Catchers are one of the most important players on any baseball team. Considered the field general, the catcher studies each hitter on the opposing team and knows his pitchers and how they should pitcher each hitter.
Not often considered a player with a big bat, there have been catchers that have succeeded as well or better at the plate than the field, but what a catcher does behind the plate has always been more important to a team that what he does at bat.
25. Elston Howard
Elston Howard was the first African American to play for the New York Yankees in 1955. He played 13 seasons with the Bronx Bombers averaging .279 at the plate with 733 RBIs but struck out 786 times. The former Yankee catcher won 4 World Series titles and played in 12 All-Star Games. Howard was the AL MVP in 1963, the MVP of the 1958 World Series and won 2 Gold Glove awards.
24. Benito Santiago
Benito Santiago played 1978 games during his 20 year major league career playing for much of the time with the San Diego Padres, but also spent time with the Marlins, Reds, Blue Jays, Cubs, Giants, Royals and Pirates.
Santiago’s career fielding percentage was an impressive .987 and at the plate Benito averaged .263, with 217 home runs and 920 RBIs. Santiago played on 4 All-Star teams and won the Rookie of the Year award, 3 Gold Glove awards, 4 Silver Slugger awards and in 2002 was the MVP of the National League Championship Series.
23. Jason Varitek
Varitek spend all 15 years of his MLB with the Boston Red Sox. Varitek was a field general and was able to handle several great pitchers the Red Sox had during his tenure including Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez.
The Boston catcher was erratic at the plate evidenced by batting as high as .296 during the 2004 season, but as low as .209 during the 2009 season. Nevertheless, his defensive skills and talent in pitch selection are what made Varitek an invaluable part of 2 Boston Red Sox World Series championship teams. Varitek also caught a major league record four no-hitters.
22. Lance Parrish
Parrish played on seven different teams – Tigers, Phillies, Angels, Mariners, Indians, Pirates and Blue Jays – during his major league career that spanned 19 seasons. Parrish is fifth all-time in MLB history in home runs for catchers with 299. Defensively, Parrish finished his career with a fielding percentage of .991. Parrish won 6 silver slugger awards and 3 Gold Glove Awards.
21. Joe Torre
Joe Torre was an impact catcher before he became a great manager. During 18 years playing in the majors, Torre played for the Braves, Cardinals and Mets. The talented Torre was named to 9 All-Star teams and earned the MVP awards during 1971 after leading the National League in batting average at .363, RBIs with 137 and hits with 230.
20. Biz Mackey
Prior to Jackie Robinson breaking color barriers in baseball, Mackey was considered an all-time great. Mackey played for the Hilldale Giants and finished his career with a .328 batting average. Mackey played in 5 East-West All-Stat Games and received praise from fellow greats such as Roy Campanella.
Although Mackey never played in the major leagues, he is considered very important for the game due to his impact on the Negro Leagues and their players that eventually were able to make the jump to MLB.
19. Buck Ewing
Connie Mack called Buck Ewing the game’s greatest catcher. Ewing ended his career with a batting average of .303 with 354 stolen bases. From 1880-1897, Ewing was able to adapt to the a change in pace of the game better than nearly every other catcher of his generation.
Ewing became one of baseball’s first backstops to crouch behind home plate and move up closer to each batter which cut down the time he received the pitch so he could throw out base runners easier. Ewing for most of his career did not even use a chest protector or a solid mask and there is no surprise to baseball fans that Ewing was considered one of the toughest and craziest off all-time to play catcher.
18. Ted Simmons
Simmons enjoyed a very good MLB career with both the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers. Simmons was voted to 8 All-Star Games and was the catcher for two of Bob Gibson’s no-hitters.
In 1980, Simmons won a Silver Slugger award and batted .300 or better seven seasons during his career, which lasted 21 seasons. The catcher set several records in the majors for catchers including career hits with 2,472 and doubles with 483. Those records no longer stand, but Simmons remains second all-time amongst catchers for RBIs with 1,389 and is 10th in home runs with 248.
17. Gabby Hartnett
Gabby Hartnett was one of the game’s and the Chicago Cubs’ all-time best catchers during the 1930s. Hartnett was elected to 6 All Star Games and won the NL MVP. In 1930, Harnett had one of the best statistical seasons for any catcher with a .339 batting average, 37 home runs and 122 RBIs.
Seven seasons later in 1937, Hartnett averaged .354 at the plate and that average was the best for any catcher for 60 years until Mike Piazza broke the record with an average of .362 in 1997. Hartnett finished his career with 236 homers and a batting average of .297 over a career of 19 years.
