This is something I've wanted to get up for a while. And as I sit here in my sweat, not having eaten in twenty-four hours, in need of a quick shower, I'll bang it out.
I've been thinking about the best catchers ever. There are only nineteen catchers in the Hall of Fame. Isn't that crazy? We're talk almost 150 years of baseball. The catcher, after the pitcher, and maybe the shortstop, is the most important player on the team, potentially. Catchers are huge! They have so much defensive responsibility. And obviously they're a big part of the pitching game. Then some catchers provide top-level offense. A great catcher has massive significance for a ball club.
I know people will say my list is flawed right away because it doesn't include Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez. Piazza is perhaps the best hitting catcher ever. I just don't see him as a catcher. He was a hitter who happened to catch. As for Rodriguez--I just thought something was off. There were chemicals at play. I don't know. It's a subjective list that way. In that way in particular.
I also cheated. I think this list is less interesting at the top spot, most interesting at the bottom spots, and you know who will be in the middle, but the order is hard to figure out.
So this is what I have.
1. Johnny Bench and Josh Gibson
This is where I cheated, with the tie. But I think you have to. One guy we know everything about, and the other guy we don't. It's hard for me to believe, though, that off of everything I've heard and read about Gibson, he wasn't at this level. He deserves it, you can't penalize him. And where do you put him? Seventh? That seems unfair. Bench led the NL in RBI three times. That's insane. Any time a catcher leads the league in RBI it is insane.
2. Yogi Berra
He's become underrated. Don't know why. Did he deserve three MVPs? Well, maybe not. But catchers were valued very highly--and rightly so, in my view--during his era.
3. Carlton Fisk
Did it so well, for so long, and so completely. He gave you fantastic career value. His best seasons--1972 and 1977--rank with just about any any catcher has ever had. Hit a lot of home runs in a low era for home runs. Got on base a lot. Fine baserunner. Excellent defensively, though with just one Gold Glove.
4. Gary Carter
Close to Fisk, but petered out early. In 1982, he was probably the best all-around baseball player in either league. Led the league in RBI in 1984. Only Hall of Famer on 1986 Mets. Which seems surprising, but as I said on the radio, the drugs had a lot to do with that.
5. Bill Dickey
Another underrated Yankee. Overshadowed by his teammates--Gehrig, DiMaggio. Look at his production. Averaged 109 RBI per 162 games.
6. Mickey Cochrane
Career .320 hitter, with an .897 OPS and a 129 OPS+. Two-time MVP.
7. Roy Campanella
Another three-time MVP. Big power stats. Had 41 homers and 142 RBI one year. He was also robbed of what probably would have been two or three other stellar seasons on account of the color barrier.
8. Ted Simmons
I never understood when I was growing up why a bigger deal was not made of this guy. Sublime hitter for a catcher. That sounds diminishing--he'd be a sublime hitter for any position.
9. Ernie Lombardi
Career .306 hitter, led the league in average at .342 one year.
10. Gabby Hartnett
.858 career OPS, just under 100 RBI per 162 games. MVP in 1935.
My #11, incidentally, would be a surprising choice I think--Bill Freehan. Played in a Dead Ball-type era, but the best catcher in baseball for a decent stretch. Not in the Hall of Fame, but should be. Also wrote a neat book.