The Top 100 Catchers of All-Time
#1. Johnny Bench
Years: 1967-1983 Primary Team: Cincinnati Reds
No one was as great as Bench at his peak and no one was as great for as long as he was. He has the best three-year peak, the best five-year peak, and the second best seven-year peak. Bench kept going and going: he's the only catcher to have as many as ten 4-WAR seasons (and he had 12 of them). If you want a winner, he was behind the plate for four pennant-winning teams and two World Champions. His performance in the 1976 World Series, when he terrorized Yankee pitching and silenced their running game, was his signature moment.
#2. Gary Carter
Years: 1974-1992 Primary Team: Montreal Expos
Carter was drafted as a shortstop by the Expos, and of the great catchers, only he and Piazza learned how to play the position in the minor leagues. He was a fantastic athlete (he was offered a scholarship to play quarterback at USC) and worked hard to become a Gold Glove catcher. From 1981 to 1984, Montreal had three Hall of Famers in their prime (Carter, Andre Dawson, and Tim Raines), yet they had a .516 winning percentage and never finished in first place for a full season. They performed 10 games under their pythagorean projection over that four-year span. There was something lacking, and then Carter split for New York and won a title.
#3. Carlton Fisk
Years: 1969-1993 Primary Team: The Sox
You have to be a great athlete to get noticed when you're growing up in Vermont. Fisk was offered a basketball contract by the Celtics, but wisely realized his future was in baseball. He was only six months younger than Munson, but the Yankee catcher had a two-year head start on Fisk. Both debuted in 1969, but Munson was Rookie of the Year in 1970 and Fisk didn't win the same award until 1972. At their peak the two had about the same value, but Fisk had a slight edge. And Fisk provided more value after the age of 30 than any other catcher in history. Hartnett, with 31.4 WAR after age 30, is well behind Fisk, who posted 39.4.
#4. Mike Piazza
Years: 1992-2007 Primary Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
The worst defensive catchers by the numbers: Piazza, Jorge Posada, Mike Stanley, Victor Martinez, and Mickey Tettleton. But Piazza's bat was so great he rates in the top five. Piazza hit 90 home runs to the opposite field in his career. There are no records on how many opposite field homers Johnny Bench hit, but safe to say it was far fewer than 90. The game was much different in Bench's day, when hitters didn't (and couldn't) stand on top of the plate and swat at pitches on the outer edge of the plate. Bob Gibson or Tom Seaver would have hit you in the ribs.
#5. Yogi Berra
Years: 1946-1965 Primary Team: New York Yankees
Catchers wear down over time, and they also wear down over the course of a season. Few catchers have been second-half performers - most tail off considerably after June. But Berra is a notable exception. His OPS after the All-Star break was 858, compared to 802 before the break. Among catchers who caught at least 1,000 games, only Benito Santiago and Gus Mancuso had a better second-half improvement. Berra is the only player to hit two home runs in Game Seven of a World Series, which he did in 1956 to lead the Yankees over the Dodgers.
#6. Joe Mauer
Years: 2004-2018 Primary Team: Minnesota Twins
Joe Mauer is the only catcher in the top ten who never started for a pennant-winning team. In fact, as of 2017, his team was 0-10 in playoff games. Winning three batting titles before his 27th birthday will almost certainly ensure Mauer a place in Cooperstown, but his switch to first base may cost him a chance to move higher on this list. If he plays regularly until he's 38 he could end up playing more games at first than behind the plate, but like Ernie Banks or Rod Carew, we'd still rank him at his first, and most challenging position.
#7. Ivan Rodriguez
Years: 1991-2011 Primary Team: Texas Rangers
At least for a few seasons, and possibly for quite a while, Rodriguez was using PEDs. That bounces him below the other Pudge, Berra, and Piazza on our list. He was the best defensive catcher to ever play the game: more agile than Bench and with a stronger arm. He was fearless behind the plate, willing to fire the baseball behind runners or block the plate. As a hitter he was somewhat like Cochrane, though far less patient. Only three catchers have four 6-WAR seasons: Bench, Carter, and the second Pudge. His career record for most hits by a catcher will probably never be broken, given the demands of the position.
#8. Bill Dickey
Years: 1928-1946 Primary Team: New York Yankees
He has one of the biggest home run differentials in history, having hit 67 percent of his career home runs at home, many of them down the short right field line at Yankee Stadium. But Dickey was a fine hitter on the road too, posting a .308 batting average and .468 slugging percentage away from The Bronx. Lefty Gomez, the great Yankee pitcher and purveyor of nicknames, called Dickey "The Man Nobody Knew" 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 Dickey didn't mind, he liked being anonymous in the shadows of his more famous Yankee teammates.
#9. Mickey Cochrane
Years: 1925-1937 Primary Team: Philadelphia A's
Only seven players have been starting catchers 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 Detroit Tigers. He never played on a team that finished lower than third place. He's also one of only seven players to catch for at least five pennant-winning teams, and the only one who didn't play for the Yankees or Dodgers. In 1937, Cochrane seemed to have recovered from a nervous breakdown he'd suffered the previous season, when on May 25th he was nearly killed by a pitch that hit him in the skull. He never played again but he'd already established himself as an all-time great.
#10. Thurman Munson
Years: 1969-1979 Primary Team: New York Yankees
Munson's career was coming to an end even before he died in the tragic plane crash in the middle of the 1979 season. He'd already discussed retirement and hinted to George Steinbrenner that he would welcome a trade to Cleveland to be near his family. Munson's knees were nearly shot too. Had he lived and decided to play after the '79 season, he probably would have been a corner outfielder or first baseman. At his peak (top three seasons, for example) Munson was better than Berra, Dickey, and Cochrane, but his body was not made for the long haul behind the plate.
#11. Joe Torre
Years: 1960-1977 Primary Team: Atlanta Braves
For Torre you have to do some adjustments before you rank him. He played 40% of his games at catcher (about 900g), but he split the rest between first and third (about 1,300g). His career WAR was about 57, but more than 40% of that came at catcher. His best year came at catcher, even though he won the MVP in 1971 as a third baseman. That year ranks, then his six next best seasons were when he played primarily behind the mask. At third base he'd probably be about 16th, ahead of Ron Cey and many other fine players. But it's not fair to rate him at third or first based on 700 and 500 games, respectively. He's one of those guys, like Ernie Banks, Pete Rose, and Rod Carew, who could be slotted into a few different positions.
#12. Ted Simmons
Years: 1968-1988 Primary Team: St. Louis Cardinals
Simmons has a low peak (his top three seasons rank him 18th all-time), but his career WAR is 10th among players who spent the bulk of their time behind the dish. Statistically he compares favorably to Hartnett, who also didn't have a high peak, but Gabby had the good fortune to play in a high offense era. Hartnett's OPS+ was 126, Simmons came in at 118. Hartnett was a slightly better defender and he caught for three pennant-winning teams. Simmons rates ahead of Hartnett because his peak was a smidge better (5.0 to 4.3 advantage in WAR7).
#13. Buster Posey
Years: 2009-2018 Primary Team: San Francisco Giants
Even if he puts together a great post-30 career like Fisk, Posey would not surpass Bench or Carter. He'll likely end up in the top five if he stays behind the plate. Among the top 20 catchers, he's the one hurt most by his home park: Posey's career OPS in road games is 882, compared to 815 in San Francisco. With three World Series titles and several years to add to his crowded award shelf, Posey has a great chance to finish among the all-time greats at the position. Only Bench, Munson, and Posey have won both a Rookie of the Year and an MVP award. Posey will forever be linked with the rule that changed the rules of contact at home plate on close plays, but the incident that spurred this change has been misrepresented by those who want to make Posey out to be a victim. In the play in question, Posey was clearly blocking the plate and impeding the runner from reaching the plate in a normal path or slide. Posey was also utilizing a technique that is not the preferred method for a collision at home: Buster shifted to his knees, which guaranteed that his body would be twisted back on itself. Catchers are taught to be on their feet so they flip over if the runner collides with them. The runner, Scott Cousins, was basically a minor league journeyman who only scored 15 runs in the major leagues, none more controversial or history-changing than that one on May 25, 2011.