16. Buster Posey
Buster Posey continues to play in MLB with the San Francisco Giants. In 2012, Posey was voted NL MVP and broke a drought of 4 decades for a catcher to win the NL MVP award with Johnny Bench the last in 1972.
Posey led the National League in batting the year he was voted MVP with a .336 batting average 24 home runs and 103 RBIs. During his best five seasons between 2012 and 2016, Posey averaged .309 at the plate, 19 home runs and 88 RBIs. For that same span, Posey played in 146 games or more and was a top-20 vote getter for NL MVP each of the five seasons.
Career stats as of the publication date of this article (05/30/2019) include a batting average of .304, 135 home runs and 651 RBIs.
15. Joe Mauer
Mauer finished his career with the seventh best WAR for all catchers. If he would have remained behind the plate throughout his career, Mauer would likely be known as one of the top 5 catchers of all time, but he moved to first base in his final years before retiring following the 2018 season.
He established a single-season MLB record in batting average of .365 for catchers in 2009 and was named the AL MVP that same season. Mauer won the batting title three times and earned 6 trips to the All-Star Game, won 5 Silver Slugger awards and 3 Gold Glove awards.
14. Yadier Molina
Molina continues to play for the St. Louis Cardinals and before his career is over will likely move up in ranking for all-time catchers. Molina has earned 9 Gold Glove awards, 4 Platinum Glove awards, 2 Wilson Defensive Player of the Year awards, and the Roberto Clemente Award. Molina has been selected to play in 9 All-Star Games.
The St. Louis catcher is one of baseball’s all-time best field general behind the plate thanks to his experience in pitch selection. The Cardinals are two-time World Series winners with Molina as their backstop.
13. Thurman Munson
Thurman Munson was one of the Yankees’ all-time best catchers before a tragic plane crash cut his life short. He earned 7 trips to the All-Star Games, 3 Gold Glover awards, an AL MVP and Rookie of the Year award.
Munson was the field general for two World Series titles the Yankees earned during his career. Hebecame the only catcher during the postseason in MLB history to average .300 or higher, have 20 RBIs or more and throw out 20 runners or more. The former Yankee catcher averaged .357 during the postseason, had 22 RBIs and threw out 24 runners. New York retired Munson’s No. 15 jersey posthumously.
12. Jorge Posada
Posada was part of the “Core Four” (Posada, Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera) for the New York Yankees and became one of baseball’s winningest catchers. He played all 17 years of his MLB career with New York during the 1900s and 2000s.
The former Yankee catcher helped guide the Bronx Bombers to four World Series, was named to 5 All-Star teams, and won a Silver Slugger award. Posada ended his career with 275 homers and 1,065 RBIs. From 2000 to 2011, the Yankees catcher hit more homers and knocked in more runs than any other catcher in baseball. He fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after just one year.
11. Ernie Lombardi
Known affectionately as “Schnozz” Lombardi earned enshrinement into the Hall of Fame thanks to a strong bat and a rocket arm. Lombardi batted .306 for his career using his power to make up for a lack of speed.
Lombardi interlocked his two hands on the bat and had an unusual batting stance. He hit .300 or better 10 times during his career and finished with a .460 slugging percentage and .818 OPS.
10. Bill Dickey
Dickey one of the best catcher’s baseball has seen. Playing for the New York Yankees, Dickey was on 7 World Series champions. Dickey was voted to 11 All-Star Games and finished his stellar career with a .313 batting average.
In 11 seasons Dickey batted .300 or better and for a four-year span between 1936 and 1939 Dickey belted 102 home runs and knocked in 460 runs. Dickey was the manager of the Yankees for one season following his retirement as a player.
Prior to being beaned with an errant fastball that ended the career of Cochrane, “Black Mike” as he was known had a great career as a catcher. Cochrane spent most of his professional career playing for the Philadelphia Athletics where he was an above average hitter and called a tremendous game behind the plate.
Black Mike earned 2 MVP awards and won 3 World Series titles, finishing his career with a batting average of .320. In 1930, he batted a career high .357 and in 1931 followed that success with a .349 average. Cochrane controlled every game he played from behind the plate and was considered one of the all-time best game callers.
8. Josh Gibson
Gibson was considered one of the Negro Leagues’ best power hitters Gibson was called the “black Babe Ruth.” Gibson played for the Homestead Gray as well as the Pittsburgh Crawford and for his career batted for an average of .350.
As well as his average, Gibson also posted a .626 slugging percentage and a 1.026 OPS. The “black Babe Ruth” never played in MLB, but he left his mark and a lasting impact on everyone who was able to watch him play.
