Over the years we’ve seen catchers come and go throughout major league baseball history. You might have grown up watching a specific one and believe he is the best of all time. Then again maybe you have that “dark horse” that always starts the debating. Whatever the case may be the top ten MLB catchers of all time is a lot more difficult to decide than you might think.
It all depends on how you consider a player to be the best. I mean do you look at world championships? Does the amount of years he played taint the overall stats? Heck, does on and off the field issues come into play? Do you believe that different eras cannot be judged to make a “true” top ten MLB catchers of all time list?
Well, I have my own criteria just like most of you…so let the debates begin!
#10 Carlton Fisk- Might as well get things off on the right foot and have everyone wondering why the real “Pudge” is only at #10. Well, I think he gets a little more recognition than he should due to his game-winning home run in the 6th game of the 1975 World Series.
Yes he had the 2nd most home runs (376) for a catcher (Johnny Bench had 389), but both were past by Mike Piazza and Fisk played longer than any other catcher on this list (24 years). However, this turned out to be a huge benefit considering he held the record for most games played behind-the-plate (2,226). This was also broken in 2009 by Ivan Rodriguez.
In my mind he’s been past by over the years by better offensive catchers, even though he was great at managing pitchers. While I don’t consider the amount of World Series you win in a team sport to matter much when comparing catchers, at least one would have helped. Overall he’s still a top 10 catcher, but on my list he’s #10.
#9 Elston Howard- I find Elston Howard one of the most fascinating catchers on this list. While most of you won’t see why he is ranked ahead of Fisk on my list, my criteria believes he should be. Honestly, his regular season stats rank the lowest amongst all the catchers on this list, but it’s his World Series capabilities and defensive skills that made him one of the best.
One of the reasons his totals are lower is due to only 14 years in the league, which is the 3rd shortest amongst my top 10. While I’m not sure the exact reason for only fourteen years, I would guess that playing catcher, left field, and first base had something to do with his body’s deterioration.
He was lucky enough to play in 10 World Series and won 4 as a player. He had the record for lifetime fielding percentage (.993) for 7 years and the day he retired he ranked 7th for all-time putouts (6,447).
Still today he is most notable for being the first African-American on a New York Yankees roster. He also had to fill the shoes of Yogi Berra, which he took over for in 1960. Personally, playing in New York with all the expectations, replacing a legend like Berra, and being African-American during that time really says something about his character. Howard was able to overcome all and become one of the best catchers of all time and #9 on my list.
He died on December 14th at the age of 51 due to complications from myocarditis; a rare heart disease.
#8 Bill Dickey- By far one of the best hitting catchers of all time, Dickey had a lifetime average of .313, which ranks 2nd among this top 10. He spent almost have of his playing career in the World Series winning 8 titles (although he just came up in mid-August of 1928).
He also had the record for highest single season average (.362) by a catcher until Joe Mauer broke it in 2009 with a .365 average (also tied by Mike Piazza in 97′). Some may argue that his hitting capabilities were tainted by the Yankee’s sluggers over the years, but it wasn’t until 1932 that Dickey tasted a true World Series Championship while playing. The majority of that year he batted 6th behind Combs, Sewell, Ruth, Gehrig, and Lazzeri (in that order).
Even in 36′ only Gehrig and Lazzeri we left with Dickey, but it was the debut year of Joe Dimaggio. All this is great and Dickey did get 7 of his own titles, but passing down his experience to Yogi Berra in 1946 really stands out. Dickey was an excellent defensive catcher and even had a year where he through out 60% of runners trying to steal. Being able to hand down his expertise to an already crafty hitter in Berra is one of the reasons Yogi is considered by some to be the best ever.
1946 was the only year Bill Dickey coached the Yankees and was in partly because of World War II. His career was stellar and often overshadowed by the greats he was lucky enough to play with throughout his career (Ruth, Gehrig, Dimaggio, etc.), which might be why he’s only #8 on my list.
