique in that he played center field for two seasons. He was an intense competitor, and the first backstop to appear in as many as 130 games. For those reasons, and his versatility for a great team, he was elected to the Hall of Fame.

Wally Schang

1913—1931

25

A switch-hitter, he was productive from both sides of the plate and his .392 career on-base percentage ranks second to Mickey Cochrane among catchers.

Russell Martin

2006—

26

His ability to draw walks should be a skill that stays with him into his late thirties, and he can run into enough pitches to hit 10-15 homers per year. He has an old school catcher’s body: short and thick like Thurman Munson.

Elston Howard

1955—1968

27

Howard was a great athlete who starred in every sport in high school and was a standout in the Negro Leagues playing for Buck O’Neil. He was considered the perfect black player to break the team color line because he was a “Yankee type”, meaning he was quiet, respectful, and not too showy.

Ernie Lombardi

1931—1947
HALL OF FAME

28

There are a slew of stories about Lombardi that seem too good to be true. He held seven baseballs in one hand. He ate an entire bag of peanuts while in the on-deck circle. He caught a baseball dropped from an airplane. He seemed more like a cartoon character than a batting champion. But Lombardi did all of those things and a lot more.

Brian McCann

2005—2019

29

Four catchers have had at least ten seasons with 20 or more homers: Johnny Bench and Mike Piazza (eleven each), Yogi Berra, and McCann. Pretty good company. McCann was the only one in that group to never drive in 100 runs. However, his eight 70-RBI seasons were exceeded by only seven catchers in history.

Victor Martinez

2002—2018

30

There are probably only ten catchers in the history of the game who were better pure hitters. But VMart was a bad defensive catcher, which is why he spent half his career as a designated hitter.

Mickey Tettleton

1984—1997

31

Like VMart, Tettleton was a switch-hitting catcher who spent time with the Detroit Tigers. He was named for a baseball player who was named for a baseball player (Mickey Mantle and Mickey Cochrane). He was similar to Gene Tenace as an offensive player, but with more power.

Manny Sanguillen

1967—1980

32

Learning to catch at the big league level, Sanguillen grasped the importance of the relationship between the catcher and pitcher, and his teammates praised him for his hard work. He was, by his own admission, “Born in a happy mood.”

Del Crandall

1949—1966

33

He was good enough to be a starting catcher in the major leagues when he was 19, the only man to ever do that. Crandall was also the best defensive catcher in the NL in the 1950s and made eight All-Star teams. Unfortunately he was overshadowed by Roy Campanella, otherwise Crandall would be remembered more readily.

Tony Pena

1980—1997

34

Most players get instruction or encouragement from their father, or perhaps an uncle or brother. But Pena was guided to the big leagues by his mother, a successful professional softball player in the Dominican Republic. According to family legend, Rosalia Pena was as good or better than most of the men she played with and against. She was known for having a strong arm and being a good contact hitter.

Javy Lopez

1992—2006

35

Lopez had two great seasons at the plate, but he never finished higher than fifth in MVP voting. One year he hit 43 home runs and batted .328 with 109 RBIs. Prior to 1970, if a catcher had those numbers, they would almost certainly win an MVP award, but in the steroid era, Lopez was overshadowed.

Ray Schalk

1912—1929
HALL OF FAME

36

He was only five-foot-seven, which was tiny even for his era. In fact, White Sox pitchers complained to manager Kid Gleason that the young Schalk was too scrawny to catch them. But eventually Schalk became the catcher of choice for Eddie Cicotte, who had about ten different pitches, including a knuckle ball and a knuckle curve.

Tom Haller

1961—1972

37

Among the catchers ranked here, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, and Joe Mauer were excellent athletes who could have probably been professionals in other sports. Haller was in that class too — he was the starting quarterback for the Fighting Illini football team.

Darren Daulton

1983—1997

38

On a list filled with great leaders, Daulton is one of the best of them. Cochrane and Fisk are probably the best leaders at the catcher position all-time, with Munson, Brian McCann, Sherm Lollar, and Daulton in the next group.

Smoky Burgess

1949—1967

39

Smoky didn’t look like a good ballplayer: he was a short, round man with a moon pie face and a triple chin. Los Angeles sportswriter Jim Murray called him a “walking laundry bag” and a “beachball with arms.” But he could hit a baseball.

