Top 10 Catchers of All Time
The first installment of my Top 10 lists for every position, we start with the catchers.
I will try my best to evaluate each catcher as a hitter, defender, and manager of the defense.
Not only will I look at the major league catchers, but I will look into the negro leagues and try to evaluate them to the best of my abilities.
10. Mickey Cochrane
Starting off the top ten catchers of all time is Mickey Cochrane.
Cochrane was known for his bat, not only as a result of his .320 career average, but because his defense was so horrible when he came into the league.
Known as 'Black Mike' for his temper, Cochrane topped .300 in eight full seasons, 90 runs six times, and an on base percentage of .400 in eight full seasons.
Cochrane actually led off for a portion of his career, and as his career progressed, he became a very good defensive catcher.
In 1934, Connie Mack disassembled his dominant team for a financial cushion, and traded Cochrane to the Tigers. Cochrane was made a player manager, and led the Tigers to the World Series in 1934 and 1935.
In 1937, Cochrane's career came to an end when he was hit in the head with a pitch thrown by the Yankees' Bump Hadley. Through 13 seasons of professional baseball, Cochrane had established himself as one of the best catchers of all time.
9. Bill Dickey
A great pure hitter, Dickey also happened to be a good defensive catcher.
Through 17 seasons with the Yankees, Dickey topped .300 eleven times, double digit homers nine times, and 100 runs batted in four times.
In 1936, he broke out with a .362 average, 22 home runs, and 107 rbis. The next 4 years he went on to have home run totals of 29, 27, and 24, rbi totals of 133, 115, and 105, and batting averages of .332, .313, and .302
Bill Dickey became Yogi Berra's mentor after he returned to the Yankees in 1949 as a first base coach and catching instructor. "Bill Dickey is learning me all of his experiences," Yogi said, using his broken English. Dickey went on to make Berra a very good defensive catcher.
8. Gary Carter
Gary Carter had a career very similar to that of Carlton Fisk, both being a right handed power hitting catcher with outstanding defense. Carter was viewed as one of the premier catchers of his era, alongside none other than Carlton Fisk and Johnny Bench.
Carter earned the nickname 'Kid' in Spring Training of '74, when he tried to win every sprint in camp, in addition to trying to knock every ball out of the park.
Topping 20 homers nine times, Carter reached the century mark in rbis four times, with a league leading 106 in 1984.
A very good defender, Carter gave up 121 errors in 19 seasons, and cut down an average of 35% of runners stealing.
Eleven times an all star, Carter certainly has earned his spot at number eight on this list.
7. Carlton Fisk
Hardly separated their entire major league career, it shouldn't surprise you that Carter and Fisk are back to back on this list.
6. Mike Piazza
Clearly the all time best offensive catcher in the major leagues, Piazza isn't higher because of his defense. However, let's not focus on why he isn't higher, but why he is this highly ranked.
Piazza's numbers aren't just astounding for a catcher, they're amazing numbers for any player. He topped .300 nine times, 30 home runs 9 times, and 90 rbis ten times. From 1993 to 2001, Piazza averaged .326 with 34 home runs and 107 rbis.
12 all star appearances and ten Silver Sluggers supply the accolades to back up exactly how good Piazza was.
5. Ivan Rodriguez
Widely regarded as one of the top defensive catchers in baseball history, Pudge Rodriguez has also had the most longevity, catching the most games of all time.
I wanted to be careful with ranking Rodriguez amongst the all time greats, but after looking at his stats over his 19 year career, I threw that aside.
Hitting .300 ten times, Pudge also hit 15 plus homers ten times, with a career high of 35 in 1999, when he hit .332 with 113 rbis and an astounding 25 stolen bases, and was named MVP.
A 14 time all star, he has racked up 13 Gold Gloves and seven Silver Sluggers.
In addition to his great offense, Pudge has been known for his amazing defense. He has 132 errors in 19 seasons, and has cut down 46% of runners that have tried to steal, and has achieved a fielding percentage of .991 over his career.