#14. Gabby Hartnett
Years: 1922-1941 Primary Team: Chicago Cubs
He should have been John McGraw's next great catcher, but a mistake by a scout cost the Giants a chance at signing him. McGraw sent former outfielder Jesse Burkett to look at Hartnett when he was a 20-year old playing in Worcester. Burkett reported that Hartnett's hands were too small to ever be useful as a catcher. McGraw sent Burkett back a few weeks later to be sure, but by that time the Cubs had signed Gabby. 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.
#15. Roy Campanella
Years: 1948-1957 Primary Team: Boys of Summer
We gave Campy a modest boost to account for a couple seasons he missed due to the color barrier (it lifted him seven spots), but nothing to deal with the sudden demise of his career. At the time of his car accident that left Campanella paralyzed, he had not been a very good player for two years. He was slow and a shell of his former self in his last two seasons, though the Dodgers still kept him in the lineup most of the time. He was replaced by John Roseboro, a far superior defensive backstop who had a nice career and comes in at about 60th on the all-time catcher list. He and Dickey were the two catchers most helped by their home ballpark: Campanella had a 784 OPS on the road but a whopping 942 at home in cozy Ebbets Field.
#16. Bill Freehan
Years: 1961-1976 Primary Team: Detroit Tigers
He and Mickey Lolich started the same game 324 times, a record for catcher/pitcher teammates. Appropriate that it's Mickey in Freehan's arms in one of the most iconic World Series photos of all-time, snapped seconds after Lolich finished off his third win in the 1968 Series. Freehan was clearly the best catcher in the American League for a decade, and he's the only receiver with that distinction not in the Hall. The timeline goes Schalk, Ferrell, Cochrane, Dickey, Berra, FREEHAN, Fisk, Rodriguez, Mauer. Virtually no chance he'll get a plaque.
#17. Jorge Posada
Years: 1995-2011 Primary Team: New York Yankees
"Georgie" fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after garnering less than 4% of the votes in his first year. I have the feeling that's going to look as ridiculous as the Whitaker mistake and the Lofton error eventually. He's clearly one of the 15 best catchers to play the game. In career value he's 17th and in WAR7 he's 18th. Add in the winning (one of seven catchers to start for three World Championship teams and one of three to start for four), and you have a very compelling case. He wasn't an especially fantastic defensive catcher, but like Whitaker and Lofton, Posada did other things (like draw walks and hit for some power) while not reaching a lot of in-season milestones. Meanwhile he was overshadowed by famous teammates. That's a recipe for Hall of Fame injustice.
#18. Gene Tenace
Years: 1969-1983 Primary Team: Mustache Gang
As a young Athletics prospect, Tenace was taught how to play catcher by Gus Niarhos, who had been a rarely used backup for Yogi Berra, Phil Masi, Sammy White, and Smoky Burgess. Tenace was a quick learner: he grew into the role well enough to catch nearly 900 games. He was later schooled on the finer points of playing first base by Mike Hegan, the son of All-Star catcher Jim Hegan. So, there's sort of a circle of catcher influence here in regards to Tenace. He could always hit, but in the 1972 World Series Tenace 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. Tenace led the league in walks twice and averaged 103 bases on balls per 162 games.
#19. Jason Kendall
Years: 1996-2010 Primary Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
There's an old term called "red-ass" that you don't hear used much anymore. It means someone who is so intense that they seem to often be on the verge of blowing up. Kendall was a red-ass. Early in his career, Kendall was on a torrid pace: his 19.9 WAR was the ninth highest for a catcher through the age of 26. He was a prodigy, the son of former big league catcher Fred Kendall, and a respected team leader. Unfortunately, Kendall spent his first nine years with Pittsburgh, who never had a winning season during that time. Through the age of 30, Kendall sported a .306 career average and an OPS over 800, but even though he survived and came back from a grisly injury where his leg bone snapped and protruded through the skin, 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.
#20. Ernie Lombardi
Years: 1931-1947 Primary Team: Cincinnati Reds
There are a slew of stories about Lombardi that seem like they can't 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 hit a line drive off the wall in right field in Brooklyn and was thrown out at first base by three steps. He seemed more like a cartoon character than a baseball star. But Lombardi did all those things and a lot more. Yes, he was one of the slowest runners in baseball history, but he was agile enough to move well behind the plate to block balls. Sure, he grounded into a lot of double plays, but he hit the baseball harder than anyone in the league. Yes, he had huge ears and a gigantic nose, but he was one of the most popular players to ever wear a Reds uniform and his hitting was legendary. He was the first catcher to win a batting title and also the first to win two batting titles.
#21. Darrell Porter
Years: 1971-1987 Primary Team: Kansas City Royals
Of all the players on this list, Porter is the most tragic. He was an adrenaline junkie, a guy who loved to compete and go all out, which led to his substance abuse. Porter was frank about his problem during his career and he briefly beat it, winning great praise on and off the field. He helped his teams get to the postseason five times and the World Series three times. In 1982 he was MVP of both the NLCS and the World Series for the Cardinals. He and Cochrane are the only catchers to score 100 runs, drive in 100 runs, and walk 100 times in the same season. But Porter didn't beat his drug addiction, and a few months after his 50th birthday he died after ingesting cocaine.
#22. Yadier Molina
Years: 2004-2017 Primary Team: St. Louis Cardinals
Has little chance to crack the top 10 now. He's more likely to end up somewhere between Freehan and Posada, that's if he plays regularly until he's 39 and produces 1-3 WAR per year. If he somehow puts up one more great season or two, it's possible he leapfrogs the Piazza/Simmons/Munson/Mauer/Hartnett group. His defensive reputation and status as a Cardinal icon will go a long way toward helping his Hall of Fame chances, but it'll be hard for Molina to get into Cooperstown if he doesn't have another great season after his 34th birthday. Posada debuted on the ballot with less than 4% and Buster Posey will also overshadow Yadier as the era's best catcher.
#23. Jim Sundberg
Years: 1974-1989 Primary Team: Texas Rangers
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 teams' games six times. Sundberg wasn't in the lineup only because he was healthy, he was a hell of a catcher. Unfortunately he played the first half of his career with the Rangers in the 1970s and early 1980s when they were pretty mediocre, so he was vastly underrated. Still, Sunny won six straight Gold Gloves while Carlton Fisk and Thurman Munson were in the league, and even made a few All-Star teams. He ranks fourth all-time in dWAR behind Pudge Rodriguez, Gary Carter, and Bob Boone.
#24. Lance Parrish
Years: 1977-1995 Primary Team: Detroit Tigers
Many observers, including his manager Sparky Anderson, did not think Parrish could play for long with all those muscles. In the 1970s, weight training was still unusual in baseball, and it was thought that a muscular physique made a catcher inflexible. But Parrish ended up playing 19 years and catching more than 1,800 games. His strengths were his throwing arm and power, and his weaknesses were making contact and speed. He was very 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 Glove winner. He's one of the few catchers who hit cleanup for a while, along with Bench, Simmons, Carter, Piazza, and Posey.
#25. Wally Schang
Years: 1913-1931 Primary Team: Philadelphia A's
It seems counterintuitive to adjust deadball era starting pitchers down because of their usage but not adjust up for catchers of the same time period. Schang played at a time when managers felt they had to use a two catcher rotation. All catchers before 1925 were held to about 110-115 games per year regardless of how good they were. People thought the position was too demanding. Too bad, because Schang was very durable and still a valuable ballplayer into his late 30s. A switch-hitter, he was also a good hitter from both sides of the plate and his .392 career OBP ranks second to Cochrane among catchers.
#26. Russell Martin
Years: 2006-2017 Primary Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
You don't immediately think of him as the third best catcher in the history of the Dodgers (ahead of Scioscia and Yeager, for example). But advanced analytic methods love his defense, and it's hard to dispute the notion that he's one of the best receivers of the first part of the 21st century. His ability to draw walks should be a skill that stays with him into his late 30s and he can run into enough pitches to hit between 10 and 15 homers per year. He has an old school catcher's body: short and thick. In spite of his reputation as a defender, Martin has not been great at limiting the running game, through 2017 he'd only thrown out 31 percent of base stealers.
#27. Victor Martinez
Years: 2002-2017 Primary Team: Cleveland Indians
Another switch-hitting catcher who spent time with the Detroit Tigers, at his peak Martinez was one of the better offensive forces in the game, but he also had a few flaws. Among catchers there are probably only ten or twelve players in the history of the game who were better pure hitters, but VMart was a bad defensive player behind the plate and extremely slow on the basepaths. He spent the second half of his career as a designated hitter, where he posted great numbers in Detroit's spacious ballpark where his line drives found green grass. Ultimately his body fell apart, robbing him of his legs and the torque needed to get around on big league pitching.
