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. 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.
#5. 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.
#6. 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.
#7. Joe Mauer
Years: 2004-2017 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.
#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. 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.
#14. 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.
#15. 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.
#16. 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.
#17. Buster Posey
Years: 2009-2017 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 however, 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.
#18. 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.
#19. 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.
#20. 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.
#21. 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.
#22. 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. 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.
#23. 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.
#24. 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.
#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. 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.
#28. 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.
#29. 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.
#30. 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.
#31. 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.
#32. Brian McCann
Years: 2005-2017 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.
#33. 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.
#34. 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.
#35. 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.
#36. 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.
#37. 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.
#38. 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.
#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. 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.
#41. 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.
#42. 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.
#43. 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?"
#44. 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.
#45. 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.
#46. 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.
#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. 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.
#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. 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.
#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. 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.
#53. 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.
#54. 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.
#55. Johnny Kling
Years: 1901-1913 Primary Team: Chicago Cubs
#56. Chief Meyers
Years: 1909-1917 Primary Team: New York Giants
#57. Rick Dempsey
Years: 1969-1992 Primary Team: Baltimore Orioles
#58. John Roseboro
Years: 1957-1970 Primary Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
#59. Mike Napoli
Years: 2006-2017 Primary Team: Los Angeles Angels
#60. Joe Ferguson
Years: 1970-1983 Primary Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
#61. Steve O'Neill
Years: 1911-1928 Primary Team: Cleveland Indians
#62. Jonathan Lucroy
Years: 2010-2017 Primary Team: Milwaukee Brewers
#63. A.J. Pierzynski
Years: 1998-2016 Primary Team: San Francisco Giants
#64. Andy Seminick
Years: 1943-1957 Primary Team: The Whiz Kids
#65. Terry Kennedy
Years: 1978-1991 Primary Team: San Diego Padres
#66. John Romano
Years: 1958-1967 Primary Team: Cleveland Indians
#67. Mike Stanley
Years: 1986-2000 Primary Team: Boston, Texas, and the Yankees
#68. Ramon Hernandez
Years: 1999-2013 Primary Team: The A's
#69. John Stearns
Years: 1974-1984 Primary Team: The Mets
#70. Salvador Perez
Years: 2011-2017 Primary Team: The Royals
#71. Earl Battey
Years: 1955-1967 Primary Team: Minnesota Twins
#72. Paul Lo Duca
Years: 1998-2008 Primary Team: LA Dodgers
#73. Frankie Hayes
Years: 1933-1947 Primary Team: Philadelphia A's
#74. Ernie Whitt
Years: 1976-1991 Primary Team: Toronto Blue Jays
#75. Johnny Bassler
Years: 1913-1927 Primary Team: Detroit Tigers
#76. Bob O'Farrell
Years: 1915-1935 Primary Team: St. Louis Cardinals
#77. Steve Yeager
Years: 1972-1986 Primary Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
#78. Kurt Suzuki
Years: 2007-2017 Primary Team: Oakland Athletics
#79. Bubbles Hargrave
Years: 1913-1930 Primary Team: Cincinnati Reds
#80. Don Slaught
Years: 1982-1997 Primary Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
#81. Muddy Ruel
Years: 1915-1934 Primary Team: Washington Senators
#82. Jody Davis
Years: 1981-1990 Primary Team: Chicago Cubs
#83. Clay Dalrymple
Years: 1960-1971 Primary Team: Phils
#84. Stan Lopata
Years: 1948-1960 Primary Team: Philadelphia Phillies
#85. Matt Wieters
Years: 2009-2017 Primary Team: Baltimore Orioles
#86. Hank Severeid
Years: 1911-1926 Primary Team: St. Louis Browns
#87. Brad Ausmus
Years: 1993-2010 Primary Team: Houston Astros
#88. Chris Iannetta
Years: 2006-2017 Primary Team: Colorado Rockies
#89. Harry Danning
Years: 1933-1942 Primary Team: New York Giants
#90. Alex Avila
Years: 2009-2017 Primary Team: Detroit Tigers
#91. Johnny Edwards
Years: 1961-1974 Primary Team: Cincinnati Reds
#92. Miguel Montero
Years: 2006-2017 Primary Team: Arizona Diamondbacks
#93. Mike Lieberthal
Years: 1994-2007 Primary Team: Philadelphia Phillies
#94. Jerry Grote
Years: 1963-1981 Primary Team: New York Mets
#95. Ray Fosse
Years: 1967-1979 Primary Team: Cleveland Indians
#96. Frank Snyder
Years: 1912-1927 Primary Team: New York Giants
#97. Hank Gowdy
Years: 1910-1930 Primary Team: Boston Braves
#98. Ron Hassey
Years: 1978-1991 Primary Team: Cleveland Indians
#99. Milt May
Years: 1970-1984 Primary Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
#100. Sandy Alomar
Years: 1988-2007 Primary Team: Cleveland Indians