Best of the Decade: Catchers
It seems hard to believe, but we are almost to the year 2010. And with any impending new decade, it seems only fair to look back on the best of the previous 10 years.
So with that, I present my Top 10 picks from each position between the years 2000-2009: Catchers.
As with any ranking, there will always be snubs. I welcome any comments suggesting players that may have been left off this list.
No. 10: Jason Kendall
He's by no means a power hitter.
But Jason Kendall, throughout his 14-year career, has been one of the most hard-nosed players in the game.
He's never played for a winner, being a member of the Pirates, A's and Brewers.
However, Kendall's attitude has always been to play hard no matter what uniform he was wearing. He has averaged 147 games over the last 10 seasons.
And although he only hit 44 home runs over the entire decade, he also stole 106 bases—truly impressive for a catcher.
It's not all that far-fetched to consider Jason Kendall for Cooperstown sometime down the road.
No. 9: A.J. Pierzynski
A.J. Pierzynski is not the most loved guy in the game. But there is no denying the amount of talent, grit and determination this man has.
He played for the Giants, Twins, and White Sox during the first decade of the millennium, and has pretty much excelled for all three teams.
Since becoming a regular for the Twins in 2001, Pierzynski has started at least 100 games in each season of the decade. He hit 111 home runs and drove in 545 runs will batting .286.
The left-handed catcher will turn 33 at the end of the month, so he still has enough in the tank to have a few more good seasons for the ChiSox.
No. 8: Bengie Molina
The eldest of the three catchers Molina, Bengie has had a very successful career. He helped the Angels beat the Giants to win the World Series in 2002.
He hit 138 home runs between '00-'09, and drove in 665 runs. He also won two Gold Gloves during the decade.
His name doesn't usually share the same breath as the Piazzas and Posadas of the world, but there's no denying the talent this man has.
No. 7: Jason Varitek
The captain of the Boston Red Sox, Jason Varitek has had a rather up-and-down career. He has two World Series rings after winning championships in '04 and '07.
He hit 148 homers this past decade and drove in nearly 600 runs. He was also an All Star three times between 2000-2009.
But lately, he has shown signs of slowing down, and his offensive production has dwindled over the last few seasons.
But despite the statistics, he remains one of the best catchers in the game, simply for his ability to call a game and work with his pitchers.
He has to be doing something right to be named the captain of the Red Sox—only two other men have had that honor since 1923!
No. 6: Victor Martinez
"V-Mart" Victor Martinez has quietly put together a pretty nice career for himself.
Splitting time for the Cleveland Indians as a catcher and a first baseman, Martinez has managed to stay rather healthy over his eight-year career (aside from an injury-plagued 2008 campagin).
He's a three-time All Star and has hit 111 career home runs. But his strength is driving in runs. He already has 559 RBI for his career.
Now, as a member of the Boston Red Sox, those RBI numbers should increase significantly. Also, Martinez has a chance to finally put a ring on his finger...a World Series ring, that is.
No. 5: Javy Lopez
A superstar in the '90s, many people seem to forget that Javy Lopez also played in the '00s. And although his career ended after the 2006 season, Lopez still had a nice decade for himself.
He smacked 141 homers while playing for the Braves, Red Sox and Orioles. He was an All-Star in 2003, when he hit 43 bombs for the Braves. He also drove in close to 500 runs in the decade.
Javy Lopez...remember him?
No. 4: Joe Mauer
His career didn't even begin until 2004. But already, Joe Mauer is paving the road to
Cooperstown as the catcher for the Minnesota Twins. He's already a three-time American League batting champ. He won the AL MVP in 2009. He's a three-time All Star and a two-time Gold Glove winner.
Oh, and he's only 26 years old.
As far as statistics go, Mauer has a career batting average of .327, and has hit 72 home runs while driving in 397 runs.
But his ability reaches far beyond the numbers. He's one of the best at calling a game behind the plate, and making excellent at-bats while at the plate.
Mauer's career still has plenty of years left to it. But no doubt, this young man will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
No. 3: Jorge Posada
Jorge Posada has quietly put up an incredible career. Even while playing for the New York Yankees, he's managed to fly somewhat under the radar, thanks in part to the team having high-profile players like Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens and Mark Teixeira.
But no matter how low he flies, there's no doubt that he will someday end up in Cooperstown.
Posada has spent his entire 15-year career with the Bombers. He averaged 130 games played over the first decade of the new millennium, which is rather impressive for a backstop.
He hit 208 home runs and drove 819 runs to go along with a .283 batting average for the decade.
And as if that weren't enough, he was a five-time All-Star, and won World Series Championships at each end of the decade.
No. 2: Mike Piazza
Arguably (or perhaps not) the best hitting catcher in the history of the game, Piazza helped revitalize a New York Mets franchise that was absolutely struggling going into the new millennium.
When Piazza was traded to the Mets from the Florida Marlins in 1998, Mets fans (all seven of them) were salivating. And rightfully so.
During this past decade, Piazza had a number of significant milestones and memories. In 2000, he capped off a 10-run eighth inning against the Atlanta Braves by hitting a three-run home run off Terry Mulholland which broke an 8-8 tie.
The Mets wound up winning that game by a final of 11-8, a game in which they were down 8-1 going into the bottom of the eighth.
He hit a home run in the first game played in New York after the tragic attacks on 9/11 (also against the Braves).
In 2003, he blasted his 352nd career home run, making him the all-time leader in home runs by a catcher.
Piazza finished his legendary career in 2007 after two disappointing seasons in San Diego and Oakland. For the decade, he hit .285 with 187 big flies and 567 RBI. He made the All-Star team five times, and finished third in the MVP voting in 2000.
No. 1: Ivan Rodriguez
There are few more recognizable nicknames in the game than Pudge. Whether you're referring to Carlton Fisk or Ivan Rodriguez, Pudge is synonymous with tremendous catchers.
The latter generation of Pudges was a five-time All-Star this past decade, and also won a Gold Glove in five seasons.
After spending his first dozen seasons with the Texas Rangers, I-Rod bounced around a bit to different teams—playing for the Marlins, Tigers, and Yankees. He recently signed a two-year contract to be a catcher/mentor for the young Washington Nationals.
Pudge finally got a taste of a World Championship when he helped the Florida Marlins beat the Yankees in 2003. He got back to the Fall Classic with Detroit, but the team fell to the Cardinals in 2006.
Overall, in the decade, Pudge hit .298 with 161 home runs and drove in 643 runs. There is no doubt that sometime shortly, there will be two Pudges enshrined in Cooperstown.