#28. Brian McCann
Years: 2005-2018 Primary Team: Atlanta Braves
Four catchers have had at least ten seasons of 20 or more homers: Johnny Bench and Mike Piazza (11 each), Yogi Berra, and McCann. Pretty good company. McCann has never hit more than 26 homers and is the only one of that quartet to never drive in 100 runs, however his eight 70-RBI seasons are more than all but seven catchers in history. For 12 years from age 22 to 33 (through 2017), he hit between 18 and 26 homers every season while averaging 117 games behind the dish. But given his production in his age-33 season, McCann is unlikely to get much past 40 WAR for his career, which would leave him somewhere around the top 25 of all-time and nowhere near Hall of Fame territory. Still, he's crafted a very nice career.
#29. Javy Lopez
Years: 1992-2006 Primary Team: Atlanta Braves
The tiny island of Puerto Rico is home to only about 3 million people, but it's produced an incredible number of excellent big league catchers. In our top 50, there are four: Pudge Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Yadier Molina, and Lopez. Benito Santiago is on the top 70 all-time and then there's Sandy Alomar Jr., who had a nice career. Javy Lopez had two great seasons at the plate, but he never finished higher than fifth in MVP voting. One year he hit 43 homers 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 just another slugger in the wild.
#30. Elston Howard
Years: 1955-1968 Primary Team: New York Yankees
Eight years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, the Yankees still hadn't employed a black player. It got so controversial that interest groups picketed outside Yankee Stadium and called for boycotts of the games. But then Howard came along and not only did he get to wear the pinstripes, he forced himself into the lineup by the quality of his play. Initially Berra blocked his path, of course, so Casey Stengel used Howard anywhere he could to get his bat into the lineup. Howard was a great athlete who had 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. His MVP in 1963 was one of those Yankee voting anomalies: he was seventh in the league in WAR, but he was a catcher and a Yankee and he had a good season, so he got it.
#31. Walker Cooper
Years: 1940-1957 Primary Team: St. Louis Cardinals
Cooper was one of the most talented players stuck in the huge St. Louis farm system in the 1930s who was freed by the commissioner. He resigned with the Redbirds and helped them to three consecutive pennants in his first three full seasons. By that time he was 27 years old but he made up for lost time and emerged as the best catcher in the senior circuit between the time of Gabby Hartnett and Roy Campanella. 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.
#32. Smoky Burgess
Years: 1949-1967 Primary Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
Burgess spent seven years in the minor leagues waiting for a chance to get a look in The Show. He blistered the ball, hitting .360 in more than 400 minor league games, but the Cubs wouldn't give Smoky a shot, instead hoping that retread veterans like Bob Scheffing and Mickey Owen would find some magic behind the plate. They did him a favor and traded him to the Reds, who flipped him to the Phils where Burgess hit .316 in parts of four seasons before they dealt him back to the Reds. He hit well in Cincy for four years before they traded him to the Pirates. In Pittsburgh, Smoky finally found a team that believed in him, and even though he was 32, he made the All-Star team four times for the Bucs while hitting nearly .300 there. Why did Burgess always have to prove himself? Because he didn't look like a good ballplayer: he was a short, flabby man with a moon pie face and a double chin. But he could hit a baseball.
#33. Manny Sanguillen
Years: 1967-1980 Primary Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
"Hitting is balance, and I was blessed with good balance," Sanguillen said. But he honed that balance in Panama playing soccer, not baseball. Amazingly, he didn't play baseball until he was 21 years old. He eventually grew into one of the best hitting catchers in the game in the 1970s, but not before he nearly quit the game because he wasn't making enough to support his family. Learning to catch while at the big league level, Sanguillen grasped the importance of the relationship between the catcher and the pitcher, and his teammates praised him for his ability to connect with them. But none of his success probably would have been possible with another team. The Pirates had many Latin and black players in their system and Sanguillen was able to feel like the organization was a family.
#34. Mickey Tettleton
Years: 1984-1997 Primary Team: 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. Like Roger Bresnahan, Tettleton was used like a Swiss Army Knife by a legendary manager. Sparky Anderson played the switch-hitting Tettleton at first base, left field, right field, and DH, in addition to behind the plate in his four seasons with the Tigers. It was always a smart move to have Tettleton in the lineup: his walk percentage is one of the 50 best in baseball history and his secondary average (a measure of extra-base power and walks) is among the top 75.
#35. Del Crandall
Years: 1949-1966 Primary Team: Milwaukee Braves
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 Campanalla, otherwise Crandall would be remembered more readily. Crandall had a habit of making pickoff throws, which he would fire off to any of the three bases, something unusual in his time. He was tall and muscular and he liked to stand up frequently between pitches and stretch out, something else that made him different from the squat-bodied receivers before him who typically stayed in a crouch. Charlie Grimm, who played with Gabby Hartnett and managed Crandall, insisted that Del was an equal to the Hall of Famer behind the plate... If you're measured by the company you keep, Crandall was a helluva ballplayer. He caught Warren Spahn in 316 of his starts (second all-time for a pitcher/catcher battery) and Lew Burdette in 230 games.
#36. Carlos Ruiz
Years: 2006-2017 Primary Team: Phils
The All-Time Panama Team: Rod Carew (1B), Rennie Stennett (2B), Ruben Tejada (SS), Hector Lopez (3B), Carlos Lee (LF), Omar Moreno (CF), Ben Oglivie (RF), Manny Sanguillen (C), Juan Berenguar (SP), and Mariano Rovera (RP). He never won a Gold Glove because he was in the same league as Yadier Molina, but Ruiz could have won a bunch of them.
#37. Tom Haller
Years: 1961-1972 Primary Team: San Francisco Giants
Among the catchers ranked here, Carter, Fisk, and Mauer were all 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. His catching career sputtered as he spent three years in the minors and was stuck in a very deep Giants' organization. He was half of an excellent platoon combo with Ed Bailey for San Francisco in the early 1960s. He didn't earn a starting job until he was 27 years old, after wrestling with Bailey and Del Crandall for playing time. Haller has connections to many catchers on this list: he was later traded to the Dodgers where he replaced Johnny Roseboro, and to the Tigers where he caddied for Bill Freehan.
#38. Mike Napoli
Years: 2006-2018 Primary Team: Los Angeles Angels
Almost every part of Mike Napoli's body was injured or bruised during his years as a big league catcher: his knees, his shoulder, a shattered elbow, a hip, fingers, and both ankles. He was so beat up that he caught (what will probably be) his final game at the age of 30. Since, he's been employed by several teams as a first baseman. Why? Because Napoli can hit a baseball as well as any catcher since Mike Piazza. He hits southpaws and he hits righthanders, and he draws walks too. If he can stay in the lineup into his late 30s, he has a chance to reach two milestones: 300 home runs and 2,000 strikeouts.
#39. Sherm Lollar
Years: 1946-1963 Primary Team: Chicago White Sox
After World War II, a cadre of taller, barrel-chested catchers came into the big leagues and Lollar was one of the best of them. Others in the group included Jim Hegan, Ed Bailey, Elston Howard, and Del Crandall. They were much bigger targets behind the plate than the Berra's and Campanella's who dominated the position in the 1950s, but received a lot less recognition. Lollar fought to get playing time before finally getting a chance after his trade to the White Sox. He earned a reputation as being a great handler of young pitching, and Chicago was consistently among the best staffs in the league during his years on the south side.
#40. Tim McCarver
Years: 1959-1980 Primary Team: St. Louis Cardinals
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 (214 games as a battery), and the righty had a 2.44 ERA in games where they worked together. With other catchers, Gibson had a 3.02 ERA over the same stretch. McCarver was one of the fastest catchers in baseball history. In 1966 he led the NL in triples and he once hit an inside-the-park grand slam. He also caught Steve Carlton a lot (236 games) and Lefty had a better ERA in those starts than with other catchers. Carlton pitched to six catchers in the top 50: McCarver, Boone, Simmons, Torre, Daulton, and Fisk.