#7 Gary Carter- Most people don’t know this about “Kid” Carter, but he was actually drafted as a shortstop by the Montreal Expos in 1972. Over 19 seasons you rarely found Carter out of the lineup averaging 120 games a year. His numbers were not stellar and more middle of the pack in offensive categories amongst this top 10, if you average them out on a per year basis.
He is most remembered for his 12 year stint with the Montreal Expos franchise, which became the Washington Nationals in 2004. He played in 11 All-Star games (2 MVPs), earned 3 Gold Gloves between 1980-82, 5 Silver Slugger awards between 1981-86, won his lone World Series with the New York Mets in 1986, and the Roberte Clemente award in 1989.
Carter also caught Charlie Lea’s no-hitter in 1981, and started in the All-Star Game over Johnny Bench that same year. Most notably in the statistics was his .991 fielding percentage as a catcher over the span of his career, and his 11,785 putouts. He is also the only Expos player to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown (until July 25, 2010 when Andre Dawson will be inducted).
#6 Mike Piazza- By far one of the most prolific hitting catchers, Piazza holds the record for home runs (427). Johnny Bench is second, but 38 behind and actually played one more season than Piazza. In his 16 seasons, Mike Piazza was able to wow crowds with mammoth home runs and a lifetime batting average of .308.
While he ranks in the top of most offensive categories amongst the top 10 catchers of all time, his defensive skills were lacking. His best caught stealing percentage was in 1993. Piazza never reached 30% again in his career. However, this was the same year he won the NL Rookie of the Year Award.
Piazza was never able to win a World Series, but was part of the Subway Series against the Yankees in 2000. The Mets fell in 5 games. Even though Mike is known for his power, some believe the most important home run of his career was 10 days after the September 11th attacks in 2001.
This was the first event that took place in New York City since the attacks, and in the bottom of the 8th Piazza belted a 2-run homer that lifted the Mets to a 3-2 win. While some believe it’s the greatest moment in MLB history, I believe its at least the most emotional.
In the end it was Piazza’s offensive career that catapulted him into the top ten MLB catchers of all time. In fact, he is only one of 9 players to have more than 400 home runs, a .300 batting average or better, and never struck out more than 100 times in a season. When you sit next to names like; Hank Aaron, Mel Ott, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig, and Babe Ruth, it can only be a good thing.
#5 Mickey Cochrane- “Black Mike” as most of his peers called him had his career cut short after being pelted in the head with a pitch from New York Yankees pitcher Bump Hadley. Cochrane was in the hospital for a week, and after the incident almost killed him he was ordered to never play again.
However, before this fateful day Mickey Cochrane was one of the best catchers to play major league baseball. He held the highest batting average over a career for a catcher until 2009 when Joe Mauer broke it and Cochrane still holds the highest on-base percentage (.419) all time among catchers.
Mickey was also the first catcher to hit 100 RBIs and have 100 runs scored in the same season. Outside of Ivan Rodriguez he has the 2nd best SB average surrounding this top ten MLB catchers of all time list. Cochrane was also a very good defensive catcher. He led the American League 6 times in putouts, and in fielding %, DPs, as well as assists 2 times a piece. He also had a 38% CS percentage.
In 1928 and 1934 Cochrane was the AL-MVP and won World Series titles with both the Philadelphia Athletics (1929 and 1930) and the Detroit Tigers (1935). Cochrane was the first catcher inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1947. I believe he might be higher on my list had he been able to keep playing 4-7 more years.
It’s unfortunate that his career was cut short. He actually was a player/manager with the Detroit Tigers when they won a World Series in 1935. In all he managed from 1934-1938. Oddly enough his numbers worn by both teams were never retired. Cochrane died in 1962 from lymphatic cancer at the age of 59.
#3 Yogi Berra- I can already see the debate here, but in my mind and criteria Berra ends up in a 3-way tie at #3. Sure he was on 10 World Series Championship teams, he had 3 AL-MVP awards (51′,54′,55′), was in 18 All-Star games (2 games were played from 59-61), and had an historic 20 year career. There is no doubt the nostalgia that surrounds him is well deserved.https://publish.associatedcontent.com/cms_edit_article.shtml?page=2&content_type_id=5512380
However, over his career the year averages are only mediocre. In Hits, Runs, HR, RBI, SB, and Average, Berra ranks in the middle of the pack in most and towards the bottom in another when it comes to the top 10 here. Most of his fame is due to being in the spotlight, especially with 14 World Series chances, plus playing with greats like Joe Dimaggio and Mickey Mantle.