7. Gary Carter
The “Kid” as Carter was so affectionately called was an above average hitter and even better on defense. Carter earned 5 Silver Slugger awards, 3 Gold Glove awards, and was voted to 11 All-Star Games where he earned the All-Star MVP twice.
During the last 1970s and the early part of the 1980s, Carter led several statistical categories for catchers including total chances, put-outs, double plays and assists. During the 1978 season Carter set a new MLB record for the least number of passed balls. Carter was instrumental in leading the 1896 New York Mets to the World Series title. Carter ended his career with 324 homers and in 2003 entered the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Pudge Rodriguez is the best defensive catcher baseball has ever seen. The model of durability and consistency, Pudge set the bar as high as any player for durability with the possible exception of Cal Ripken Jr. Rodriguez played 21 seasons behind home plate possessing one of the finest arms of any catcher before or after him.
Pudge caught more than 50% of runners that attempted to steal against his rocket of an arm in nine different seasons. For his career, Pudge caught 46% of the runners attempting to steal.
Rodriguez won the World Series in 2003 with the Miami Marlins was voted to 14 All-Star teams while winning 13 Gold Glove awards and 7 Silver Slugger awards. Pudge has the most put-outs for a catcher of all-time with 14,864 and games caught at 2,427. His stats at the plate spoke for themselves with a career batting average of .296, 311 home runs and 1,332 RBIs.
5. Mike Piazza
Mike Piazza was the best offensive catcher of all-time. While he did not have the talent on the defensive side of his game like other great backstops, Piazza made up for it with his offense.
Voted to 12 All-Star teams and the winner of 10 Silver Slugger awards, Piazza was a great hitter in his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets. Piazza finished with a career batting average of .308 with 427 home runs (396 while catching) and 1,335 RBIs.
Piazza posted three of the best 5 seasons by a catcher for OPS+ and has the highest market for any catcher of offensive WAR at 65.9. In 1997, Piazza’s finest season, the catcher batted .362 with 40 home runs and 124 RBIs.
4. Carlton Fisk
Carlton Fisk will be most remembered for the game winning home run that he helped wave fair in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series as he ran down the first base line. However, Fisk did much more during his MLB career thanks to incredible durability catching 2,226 games, second only to Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez.
He was voted to 11 All-Star teams and won the Silver Slugger award three times. The Commander as some would call him is third all-time in home runs for catchers at 376 and sixth all time in RBIs with 1,330. Fisk was the original “Pudge” and ranks No. 4 all time in WAR trailing just Johnny Bench, Gary Carter and Ivan Rodriguez.
3. Roy Campanella
Roy Campanella would have put up much higher statistical numbers if not for a career-ending injury. Prior to his car accident that left Campanella paralyzed before the start of his 11th MLB season, the backstop for the Dodgers was phenomenal.
Campanella joined Jackie Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 10 seasons, the catcher was voted to 8 All-Star Games, won 3 NL MVP awards and was part of the Dodgers 1955 World Series championship team.
Not only could Campanella hit well, but the Dodgers’ backstop possessed superior quickness behind the plate. Campanella finished his injury-shorted career with 242 home runs and 856 RBIs.
2. Yogi Berra
Berra is the game’s most recognizable backstop. Yogi was the winner of all winners. He and his New York Yankees teammates won 10 World Series titles during his career, while playing for New York, Berra played in 14 World Series.
He earned 3 AL MVP awards and was named to the All-Star team 18 times. Berra finished his fine career with the Yankees with 358 home runs and struck out just a total of 414 times. The former Yankee catcher and coach was instrumental in keeping the pitching staff for the championship Yankees focused on the game, and not distracted with all that surrounds a title team playing in New York City.
1. Johnny Bench
If one looks up the definition of catcher in the dictionary one will find a picture of Johnny Bench. Known as the “Little General” of the Big Red Machine, Bench opened the eyes of the baseball world to a catcher who was as equally talented at the plate as he was behind it.
While playing with the Cincinnati Reds in the 1960s and 1970s, Bench had one of baseball’s strongest arms and gunned down base stealer after base stealer. Bench led the Reds to two World Series titles and was awarded the NL MVP twice, the World Series MVP, 14 selections to the All-Star Game, 10 Gold Glove awards and a Rookie of the Year award.
For his career, Bench hit 389 home runs. His two best seasons statistically were the years in which he was voted MVP. In 1970, Bench had 45 home runs and 148 RBIs and in 1972 hit 40 home runs and 125 RBIs.
Bench is simply the greatest all-time catcher in MLB history