#41. Tony Pena
Years: 1980-1997 Primary Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
A man named Nathan Hicks was the first catcher to set up right behind the batter, which he started to do a few years after the Civil War ended. A few catchers started squatting down in the early 1880s, but most stood for another two decades. In 1907, Roger Bresnahan was the first to wear a mask, shin guards and chest protector. Johnny Bench and Randy Hundley popularized one-handed catching in the late 1960s. Then Tony Pena came along to add the next innovation when he extended his left leg and sat on his right leg on the ground. He did this only when there were no runners on base and the purpose was to help his pitchers keep their pitches down. Despite Pena's success, only a few others copied it. It was physically demanding, and a little too revolutionary.
#42. Terry Steinbach
Years: 1986-1999 Primary Team: Oakland A's
His career was nearly derailed in his second full season when he was hit in the eye with a pitch that caused five fractures in his skull. He came back only a month later but in his fourth game he was run over at the plate by Kirby Puckett, which sent him back to the disabled list. But Steinbach was tough: a month later he was named the All-Star Game MVP after he hit a home run off Dwight Gooden. He caught two no-hitters but they were vastly different: the first was from Dave Stewart, who called his own pitches, the second was from Eric Milton and Steinbach called the game throughout. The A's had both Steinbach and Tettleton in the mid-1980s and they chose to go with Steinbach, the more polished defensive catcher.
#43. Ed Bailey
Years: 1953-1966 Primary Team: Cincinnati Reds
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. First in Cincinnati and later with San Francisco, Bailey had to prove himself against other catchers who wanted to take his job. First it was Smoky Burgess and then it was Tom Haller, both of whom rank higher on this list. Later in Milwaukee he platooned briefly with young Joe Torre. His 142 home runs as a catcher ranked second in NL history when he retired.
#44. Butch Wynegar
Years: 1976-1988 Primary Team: Minnesota Twins
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, which is why the Yankees traded for him in 1982 and why they signed him to a five-year $2.3 million contract four years later. But in late July of 1986, Wynegar quit the Yankees and went home. Why? He'd had enough of the Bronx Zoo. First it was the manic personality of Billy Martin, then it was the constant rage of Lou Piniella. He also hurt his foot, which didn't help his production when the Yankees traded him to the Angels after the season. His career ended at the age of 31 as one of baseball's many "what if's?"
#45. Mike Scioscia
Years: 1980-1992 Primary Team: LA Dodgers
Tommy Lasorda made a personal visit to Scioscia's home when he was a teenager and convinced him to forego college and sign with the Dodgers. Lasorda was always "good in the living room" but getting Scioscia was one of his best moves. For a decade the Dodgers had been converting players into catchers with surprising success. That's how Joe Ferguson and Steve Yeager made a living, but Scioscia eventually replaced Yeager in the early 1980s. He was possibly the best ever at blocking home plate. You can find video online of Scioscia punishing runners who dared make contact with him at home. Scioisca was also excellent at framing pitches, though he had an average throwing arm. Because of that arm, Scioscia lost out on winning Gold Gloves, while Tony Pena and Benito Santagio took home the hardware in the 1980s. Even Jody Davis(!) beat him out for a Gold Glove.
#46. Darren Daulton
Years: 1983-1997 Primary Team: Philadelphia Phillies
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, which might include Freehan and Buster Posey too. Like Cochrane (also a left-handed batter), Daulton hit high in the order for a while (second) before settling in the middle of the order where he drove in more runs. Both players were also immensely popular in Philadelphia.
#47. Chris Hoiles
Years: 1989-1998 Primary Team: Baltimore Orioles
Hoiles never had a chance to say goodbye to the game the way he wanted to. He played the 1998 season in pain because of hip and back problems, and intended to be better the following season. But in spring training in 1999 he realized he couldn't play the game any more. The Orioles let him retire with a press conference after the season started but he never had that final game or moment. He had a knack for grand slams, hitting two in one game once, and also belting one of the few "ultimate grand slams" (a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth with your team down by three runs). His slam even came with two outs and on a 3-2 count, one of only two to come under those circumstances (the other was hit by Alan Trammell, who would have been Hoiles' teammate had Detroit not traded him to Baltimore).
#48. Bob Boone
Years: 1972-1990 Primary Team: Philadelphia Phillies
We have five catchers in the top 50 who spent significant time with the Phillies, but it's not immediately clear which one was the best in Philadelphia. My choice would be Boone, who was the best defender of the five (Burgess, McCarver, Daulton, and Spud Davis are the others). Daulton and Davis were the best hitters, Burgess wasn't in Philly long enough, and McCarver was little more than Lefty Carlton's personal catcher. That leaves Boone as the greatest catcher in franchise history. He and Carlos Ruiz are the only two Phils to catch a World Championship club. Boone is the only catcher to win the Gold Glove award with three different clubs.
#49. Ray Schalk
Years: 1912-1929 Primary Team: Chicago White Sox
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. The White Sox have had two Hall of Fame catchers and both were better known by their nicknames: Carlton Fisk was "Pudge" and Schalk was "Cracker" because a teammate (or maybe a coach) thought he was a "Cracker Jack player," which in those days was a very popular treat.
#50. Spud Davis
Years: 1928-1945 Primary Team: Philadelphia Phillies
Davis wasn't much more than a body behind home plate, but he could always hit. He was helped by playing his prime in the Baker Bowl, but he hit the ball hard while he wore the uniform of the Cardinals and Pirates too. He was quite superstitious, and once he asked teammate Dazzy Vance to perform a ritual over his bat to expel evil spirits and unleash base hits. He came back after a two year hiatus as a coach and hit .300 for the Bucs during World War II as a favor to his good friend Frankie Frisch.
#51. Rick Ferrell
Years: 1929-1947 Primary Team: St. Louis Browns
It may seem strange that such an anemic hitter like Ferrell is a Hall of Famer, but we have to realize that in his era he was one of the first men to catch 5-6 days a week. Prior to the 1920s, few catchers squatted behind the plate for 120 games a year. Ferrell, with Cochrane and Steve O'Neill and a few others, was one of the new iron men. He caught 120 games six times and more than 1,000 innings in a season six times. Folks back then were impressed by that durability. Ferrell retired having caught more games than any other player in history.
#52. Salvador Perez
Years: 2011-2018 Primary Team: The Royals
Knees willing, Perez has several years to keep tacking on value and inch up these rankings. Will be 28 years old in 2018 and has a chance to add a few signature seasons to his career line. Hit 27 homers in 2017 and could get to 300 homers, but it's possible he might eventually need to move down to first base. Of the many talented players the Royals developed in the first two decades of the 21st century who came together to win the 2015 World Series, Perez will be the only one who spends the bulk of his career with the club, having signed a lifetime deal. Will likely end up the greatest Venezuelan catcher, depending on how you discount quasi-DH Victor Martinez. The other ranked Venezuelan here, Ramon Hernandez, is only a few notches ahead of Perez as of this writing.
#53. Charles Johnson
Years: 1994-2005 Primary Team: The Fish
Johnson wrestled the starting job away from Benito Santiago as a young catcher with the Marlins in the mid-1990s. Johnson ranks second in Fielding Runs per season behind Yadier Molina, and sixth in career Fielding Runs nestled between Bob Boone and Johnny Bench.
#54. Jason Varitek
Years: 1997-2011 Primary Team: The Sawx
Varitek, Ray Schalk, and Carlos Ruiz are the only catchers to catch four no-hitters. Varitek has some other distinctions: he's one of the few players to be drafted in the first round of MLB's amateur draft twice (the Twins and Mariners selected him in successive years). He's also one of the few players to appear in the Little League World Series and the World Series. If we include only catchers who spent the majority of their career in a Boston uniform, Varitek has to be the greatest Red Sox catcher of all-time. Fisk spent more years and played more games for the other Sox, and Elston Howard and Victor Martinez spent very little time in Boston.
#55. Rick Dempsey
Years: 1969-1992 Primary Team: Baltimore Orioles
Dempsey had a sort of light-switch personality. He was known for his sense of humor, always keeping the clubhouse loose. He famously performed comedy acts on wet tarps during rain delays, poking fun at Babe Ruth and Jim Palmer, and others. But when he was in his position wearing the mask behind home plate, Dempsey was a no-nonsense, competitor. His mouth sometimes got him in trouble. Late in his career when he was playing for Tom Lasorda in LA, Dempsey got into a fight with Lenny Dykstra at home plate over a conversation behind the dish. In 1984 he got most of the members of the Detroit Tigers pissed at him because he told them they had to take the crown away from his Orioles before they could be champions. And things like that. It didn't hinder Dempsey: he played 24 years in the big leagues, one of the longest tenures by a catcher, and he was a starter for seven teams that won 90+ games, winning a pair of World Series titles. He was the MVP of the 1983 World Series with the Orioles.