His defensive strengths revolved around throwing out runners, which occurred 47.8% of the time, which is 2nd behind Roy Campanella (57%). Kudos to any player that play in the bigs for 20 years, especially at catcher. He is only 1 of 3 on my top ten MLB catchers of all time to do so.
#3 Ivan Rodriguez- Another catcher with 20 years experience, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez was one of the best all-around catchers ever to play the game. His CS% is right behind Yogi Berra at 47.5%, which places him 5th all time (Berra is 3rd). Outside of HRs, Rodriguez beat out Berra in all other common offensive statistics on a per year basis.
Rodriguez was full of speed for a catcher, and ranked 1st in Stolen Bases among the top 10 here. However, Carlton Fisk actually has 1 more SB(I-Rod has 127 as of 2010), but also played 4 additional years. He also broke Fisk’s games caught record in June of 2009 and is still padding those stats today with the Washington Nationals.
Overall I-Rod has 13 Gold Glove awards, 7 Silver Sluggers, the 1999 AL MVP, 14 All-Star selections, and a World Series Championship with the Florida Marlins in 2003. He also went to the World Series in 2006 with the Detroit Tigers, but lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in 5 games. In the end he is arguable the best defensive catcher ever, which of course will be debated for many years to come.
#2 Johnny Bench- Over the years Johnny Bench has been considered the greatest catcher of all time. Some place him second behind Yogi Berra, but it’s one of the best parts of debating baseball. During his 17 year career Bench (all with the Cincinnati Reds) won 2 World Series, was named the 1968 NL Rookie of the Year, was named NL MVP in 1970 and 1972, won 10 Gold Glove awards, was elected to 14 All-Star games, as well as several other honors.
Among the top ten MLB catchers of all time here Bench secured the lowest lifetime batting average (.267). However, he led all catchers in home runs with 327 until Carlton Fisk surpassed that mark and later by Mike Piazza.
In 1974 Bench became the 4th catcher ever to have 100 RBIs and 100 Runs scored in the same season. It’s important to note that Bench actually had 389 HR over his career, but only 327 as a catcher. The final 3 seasons of his career he only caught 13 games and mostly played either first or third base.
There is no doubt he is one of the best catchers of all time and #1 in most people’s book. However, my top ten MLB catchers of all time has another at the top.
#1- Roy Campanella- One of the most prolific players of his time, Roy “Campy” Campanella was able to a lot in a short period of time. Campanella was only able to play for 10 seasons after a car accident left him paralyzed in the winter of 1958.
There were a lot of firsts for Campy over the years, and one of them was being selected for the All-Star team in 1949. It was the first time an African-American made the All-Stars and during the 49′ game there were 4 (Larry Doby, Don Newcombe, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella).
In all he made 8 All-Star teams, won 3 MVP awards (1951, 53′, 55′), and won a World Series in 1955. He played in 5 overall, but lost to Joe Dimaggio and Mickey Mantle’s New York Yankees 4 times.
After the 1953 season was complete Campanella had totaled 142 RBIs. This is now the 2nd most in a single season for the Los Angeles Dodgers (broken by Tommy Davis in 1962). He was also the first catcher to hit 40 home runs while playing catcher. This occurred during the same year and held up for 43 years until Todd Hundley broke it in 1996.
Probably the most remarkable part about Campanella’s play was his ability to throw out base runners. According to BaseballReference.com Roy threw out runners 51% of the time. However, I came across a PDF file that had this stat at 57% (Wikipedia.org also states 57%). Either way this had to change the complexity of many games, and it’s the highest percentage among all catchers in major league history.
Would he of hit 300 home runs if his career wasn’t cut short? Would his stats drop or escalate? We will never know, but based on my criteria he’s the greatest catcher of all-time.