Tim McCarver

1959—1980

40

Bob Gibson enjoyed throwing to McCarver, and there’s good reason: in their time together in St. Louis, McCarver hit almost half of his home runs (31 of 66) when Gibby was on the mound (in 214 games as a battery).

Chris Hoiles

1989—1998

41

Carlos Ruiz

2006—2017

42

Ruiz never won a Gold Glove because he was in the same league as Yadier Molina, but he could have won a bunch of them.

Terry Steinbach

1986—1999

43

The A’s had both Steinbach and Mickey Tettleton in the mid-1980s and they chose to keep Steinbach, the more polished defensive catcher.

Walker Cooper

1940—1957

44

After a late start, at 27 he emerged as the best catcher in the senior circuit. He ended up playing until he was 42 years old and hit 143 homers after his 30th birthday. He retired in 1957 after his daughter married a teammate. “It’s time to quit when you’ve got a daughter old enough to marry a teammate,” he said.

Ed Bailey

1953—1966

45

Bailey was a lot like A.J. Pierzynski: confident, cocky, and a favorite target of opposing teams. But Bailey was a much better player, a lefthanded power hitter and a very solid defensive backstop. He threw out nearly half of would-be base stealers over his career.

Sherm Lollar

1946—1963

46

“Triandos may swing a slightly heavier bat, but he still isn’t the catcher Lollar is today. Right now, Lollar is the best all-around catcher in the league, maybe even the majors.” — Al Lopez, 1959

Mike Scioscia

1980—1992

47

Big Mike was possibly the best ever at blocking home plate. You can find video of Scioscia punishing runners who dared make contact with him at home. Scioscia was also excellent at framing pitches.

Johnny Bassler

1913—1927

48

Bassler played six seasons under Ty Cobb and listened to his batting advice, hitting .308 as a member of the Tigers in the 1920s. He broke his ankle sliding into a base in 1926 and was never the same after he returned.

Johnny Kling

1900—1913

49

Among players who had the entirety of their career between 1900 and 1920, and who played primarily catcher, Kling’s career WAR is first and rivaled only by Chief Meyers.

Butch Wynegar

1976—1988

50

The most similar player to Wynegar when he was 21 is Ivan Rodriguez. At age 26 it’s Bill Freehan, and at 27 it’s Yadier Molina. Wynegar was a star, but injuries and inconsistency led to the early end of his career at the age of 31.

Chief Meyers

1909—1917

51

Chief was a large, muscular man for his era: a smidge under 6-feet tall and a pound or two under 200 pounds. In his prime he was quick enough to bounce out of his crouch and combat the running game, and agile enough to scramble after errant pitches.

Rick Ferrell

1929—1947
HALL OF FAME

52

He caught 120 games six times and more than 1,000 innings in a season six times. Folks back then were impressed with that unusual durability. Ferrell retired having caught more games than any other player in history.

THE REST OF THE 100

  • 53. Bob Boone
  • 54. Mike Napoli
  • 55. Mike Stanley
  • 56. Charles Johnson
  • 57. Steve O'Neill
  • 58. Salvador Perez
  • 59. Jason Varitek
  • 60. Terry Kennedy
  • 61. Spud Davis
  • 62. John Romano
  • 63. Rick Dempsey
  • 64. Jonathan Lucroy
  • 65. John Stearns
  • 66. J.T. Realmuto
  • 67. Ramon Hernandez
  • 68. John Roseboro
  • 69. Bob O'Farrell
  • 70. Muddy Ruel
  • 71. Andy Seminick
  • 72. A.J. Pierzynski
  • 73. Paul LoDuca
  • 74. Benito Santiago
  • 75. Joe Ferguson
  • 76. Earl Battey
  • 77. Matt Wieters
  • 78. Hank Gowdy
  • 79. Kurt Suzuki
  • 80. Ernie Whitt
  • 81. Hank Severeid
  • 82. Jody Davis
  • 83. Bubbles Hargrave
  • 84. Harry Danning
  • 85. Miguel Montero
  • 86. Clay Dalrymple
  • 87. Steve Yeager
  • 88. Don Slaught
  • 89. Stan Lopata
  • 90. Brad Ausmus
  • 91. Alex Avila
  • 92. Todd Hundley
  • 93. Ivey Wingo
  • 94. Frank "Pop" Snyder
  • 95. Ray Fosse
  • 96. Mike Lieberthal
  • 97. Yasmani Grandal
  • 98. Johnny Edwards
  • 99. Gus Triandos
  • 100. Sandy Alomar Jr.