#56. Johnny Bassler
Years: 1913-1927 Primary Team: Detroit Tigers
Bassler was working at a theater in Hollywood when he met shortstop Ivy Olson of the Indians who was attending a screening of a film in the winter of 1912. Olson explained that his winter league team lost their catcher to an injury that day, and when Bassler revealed that he was a catcher, Olson asked him to come to the ballpark. That chance meeting helped Bassler earn an invitation to spring training with Cleveland a few months later. Bassler played a few years with Cleveland but he was still pretty green and returned to California where he developed into a good hitter and decent backstop. He played five seasons in the Pacific Coast League and missed one year due to World War I, before being scouted and signed by the Tigers in 1921. Bassler played six seasons under Ty Cobb and batted .308 as a member of the Tigers in the 1920s. He didn't like playing under Cobb's replacement, George Moriarty, so he quit the Tigers and went back to the west coast where he played for more than a decade into his 40s. He could always hit, retiring with a .313 average and more than 2,000 hits in 23 years of professional baseball.
#57. A.J. Pierzynski
Years: 1998-2016 Primary Team: San Francisco Giants
An irritating Bill Laimbeer-like figure who overcame a number of flaws to play 19 years in the big leagues. Pierzynski was slow, hit into a lot of double plays, had trouble hitting southpaws, and drew very few walks. But he was a master handler of pitchers, had an above average throwing arm, good instincts behind the plate, could hit for average, and put the ball in play. He also stayed remarkably healthy: he caught between 110 and 135 games every season for 13 consecutive years. He never won a Gold Glove, because he wasn't Pudge Rodriguez and his last name wasn't Molina, but Pierzynski was an excellent defender. To balance some of those weaknesses, there's also evidence that Pierzynski was a clutch player. In 32 postseason games he hit .292 with five homers, 18 RBIs, and a .500 slugging percentage.
#58. Johnny Kling
Years: 1901-1913 Primary Team: Chicago Cubs
Johnny Kling didn't have partners like his famous teammates Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance, and there was never a poem written about him. If there had been, he might be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. There's an argument that could be made for him as the best catcher in baseball the first two decades of the 20th century. 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. Kling was five years older than Meyers, they both played in four World Series for National League powerhouses. Bother were good catchers and decent offensive players. That's where the similarities end: Kling was average size for that era (weighing in at 160 pounds or so), while Chief was much taller and larger. Roger Bresnahan remains the only "catcher" from the deadball era in the Hall of Fame (Bresnahan played only 2/3 of his games at catcher), but neither Kling nor Meyers would be a bad choice as a second receiver from long ago enshrined.
#59. Roger Bresnahan
Years: 1901-1915 Primary Team: The Giants
Many catchers have switched to a corner infield position or DH, but Bresnahan is unique in that he played center field for two seasons. John McGraw loved versatile players, and Bresnahan was one of his favorite tools: swift enough to play the outfield and strong-armed and smart enough to play behind the plate. By 1905 he was catching the stellar pitching staff of the Giants, and in the World Series that fall he caught every inning of the 44 innings tossed by aces Christy Mathewson and Iron Joe McGinnity in only five games. Bresnahan was the first catcher to regularly bat leadoff, he was an intense competitor, and he was the first backstop to appear in as many as 130 games. For mostly those reasons, and his famous versatility for a popular team, he was elected to the Hall of Fame.
#60. Joe Ferguson
Years: 1970-1983 Primary Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
Ferguson is probably best known for a famous play he made while he was playing another position. In Game One of the 1974 World Series, Walter Alston played Ferguson in right field against the lefthanded Ken Holtzman, as he had most of the year, moving his catcher to the outfield and playing Steve Yeager behind the plate. In the 8th inning with a runner on third, Reggie Jackson lofted a fly to medium center field toward Jimmy Wynn, who had a weak throwing arm. Ferguson sprinted from right and cut off Wynn to take the fly ball. He hurled a throw to home plate 300 feet in the air to Yeager who caught it and tagged the runner out. It was a remarkable and aggressive defensive play. In addition to having a strong arm, Ferguson could hit, he only played six seasons where he got as many as 400 at-bats, but he had 16 or more homers in four of them, and hit 25 in his first full season for LA. Yeager was a better defender, so the Dodgers often played Ferguson in the corners of the outfield.
#61. Steve O'Neill
Years: 1911-1928 Primary Team: Cleveland Indians
O'Neill teamed with Hall of Fame pitcher Stan Coveleski as a battery 237 times, or 87.1 percent of Coveleski's starts, the highest figure for any combo who made at least 100 starts together. Three of O'Neill's brothers play professional baseball, but Steve outdid them all. He was an important figure in baseball history from 1911 when he made his debut until the mid-1950s when he managed his final game. O'Neill and Coveleski, the Irishman and the Pole, teamed for three victories in the 1920 World Series when the Indians captured their first title. O'Neill later managed the Tigers to the championship in 1945. After all these years, O'Neill remains one of the greatest catcher in Cleveland Indian history. He was one of the best defensive catchers of his time, and he caught at least 100 games for nine straight seasons, making him one of the most durable receivers of his era. Known more for his glove and arm than his bat, O'Neill did his share with the lumber in Cleveland's 1920 World Championship season, batting .321 in the regular season, and hitting .333 in the Fall Classic. Later, in 14 seasons as a manager, O'Neill never had a losing record, and won the World Series with Detroit in 1945. As a skipper, he was a disciplinarian with a tendency to fiddle with his lineup, and knack for playing hunches.
#62. John Roseboro
Years: 1957-1970 Primary Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
Only three catchers have won three World Series titles as starters while not playing for the Yankees: Mickey Cochrane, Buster Posey, and Roseboro. With Roseboro behind the plate, the Dodgers won four pennants in an eight-year span starting in 1959. Roseboro was a four-time All-Star and he won a pair of Gold Gloves. In his first at-bat against Juan Marichal after Marichal clubbed him over the head with his bat in 1962 and opened up a gash that required 14 stitches, Roseboro hit a three-run homer off the Dominican pitcher. Many years later Roseboro publicly forgave Marichal for the bloody incident and the two became friends. When Roseboro died, Marichal served as a pallbearer... Roseboro caught Don Drysdale 283 times, the fourth highest total for a battery in baseball history (since 1914).
#63. Ramon Hernandez
Years: 1999-2013 Primary Team: The A's
A very good defensive catcher who was an effective big league hitter in the seasons he spent in good-hitting ballparks like Baltimore and Cincinnati. But he also played five years in Oakland where his bat was wasted.
#64. Chief Meyers
Years: 1909-1917 Primary Team: New York Giants
As far as I can tell through research, Meyers was the first major league player to enlist for service in World War I. Of course it wasn't called World War I then, it was known as the War in Europe, or The Great War, or the War Over There, or The Big One. But you get the idea. Meyers was 37 years old by that time and his playing career was essentially over. He was a very 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, agile enough to scoot around after errant pitches. But in his later years he was a statue behind the plate and once his offensive skills abandoned him, he was done. At the peak of his fame, Meyers joined battery mate Christy Mathewson in a vaudeville act where the two explained their techniques as one of baseball's best tandems.
#65. Jonathan Lucroy
Years: 2010-2017 Primary Team: Milwaukee Brewers
Put him in a favorable ballpark, one advantageous to a righthanded batter, and Lucroy was pretty good. He had a three-year peak from age 26-28 where he hit for high average, got on base, and drove the ball well. He's the only man to hit more than 50 doubles and never hit half that many in any other season. He led the NL with 53 two-baggers in 2014 but only had 25 in his next best season. Still has a contract to play in 2018 and could inch past a few players on this list.
#66. Benito Santiago
Years: 1986-2005 Primary Team: San Diego Padres
In 1989, 12 catchers who we rank in the top 50 were active in the major leagues, and Santiago at the time seemed like he would be better than most of them. He was a very good catcher while he was in San Diego: he won the Rookie of The Year Award in 1987; he garnered three Gold Glove awards; was named an All-Star four times; and he won the Silver Slugger Award four times. Then he signed a free agent deal with the expansion Marlins as the first stop in an eight-team tour over the last 13 years of his career. He was an All-Star only once more and never again won a Gold Glove. But while Santiago's march to Cooperstown took a detour after he exited southern California, he did some nice things in the second half of his career: in 1996 he replaced Darren Daulton behind the dish for the Phillies and blasted 30 homers. In 2002 he had a good season for the Giants and hit two homers in the NLCS to win MVP of that series, helping San Francisco to their first pennant in 13 years.
