This is the fifth of a nine part series, detailing my personal opinion on the best retired players at each position in the “Modern Era”, or 1960’s – Present. Next, Catcher.
“A catcher and his body are like the outlaw and his horse. He’s got to ride that nag till it drops.” – Johnny Bench
Baseball has one unique factor when compared to all other American ball sports: The defense has the ball, and calls the plays. The catcher is often the unheralded hero, covered in pads, crouching anonymously behind the plate, with possibly the most mindless task of any position. His job is literally just to catch the ball, right?
His job requires an extreme knowledge of the game, his opponents, and his teammates. To know what pitch in what location is required to get the batter out, even if the guy throwing the ball disagrees. To remain rigidly still while framing a borderline pitch, but in the same moment spring to life to gun down a daring runner. It is possibly the single most difficult position in all of sports. It is one that requires such investment, both physically and mentally, that they are typically the most rested positions, and if their bats prove valuable enough, are typically moved around the diamond in an effort to preserve their bodies later in their careers.
A good catcher doesn’t necessarily have the same skills as any other positions, so i’ve modified the criteria for this project.
BEST BAT: Mike Piazza
- .922 career OPS best among qualifiers by a wide margin (Jorge Posada = .848)
- Only catcher in history with more than 400 Home Runs (427)
Wasn’t hard to pick here. Piazza was another class of hitter when in comparison to other catchers, most notably for his power. He slugged a career. 545, which is best among catchers, and boasts an OPS+ comparable to hitters such as Chipper Jones. , and for a position that does not tout itself to be one of offensive prowess, that’s pretty good. He split his career between the Dodgers and Mets, winning Rookie of the Year in 1993, 12 All-Star team appearances, and 10 silver slugger awards.
- Honorable Mention: Carlton Fisk
- Closest Active Comparison: Buster Posey
BEST ARM: Ivan Rodriguez
- 13 Gold Glove awards rank among most all time (any position)
- Career leader in Total Zone Runs* for a catcher
- * = TZR is a compilation of several defensive metrics, summed into one overall stat. It’s a good benchmark for a position as difficult to rate as catcher.
The artist formerly known as “Pudge” took the top spot for this category, and it really wasn’t close. The newest member of the Hall of Fame was one of the premier defensive catchers, leading the league in catching runners trying to steal 9 times over his career, and catching 42% of runners overall. It was widely known that you, very simply, don’t run on Pudge. Combining laser like focus, outstanding pitch framing abilities, and that cannon arm, Ivan inspired a new generation of “defense first” catchers, and really brought a new weapon against baserunners most had never seen before. Oh, almost forgot, he had a pretty good bat too, with a career .797 OPS and 311 home runs. Couple that with 14 All-Star teams, and an MVP award to go along with it, and you have not only one of the best defensive catchers, but one of the best overall.
- Honorable Mention: Gary Carter
- Closest Active Comparison: Yadier Molina
BEST OVERALL: Johnny Bench
- 10 Gold Glove awards 2nd only to Ivan Rodriguez for catchers
- 389 Home Runs 2nd only to Mike Piazza
Mr. Everything, Johnny Bench. As a key member of the “Big Red Machine” in the 1970’s, Bench cemented his legacy as one of the most talented catchers, and really all around players, of his era. He had the bat, leading the league twice in home runs, and three times in RBI. He had the arm, throwing out 43% of all would-be base thieves, leading the league three times. He had the glove as well, or more specifically, 10 gold ones. Johnny Bench is one of the most underrated all-around players that the game has ever seen, and one of the most understated contributors to those dominant Cincinnati teams in the 1970’s, who took the World Series title in 1975 and 1976, the latter of which gave Bench his World Series MVP awards. That compliments his two other MVP awards, his Rookie of the Year award, and 14 All-Star team appearances. The gregarious, unassuming student of the game from Oklahoma City takes the overall top spot in our review, showing skill, discipline, and a true knowledge of the game and its workings.
- Honorable Mention: Ivan Rodriguez
- Closest Active Comparison: Salvador Perez