Skip to main content

10 Greatest Catchers in Major League Baseball History

IvanRodriguez_getty.jpg

10 Greatest Catchers in Major League Baseball History

Catcher is the most physically and mentally demanding position in baseball. As a result, catchers are often held to a different standard than players at other positions.

Image placeholder title

Heavy-hitters are rare (with a few exceptions, including the legendary Josh Gibson, who never had the opportunity to play Major League Baseball but hit nearly 800 home runs over 17 years in the Negro Leagues and other independent leagues). However, a catcher can carve out a long, productive career if he can handle the glove, and handle a pitching staff.

It’s also no coincidence that many catchers also have become great managers, such as Connie Mack, Bruce Bochy, Bob Boone, Mike Scioscia and Joe Torre. Of course, like many catchers, Torre played other positions as well.

Among players that stayed behind the plate for their entire careers (or the vast majority of it), 17 have been elected into the Hall of Fame. Therefore, as we rank the top 10 backstops in MLB history, some great players like Gabby Hartnett, Deacon White and Ernie Lombardi missed the cut, as did some modern stars.

Buster Posey isn’t yet 30 years old, but he could climb all the way to the top of this list if he stays behind the plate for the majority of his career. Joe Mauer posted a better career WAR than any active catcher while behind the plate, but Mauer made the move to another position full-time and therefore won’t break into our top 10. Others such as Yadier Molina and Russell Martin also have a shot to eventually land in the top 10 when fully analyzing their defensive impact – but they aren’t there yet. 

— Rankings by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.

10. Ted Simmons

St. Louis Cardinals, 1968-80; Milwaukee Brewers, 1981-85; Atlanta Braves, 1986-88
8-time All-Star; 1980 Silver Slugger
1971 NL MVP
Key stats: .285/.348/.437, 2,472 hits, 1,074 runs, 248 home runs, 1,389 RBIs

Image placeholder title

One of the best catchers not in the Hall of Fame, Simmons posted a career 50.1 WAR across 21 major league seasons, which ranks in the top 10 all-time for catchers. Simmons, who caught 1,771 career games, including seven seasons in which he spent 130 or more games behind the plate, hit .300 or better seven times, slugged 20-plus home runs during five separate years, and drove in 100 or more runs in three seasons.

9. Bill Dickey

New York Yankees, 1928-43, ‘46
11-time All-Star
1932, ’36-39, ’41, ’43 World Series champion
Key stats: .313/.382/.486, 1,969 hits, 930 runs, 202 home runs, 1,209 RBIs
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 1954

Image placeholder title

Often overlooked in history because he played with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and was closely followed by Yogi Berra as the star backstop of the New York Yankees, Dickey is one of the best pure hitters ever to play the position. Dickey hit .300 or better 11 times in his 17-year career, and also had a .400 on-base percentage in five seasons. In 1938, Dickey was the runner-up to Jimmie Foxx for the AL MVP Award after hitting .313/.412/.568 with 27 home runs and 115 RBIs. A seven-time World Series champion, Dickey hit five career home runs in the Fall Classic.

(Photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame Web site, baseballhall.org)

8. Mickey Cochrane

Philadelphia Athletics, 1925-33; Detroit Tigers, 1934-37
2-time All-Star
1929, ’30 (A’s), 1935 (Tigers) World Series champion
1928, ‘34 AL MVP
Key statistics: .320/.419/.478, 1,652 hits, 1,041 runs, 119 home runs, 830 RBIs
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 1947

Image placeholder title

Cochrane won three World Series titles and two MVP Awards with two different teams. In 1928, Cochrane hit .293/.395/.464 with 10 home runs and 57 RBIs for the Philadelphia Athletics to win his first MVP award, then hit .320/.428/.412 in his first season with the Detroit Tigers in ‘34 to beat out Triple Crown winner Lou Gehrig for his second. In addition to handling the catching duties with the Tigers, Cochrane also was the team’s manager, and led Detroit to the World Series title in 1935. Sadly, Cochrane suffered a career-ending head injury as the result of a hit by pitch when he was just 34 years old.

7. Carlton Fisk

Boston Red Sox, 1969, ’71-80; Chicago White Sox, 1981-93
11-time All-Star, 2-time Silver Slugger
1972 Gold Glove recipient
1972 AL Rookie of the Year
Key statistics: .269/.341/.457, 2,356 hits, 1,276 runs, 376 home runs, 1,330 RBIs
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 2000

Image placeholder title

Fisk made his major league debut in 1969 at the age of 21, but didn’t become an everyday player until he was 24. He quickly became a star by hitting .293/.370/.538 with 22 home runs and nine triples, while also playing Gold Glove defense on his way to Rookie of the Year honors. A native of Vermont, Fisk was a fan favorite with the Boston Red Sox for 10 seasons, and reached legendary status with his game-winning home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. When he retired following a 24-year career, Fisk held the records for most home runs (351) and games (2,226) by a catcher in big league history.

(Photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame Web site, baseballhall.org)

6. Mike Piazza

Los Angeles Dodgers, 1992-98; Florida Marlins, 1998; New York Mets, 1998-2005; San Diego Padres, 2006; Oakland Athletics, 2007
14-time All-Star; 12-time Silver Slugger
1993 NL Rookie of the Year
Key stats: .308/.377/.545, 2,127 hits, 1,048 runs, 427 home runs, 1,335 RBIs
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 2016

Image placeholder title

Arguably the greatest hitting catcher of in MLB history, Piazza overcame his status as a 62nd-round draft pick to surpass Fisk’s record for home runs by a catcher (396 of his 427 career homers came while playing behind the plate). A recent Hall of Fame inductee, Piazza hit .300 or better 10 times, slugged 30 or more home runs on nine occasions, and drove in 100-plus runs in six of his 16 seasons. Piazza finished in the top four of the MVP voting three times – including a runner-up finish in both 1996 and ’97.