#67. Terry Kennedy
Years: 1978-1991 Primary Team: San Diego Padres
At baseball's 1980 Winter Meetings, the St. Louis Cardinals were determined to gut their mediocre team. The team made several trades, one of them an eleven-player swap that sent eight players to the Padres for Rollie Fingers, Gene Tenace, and Bob Shirley. Kennedy was one of those eight players, and the only one who had any impact in San Diego. Padres' GM Jack McKeon had the choice between two catchers: Kennedy and Ted Simmons, the former a young prospect, the latter an All-Star. McKeon's choice was prudent: Kennedy developed into the clubhouse leader of the Padres, who won the pennant four seasons later. (The Cardinals by the way, dealt Simmons and Fingers to the Brewers and launched a dynasty that included three pennants in the next six years). Kennedy described himself as a "high-strung hot head" behind the plate, but he commanded the pitching staff. Kennedy was hampered by his home ballparks (he hit about 20 points higher on the road for his career), and he was the starting catcher for both a SoCal and NoCal team, the only receiver to ever do that.
#68. Mike Stanley
Years: 1986-2000 Primary Team: Boston, Texas, and the Yankees
An easy guy to overlook, Stanley basically split his career between three teams, playing six years for the Rangers, and five each for the Yankees and Red Sox. He's one of the few players after World War II to appear in the postseason for both the Yankees and Red Sox. In 1999 in the Division Series against the Indians, Stanley had 10 hits in five games for Boston, including one of the few 5-hit games in postseason history in Game Four. His performance helped lead the Sox back from an 0-2 deficit to win the series. Like many catchers throughout history, Stanley was stuck in a platoon role for the first part of his career until someone gave him a chance to play every day. For Stanley that someone was Buck Showalter in New Yor. In his first season as a regular, Stanley hit 26 home runs, two more than he had hit in his first seven years. But Stanley wasn't a late bloomer, he'd just never had anyone believe in him. He hit 17 the next year, then 18, 24, and 16 the next few seasons. Later he hit as many as 29. Stanley was vocal in his criticism of steroids in baseball in his latter years in the league. That's interesting I suppose, because his career actually follows a pattern of some steroid users: a sharp increase in homers in mid-career. But Stanley always had 10-15 pop, it's just that the Rangers always platooned him with people like Geno Petralli, Don Slaught, or Chad Kreuter.
#69. John Romano
Years: 1958-1967 Primary Team: Cleveland Indians
From 1960 to 1966, the only six seasons in which Romano had at least 300 plate appearances, his 124 home runs were the most in baseball by a catcher. But Romano had difficulty convincing Al Lopez to write his name on the lineup card early in his career and only got a chance to play regularly after he was traded to Cleveland. The New Jersey native was an All-Star twice for Cleveland and hit 46 homers in 1961-62. He aged out quickly, retiring at the age of 32 having played ten years. Few remember him now, outside of Cleveland, but Romano was a helluva hitter and pretty good with the glove too.
#70. Andy Seminick
Years: 1943-1957 Primary Team: The Whiz Kids
"The Mad Russian" was an aggressive baserunner and a take-charge figure behind the plate. His career year in 1950 helped the Phillies to their only pennant between 1915 and 1980. Seminick was hitting over .330 with an OBP over .400 and slugging mark near .600 at the All-Star break in 1950, helping the Phils to stay near the top of the standings in the National League. The team took control in early August and Seminick cooled off but still had a great season, finishing 14th in MVP voting behind four of his teammates.
#71. John Stearns
Years: 1974-1984 Primary Team: The Mets
Stearns was a gifted athlete, he played defensive back for Colorado in college and still holds the school record with 16 interceptions in one season. The Phillies drafted him second overall in the 1973 draft, picking him right behind David Clyde, the doomed phenom selected by Texas. Stearns was in the big leagues the following year and got a pinch-hit single in his first at-bat. But his path was blocked by Bob Boone (#46 here) and the Phils packaged Stearns in a trade with the Mets that brought Tug McGraw to Philadelphia. Stearns backed up veteran Jerry Grote (#94) for a few seasons before taking over as the starter. At one point he got so frustrated not starting that he asked the Mets to send him to Tidewater so he could play regularly. He was selected for the All-Star team four times as a Met and through his tough, aggressive style of play he became a fan favorite. On a few occasions during his career, Stearns was involved in fights or even all-out brawls with opposing teams. He usually got the better of it. An arm injury he suffered when he was 30 slowed him, and two years later rather than have Tommy John surgery, Stearns retired, having played ten years for the Mets.
#72. Kurt Suzuki
Years: 2007-2018 Primary Team: Oakland Athletics
He would have been much more appreciated in the 1920s when catchers were not expected to hit much. Suzuki had some decent power for a few years early in his career in Oakland but then he took a few steps back and struggled for several years. At the age of 33 he set a career high with 19 homers in Atlanta's little ballpark. Entering 2018 he can still catch a game as well as anyone in baseball and he might be able to add to his accomplishments with a late career revival with the bat.
#73. Paul Lo Duca
Years: 1998-2008 Primary Team: LA Dodgers
The penultimate in a long list of fine Dodger catchers that went: Roy Campanella to John Roseboro to Tom Haller to Joe Ferguson to Steve Yeager to Mike Scioscia to Mike Piazza to Charles Johnson to Lo Duca to Russell Martin. Each of those ten catchers is on the list of 100 greatest catchers in history, and their tenure as Dodgers covered 62 years. The Dodgers won 15 pennants with those catchers behind the mask, though Lo Duca never got to the post-season with LA. He's the only catcher to have a season with an OPS of 900+ but never have another at at least 800+ OPS. He might be the only player to ever do that. He admitted that he used steroids early in his career, including in 2001 when he had that aberrant season with LA.
#74. Matt Wieters
Years: 2009-2018 Primary Team: Baltimore Orioles
Wieters has done some good things in his career through 2017: he's been an All-Star four times and won a pair of Gold Gloves. Offensively he's just an average performer, a typical modern swing-and-miss or hit a homer know and again guy. He's a switch hitter but much more dangerous from the right side. He does walk a little bit, which makes him sort of a poor-man's Mickey Tettleton (#36 above). Defensively he's far superior to Tettleton and rates among the better receivers of the 21st century. An elbow injury in 2014 has hampered his ability behind the dish some.
#75. Earl Battey
Years: 1955-1967 Primary Team: Minnesota Twins
The Chicago White Sox (along with the Indians) were one of the two teams in the American League who enthusiastically pursued minority players once the color barrier was broken in 1947. They snatched up a lot of black talent in the 1950s, and ended up being very competitive for the next 15 years, but could only get past the Yankees once. Battey was one of the best black ballplayers the White Sox signed and developed. But he got stuck in a logjam that included catchers Sherm Lollar (#39 on this list) and Johnny Romano (#66). Bill Veeck traded Battey to the Senators and Romano to the Indians (in the deal that also cost Chicago the services of Norm Cash). Both deals eventually soured. Battey won three Gold Gloves in the early 1960s for the Senators/Twins and was named an All-Star five times. He was, after Elston Howard and Bill Freehan, the best catcher in the American League in the 1960s, once finishing eighth in MVP voting. Battey had the best throwing arm of his era, leading the league in throwing out base stealers four straight years. A thyroid condition hastened the end of his career and he was done by the age of 32. Many years later, Minnesota fans voted him one of the 50 greatest Twins of all-time.
#76. Ernie Whitt
Years: 1976-1991 Primary Team: Toronto Blue Jays
A Detroit native who crushed Tigers' pitching in his career, belting 23 homers against that team in barely more than 400 plate appearances. Whitt was a strong left-handed hitter, built like a bear, with a short, quick stroke. Playing under Bobby Cox for much of his career, Whitt was often used in a platoon role, and he hit 125 of his 134 career home runs against right-handed pitching. Both times the Blue Jays won the division title with Whitt as their catcher, he got off to a great start but tired in the second half, although for his career he had good second-half splits.