A complete player, he has always been a great battery mate for pitchers, and helped a young Florida Marlins pitching staff win a world series in 2003, capping off Pudge's amazing career.
4. Roy Campanella
Due to Campy's shortened career, I almost ranked Ivan Rodriguez ahead of him. However, during Campanella's ten year career, he showed exactly why he gets ranked this high.
In ten seasons, he hit more than 20 home runs seven times, brought in more than 80 runs six times, and won the MVP award three times.
His career bests are .325, 41 home runs, and 142 runs batted in. He made eight all star appearances, and helped the Dodgers to a World Series win.
Another reason I put him ahead of Pudge is because the dominance at his position in his era. When he played, it was Campy and Yogi that were the prominent names at catcher. Pudge was the best during his prime, but there were other catchers in the talks too.
Campanella's defense was very good as well. When he played, there were less people stealing bases, but Campy threw out 48% of base runners from '54 to '57, when the stat was started.
Sure, his career was brief, and we would all like to have seen what numbers he could have put up, but you have to judge a career on what happened, not what could have been.
3. Josh Gibson
I wish we could've seen what kind of player Josh Gibson was. Yes, he played in the Negro Leagues, and yes, he played against inferior competition, but what was said of him was truly remarkable.
The accounts of his stats estimated he hit 800 home runs, but that was between the Negro Leagues and exhibitions. Those who saw both Gibson and Ruth play called Ruth 'the White Josh Gibson'.
The same flaw that put Piazza down on this list also knocks Gibson from the top two spots. He had no defensive ability, but was said to be the best home run hitter of all time; major leagues included.
Gibson also hit for a very high average, ranging from .359 to .384 over his career.
In 1933 he hit .467 with 55 home runs in 137 games between the Negro Leagues and other levels of competition.
There is a story of Gibson hitting an immense walk off home run against the Pittsburgh Crawfords. He hit it so far into the night sky, they couldn't see it anymore. The next day, the same two teams played in Washington, and an outfielder caught a ball falling from the sky. The umpire yells to Gibson "Yer out! In Pittsburgh! Yesterday!"
In the end, his defense knocked him down a couple spots. If he had good defense, I would've ranked him without a doubt at number one.
2. Yogi Berra
One of the most colorful characters ever to play the game, Berra finds himself atop the all time catcher rankings.
In 19 years, Berra hit 358 home runs, drove in 1430 runs, and hit .285.
His defense was very good as well, catching almost half of the would be base stealers since the stat was invented.
His 10 World Series rings and three MVPs really sets him apart from the rest of this group.
After slaving over research and comparing players, Berra ends up as the second best catcher of all time.
1. Johnny Bench
Boy, I wanted to put Bench at number one. I slaved over Berra versus Bench over and over, and decided he intangibles did in fact, make Bench number one. He was arguably the smartest player ever to play the game, and was simply a spectacular defensive catcher.
Gunning 43% of base stealers, he had a great arm. He revolutionized the catching position, putting one hand behind his back when he caught. His hands were so strong, he squeezed a catchers mitt like a first basemans mitt.
Looking to his offense, Bench hit 389 home runs over his 17 year career, and drove in 1376 runs. In my mind, the two time MVP was the most important piece to the Big Red Machine.
Player Games Average Home Runs RBIs Runs OPS
Cochrane 1482 .320 119 832 1041 .897
Dickey 1789 .313 202 1209 930 .868
Carter 2295 .262 324 1225 1025 .773
Fisk 2499 .269 376 1330 1276 .797
Piazza 1912 .308 427 1335 1048 .922
Rodriguez 2354 .299 303 1250 1288 .809
Campanella 1215 .276 242 856 627 .860
Berra 2120 .285 359 1430 1175 .830
Bench 2158 .267 389 1376 1091 .817
Keep in mind that I evaluated catchers on their defense as well, so don't overanalyze their offense.