#77. Frankie Hayes
Years: 1933-1947 Primary Team: Philadelphia A's
Only eight times in major league history has one player caught every game on the schedule. It happened five times in the 19th century when the seasons were shorter (and catching was less taxing). The other three times occurred during World War II. In 1944, Frankie Hayes started every game behind the plate for Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics. The 29-year old had enough stamina to have a pretty decent season at the plate too, and he finished 14th in MVP voting. As a young player before the war, Hayes was a rascal with the bat, averaging 14 homers and 49 walks per season while posting a 120 OPS. Prior to WWII, only six catchers hit 20 homers in a season: Gabby Hartnett, Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, Rudy York, Ernie Lombardi. and Hayes.
#78. Bubbles Hargrave
Years: 1913-1930 Primary Team: Cincinnati Reds
Hargrave became the first catcher in the twentieth century to win a batting title in 1926. It wasn't a fluke: he batted .310 in 12 seasons in the big leagues. Bubbles, whose given first name was Eugene, was an Indiana boy and he always loved the midwest. That's why he declined offers to be a backup with the Cubs and stayed in the American Association for five years in the middle of his career, from 1916 to 1920. He was major league caliber and the Reds lured him back in 1921 with a lucrative contract offer. Hargrave was tough to strike out and he hit line drives, which made his managers overlook his mediocre throwing arm. His brother William (called Pinky) was also a catcher and spent a decade in the majors, though he was never in the same league as his older sibling.
#79. Bob O'Farrell
Years: 1915-1935 Primary Team: St. Louis Cardinals
O'Farrell is one of the most forgotten players ever to win a Most Valuable Player Award. During his time, he was a well-respected and sought-after catcher with solid defensive skills and a decent bat. He hit .300 four times, and was the anchor behind the plate for three National League teams. In 1926 he was named National League MVP, helping to lead the Cardinals to their first World Series birth. O'Farrell gunned down Babe Ruth trying to steal second base in the seventh game to end the Series and give St. Louis their first championship. When he retired in 1935, he ranked second in games caught in NL history, trailing only Gabby Hartnett, the man who had prompted his trade from the Cubs.
#80. Hank Severeid
Years: 1911-1926 Primary Team: St. Louis Browns
Almost an exact contemporary to three other American League catchers: Wally Schang, Ray Schalk, and Steve O'Neill. Schang was the best hitter, Schalk was the best defensive player, and O'Neill was an excellent team leader who could catch a game as good as almost anyone. Severeid was only a notch below Schalk and O'Neill as a catcher, and might have had the best arm of those four. He was very tough, catching as many as 100 games seven times. Severeid had the misfortune of playing most of his career for the Browns, and it wasn't until his final two years that he played on a winner. In 1925 he backed up Muddy Ruel (#81 on this list) for the pennant-winning Senators. The following season he caddied for Pat Collins as a second catcher for the Yankees, who won the flag. While the younger Collins got the bulk of the starts in the regular season, Miller Huggins chose the veteran Severeid to start every game in the World Series. Severeid's final big league game was Game Seven and his last act on the field was a run-scoring double off Jesse Haines that pulled the Yankees within a run. He was removed for a pinch-runner and his career was over.
#81. Don Slaught
Years: 1982-1997 Primary Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
Very similar player to Chris Iannetta, a modern catcher lower on this list. Slaught had a number of skills that you liked: he handled pitchers well, blocked low pitches, had a strong arm, could hit left-handed pitching, had a little pop in his bat, and made contact. But he struggled if you tried to play him everyday against all kinds of pitching. So he was a platoon player, most famously for several seasons in Pittsburgh with Mike LaValliere. A groundball hitter, Slaught flourished on the fast turf in Three Rivers Stadium, hitting .305 in six seasons with the Bucs. He hit a solo homer off Tom Glavine in the 1992 ALCS to help knuckleballer Tim Wakefield get a win. Slaught was Wakefield's personal catcher in Pittsburgh.
#82. Jody Davis
Years: 1981-1990 Primary Team: Chicago Cubs
Davis could hit like a corner infielder, but his duties as a catcher impaired his offensive growth and cut his career short. Some big guys can forge long careers behind the plate. Ernie Lombardi did it, and Sherm Lollar did it, and so did Carlton Fisk and Lance Parrish. Davis was as big as them, 6'4 and nearly 200 pounds, but he only lasted ten seasons in the big leagues, only six as a regular catcher. He was rough and raw as a defender when he emerged from the minor leagues, but he worked hard and became a decent catcher, though he never got very good at getting the ball quickly to second base. Four times in his career he surrendered more than 100 stolen bases in a season. Davis was a run producer for the Cubs when they won the 1984 division title, and he could always murder the fastball, averaging 20 homers and 72 RBIs from the age of 26 to 30.
#83. Steve Yeager
Years: 1972-1986 Primary Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
Yeager very nearly became the second player to die during a major league game, but it didn't happen while he was catching. In a game against the Padres, Yeager was on deck when a teammate's bat was broken and a large piece of it punctured his neck near his jugular. Fast thinking by a doctor seated in the crowd saved Yeager's life. Amazingly, he was back in the lineup less than two weeks later wearing the special flap under his mask that protected his throat and became standard equipment soon after. Yeager was one of many very good catchers the Dodgers farm system produced in the 1960s and 1970s, including Joe Ferguson and later Mike Scioscia. He was the worst hitter of the three, but played on five first-place teams and four pennant winners. He was a favorite of Tommy Lasorda. In 1981 Yeager hit just three home runs in the regular season but in the World Series he smacked two, both off lefty Ron Guidry. His efforts earned him the World Series Most Valuable Player Award as LA finally vanquished the Yankees after losing twice to them in the 1970s.
#84. Brad Ausmus
Years: 1993-2010 Primary Team: Houston Astros
An unremarkable hitter but a tremendous catcher who became one of the most popular players to ever wear a Houston Astros uniform. Ausmus asked for (and received) permission from the Yankees, the team that drafted him out of high school, to attend Dartmouth while he played minor league ball. He was always thinking about the future and hedging his bets in case baseball wasn't going to work out. He earned his degree, but ended up catching more than 1,900 games in the major leagues. He was drafted in the 47th round but played more games in The Show than any of the 1,150 players drafted ahead of him. Like many highly intelligent people, Ausmus is not a great communicator, a flaw that cost him points with the media and fans in his first gig as a manager in Detroit, one of the four teams he also played for.
#85. Chris Iannetta
Years: 2006-2018 Primary Team: Colorado Rockies
Iannetta's platoon splits are dramatic: through 2017 he's had a 854 OPS against left-handed pitching and 711 against righties. He's struck out at a rate of about 170 per 500 plate appearances against right-handers. As a result, his managers have never played him full-time. Still, his defense is good and he's hit between 14 and 18 homers four times despite never having as many as 350 at-bats in a single season. He also has a good eye, drawing 80 walks per 162 games. That makes him a good rate player who will likely be able to play well into his late 30s. If so, he can leapfrog a dozen catchers or so on this list.
#86. Muddy Ruel
Years: 1915-1934 Primary Team: Washington Senators
With the Yankees, Ruel was behind the plate on the fateful day in 1920, when Cleveland's Ray Chapman was struck in the head by a Carl Mays pitch. Chapman died the next day. Ruel steadfastly maintained that Mays was not to blame for the incident. He was a durable catcher who enjoyed his best seasons as the receiver for the Washington Senators in the 1920s, helping the team to their only World Series title in 1924. He delivered a clutch double and scored the winning run in the final game of that series. Highly educated, Ruel was general manager of the Tigers after his 19-year playing career ended, later worked in the commissioner's office, and was hired to manage his hometown St. Louis Browns in 1947. A graduate of the Washington University Law School, Muddy Ruel is the only ballplayer to have taken a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
#87. Miguel Montero
Years: 2006-2017 Primary Team: Arizona Diamondbacks
Montero was platooned the first five years of his big league career before Kirk Gibson gave him a full-time job in Arizona. A left-handed hitter, he hit 107 of his 126 career home runs (through 2017) off right-handed pitching. Montero is one of those guys who doesn't know when to shut his mouth. The champagne was still flowing after the Cubs ended their World Series drought in 2016, when Montero told reporters he was upset about his playing time. The following year after a game in which the Nationals went 7-for-7 against him in stolen base attempts, Montero ripped teammate Jake Arrieta, blaming the pitcher for the steals. The Cubs released Montero the next day.
#88. Stan Lopata
Years: 1948-1960 Primary Team: Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies had an embarrassment of riches behind the plate in the 1950s, and Lopata was the victim on a logjam. He was stuck behind Andy Seminick and then Smoky Burgess, before he was finally given the starting job when he was 30 years old. Lopata promptly hit 32 homers, scored 96 runs, and drove in 95 runs. His success was more than a simple response to opportunity, he'd also received prudent hitting advice from Rogers Hornsby, who told Lopata to crouch lower at the plate and step quickly into the pitch, unleashing the force of his 6'2 frame at the ball. Lopata hit 72 homers in the three seasons after receiving the advice from "The Rajah." His batting stance was an extreme exaggerated crouch, sort of like the one Rickey Henderson would use years later. Lopata suffered a serious concussion and later developed a bad knee that ended his effectiveness.
#89. Clay Dalrymple
Years: 1960-1971 Primary Team: Phils
Dalrymple came along in time to supplant Lopata as the regular catcher for the Phillies in 1960. He was never a very dangerous hitter, but Dalrymple's baseball IQ was really high, which impressed his two primary managers: Gene Mauch and Earl Weaver. He threw out nearly half of the runners who tried to steal a base against him, and he became a favorite battery-mate of Hall of Famer Jim Bunning.
#90. Alex Avila
Years: 2009-2017 Primary Team: Detroit Tigers
In 2011, Avila was 24 years old and in just his second season as catcher for the Detroit Tigers. He'd been drafted into the organization in part as a favor to his father, the assistant general manager. The younger Avila had a great season, hitting 19 homers and posting a .389 OBP and .506 slugging average. The resulting 895 OPS was by far the best he'd ever have. The Tigers didn't know it, but Avila was having the best season of his career. He spent parts of five more seasons with Detroit, while his offensive skills rapidly eroded. Part of that decline could have been attributed to several concussions Avila suffered behind the plate. The biggest fluke seasons by catchers: Chris Hoiles, Darrell Porter, Jonathan Lucroy, Tim McCarver, Rick Cerone, and Alex Avila... Avila's grandfather (Ralph) was a ballplayer in Cuba before moving to the United States. He ended up working in the Dodger organization for almost four decades as a coach, scout, and executive. The Avila's were personal friends of Tommy Lasorda, and both Al Sr. and little Al considered Lasorda like family.
#91. Mike Lieberthal
Years: 1994-2007 Primary Team: Philadelphia Phillies
You could probably win a lot of sunflower seeds if you bet someone they couldn't tell you which catcher caught the most games for the Phillies. With all the fine catchers the Phils have had, the answer is Lieberthal, who caught 1,139 for the franchise from 1994 to 2006. He was a really good hitter, tearing up lefthanded pitching over his career. In 1999 he hit .300 with 31 homers and 96 RBIs in what was probably the best season by a Philly catcher ever. He also won a Gold Glove, making him one of only four catchers to hit 30 homers in the same season they won a Gold Glove (joining Johnny Bench, Lance Parrish, and Ivan Rodriguez). A series of leg injuries slowed him down in his 30s, but he still managed 150 home runs.
#92. Harry Danning
Years: 1933-1942 Primary Team: New York Giants
The New York Giants of the late 1930s had two distinct factions in their clubhouse. This was a successful team: they won the pennant in 1937 and 1938 and had several great players on their roster. The first faction was a proper group that had men who were not big drinkers, but concentrated on playing good ball almost exclusively. They included Mel Ott and pitcher Carl Hubbell. The other faction was a fun-loving gang who liked to frequent night clubs. That group was led by shortstop Dick Bartell and Jumbo Brown. The tall Jewish catcher Harry Danning was also in that latter group, a jovial man who earned four straight selections to the NL All-Star team. Danning had a short swing and usually made contact, hitting over .300 three times as a regular behind the plate. He played in the shadows of two other NL catchers, Gabby Hartnett and Ernie Lombardi. But Harry was an above average defender and a solid offensive threat for the Giants, for whom he played his entire career until it was ended due to World War II. In September of 1941, just a few months before Pearl Harbor got the U.S. into the war, Danning was one of four Jewish players in the lineup for the G-Men, the others being Harry Feldman, Morrie Arnovich, and Sid Gordon.
#93. Johnny Edwards
Years: 1961-1974 Primary Team: Cincinnati Reds
Edwards pushed Ed Bailey (#40 above) out of Cincinnati, but Bailey went on to have several more good years. Edwards was an Ohio boy, starred in Columbus as a High School All-American and then played for Ohio State University (where he earned an engineering degree). Edwards was ready to play in the majors out of college but he had to spend three years in the minors. He hit .298 in 322 games and averaged 13 homers and 70 RBIs. After winning two Gold Gloves and being a three-time All-Star for Cincinnati, Edwards was replaced by Johnny Bench. Edwards suffered a broken finger in spring training before his sixth season and he was never the same hitter again.
#94. Mike Macfarlane
Years: 1987-1999 Primary Team: Kansas City Royals
#95. Milt May
Years: 1970-1984 Primary Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
His father Merrill May was called "Pinky" and played third base for the Phillies in the early 1940s. He later managed in the minor leagues for almost three decades... Milt was a useful player with a strange batting stance who started out with a very good club (the Pirates of the 1970s) but didn't have a chance with Manny Sanguillen (#31) in the lineup. May bounced to several second-division teams for the balance of his career. He made contact and could hit right-handed pitching pretty well. May was hurt by a few of his home ballparks, namely the Astrodome and Candlestick, and his career road stats are pretty decent for that era (274/325/372).
#96. Jerry Grote
Years: 1963-1981 Primary Team: New York Mets
Grote had his best season at the age of 32, which is extremely rare for a catcher. That year he struck out 15 fewer times than he walked. It was the 1970s and Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, and Thurman Munson were stars. Grote was sort of a living example of what a good catcher from the 1920s looked like: decent batting average, catch about 110 games, tough to strike out, and good at handling the running game. He played in four World Series: with the Mets (as a starter) and later with the Dodgers (as a backup for #77 Steve Yeager).
#97. Ray Fosse
Years: 1967-1979 Primary Team: Cleveland Indians
Injuries held Fosse back from reaching his full potential, and one of those injuries was a separated shoulder he suffered when Pete Rose ran him over at home plate in the 1970 All-Star Game. But that setback was not the reason Fosse struggled after a Gold Glove and All-Star season at the age of 23. In '71, Fosse made the All-Star Game again for the Indians, but within a few years a series of physical challenges severely lessened his playing time. After the age of 26, Fosse caught fewer than 300 games, and his career was over at the age of 32. Still, his peak, from 1970-73 was pretty damn good. He won two championships with the Oakland A's.
#98. Ron Hassey
Years: 1978-1991 Primary Team: Cleveland Indians
Hassey was an excellent high school athlete in Tucson, but spurned offers to go professional and accepted a scholarship to play at Arizona state University. In Hassey's senior year, the Wildcats won the NCAA title, with Ron providing power at the plate while playing catcher. He was drafted by the Indians and was in the big leagues less than two years later. With a permanent tan, a barrel chest and thick black hair, Hassey looked a little like Fred Flintstone, but he hit like a modern man. He could always hit, and when he was taking a day off from behind the dish, his manager's frequently asked him to DH or play first base. After playing for mediocre teams for years, he finally got a chance to win with the A's in the late 1980s, and he was behind the mask when Kirk Gibson hit his famous game-winning home run off Dennis Eckersley in Game One of the 1988 Fall Classic.
#99. Sandy Alomar
Years: 1988-2007 Primary Team: Cleveland Indians
Alomar was involved in a tangential way in the series of circular events that brought Joe Carter to San Diego and then Toronto, and his brother Robbie Alomar to the Blue Jays. Alomar was extra weight on the Padres who had Benito Santigo (#50) and later Charles Johnson (#52) in their organization in the early 1990s, so they traded him to the Indians. Alomar loved hitting in Cleveland, if he'd been able to hit in The Jacob only, he might have been a Hall of Famer. He was Rookie of the Year in 1990 when he also won the Gold Glove Award. But injuries shattered his career the next few seasons: he missed at least a month (and usually more) every year from the age of 25 to 29. He might be the most oft-injured player to end up playing for two decades. Had the Indians won the 1997 World Series, Alomar would have been MVP, he hit two homers and had ten RBIs in the seven games.
#100. Dan Wilson
Years: 1992-2005 Primary Team: Seattle Mariners