(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

5. Ivan Rodriguez

Texas Rangers, 1991-2002, ’09; Florida Marlins, 2003; Detroit Tigers, 2004-08; New York Yankees, 2008; Houston Astros, 2009; Washington Nationals, 2010-11
14-time All-Star; 7-time Silver Slugger
13-time Gold Glove recipient
2003 World Series champion (Marlins)
1999 AL MVP
Key statistics: .296/.334/.464, 2,844 hits, 1,354 runs, 311 home runs, 1,332 RBIs
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 2017

Image placeholder title

Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez surpassed the other Pudge in games caught (2,427), which is one of the reasons why he will be inducted into Cooperstown this summer. Best known for his defensive abilities, Rodriguez won 13 Gold Glove Awards in 21 seasons, set an MLB catcher record with 14,864 putouts, and threw out an impressive 45.7 percent of attempted base stealers. Also, his 28.7 career Defensive WAR ranks ninth all-time and first among catchers. Of course, Pudge also was a terrific hitter for a catcher, batting .300 or better 10 times. He was named AL MVP in 1999 after posting a .332/.356/.558 slash with 35 home runs, 113 RBIs, 116 runs scored and 25 stolen bases.

4. Roy Campanella

Brooklyn Dodgers, 1948-57
8-time All-Star
1955 World Series champion (Dodgers)
1951, ’53, ’55 NL MVP
Key stats: .276/.360/.500, 1,161 hits, 627 runs,  242 home runs, 856 RBIs
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 1969

Image placeholder title

Roy Campanella had a short major league career, having played in the Negro Leagues from 1937 (when he was 16 years old) until ‘42, and then spending two years in the Mexican League and two more in the minors before finally earning an opportunity with the Brooklyn Dodgers in ‘48 at the age of 26. His career also came to a sudden end as the result of a paralyzing car accident in 1958.

However, Campanella left a lasting impression on baseball during his decade-long career. A three-time National League MVP, Campanella put together some of the greatest offensive performances ever for a catcher. He hit .325/.393/.590 with 33 home runs and 108 RBIs in 1951. Two years later, he hit .312/.395/.611 with 41 home runs (including 40 as a catcher to set a record that stood until 1996) and 142 RBIs (a Dodgers franchise record that stood until 1962 and still ranks second in team history). In his third MVP season in 1955, “Campy” hit .318/.395/.583 with 32 home runs and 107 RBIs.

Though he was known much more for his power at the plate, Campanella also was one of the best all-time in throwing out base runners. In fact, his 57 percent caught stealing rate ranks first in big league history.

3. Gary Carter

Montreal Expos, 1974-84, ‘92; New York Mets, 1985-89; San Francisco Giants, 1990; Los Angeles Dodgers, 1991
11-time All-Star; 5-time Silver Slugger
3-time Gold Glove recipient
1986 World Series champion (Mets)
Key stats: .262/.335/.439, 2,029 hits, 1,025 runs, 324 home runs, 1,225 RBIs
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 2003

Image placeholder title

One of the best all-around catchers in baseball history, Carter posted 69.9 career WAR, which ranks second all-time at the position. Though he never hit .300 in a single season, Carter had great power for a catcher and hit 20 or more home runs nine times (including two years of 30-plus) and drove in 100 or more runs four times, including an NL-best 106 RBIs in 1984.

Carter also was a great defensive catcher. His 25.5 career Defensive WAR is No. 15 on the all-time list and ranks second behind Ivan Rodriguez among catchers. Carter also led the National League in caught stealing percentage four times.

Nicknamed “Kid” after making his major league debut in 1974 at the age of 20, Carter was drafted as a shortstop just two years earlier. He would go on to become one of the most dependable backstops of his generation, catching 130 or more games eight times in his career, including five seasons of 140 games behind the plate and two years in which he caught 150-plus games.

(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

2. Yogi Berra

New York Yankees, 1946-63; New York Mets, 1965
15-time All-Star
1947, ’49-’53, ’56, ’61-62 World Series champion (Yankees)
1951, ’54-55 AL MVP
Key stats: .276/.340/.447, 3,184 hits, 1,647 runs, 431 home runs, 1,695 RBIs
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 1972

Image placeholder title

One of the most beloved Yankees (and simply, baseball players) of all time, Berra also was one of the greatest hitting catchers in history. Berra won three AL MVP Awards in a five-year span from 1951-55, and finished in the top four of the MVP voting every year from 1950-56 (twice losing out to a teammate). From 1948-58, Berra hit at least 20 home runs and collected at least 82 RBIs, including two 30-homer seasons and five years in which he drove in at least 105 runs. He also led the Yankees in RBIs seven straight years from 1949-55.

Berra was part of an incredible 10 World Series-winning teams with the Yankees in his 18 years with the club, including a record five straight from 1949-53, and 14 AL pennant winners. He hit 12 home runs in the Fall Classic, including three in the 1956 series in which he hit .360/.448/.800 and drove in 10 runs.

1. Johnny Bench

Cincinnati Reds, 1967-83
14-time All-Star
10-time Gold Glove recipient
1975-76 World Series champion (Reds)
1968 NL Rookie of the Year
1970, ’72 NL MVP
1976 World Series MVP
Key stats: .267/.342/.476, 2,048 hits, 1,091 runs, 389 home runs,  1,376 RBIs
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 1989

Image placeholder title

Bench is the greatest catcher in baseball history because he was an elite hitter and backstop. No catcher has posted a higher career WAR (75.0) than Bench, who ranks in the top 50 among position players. Bench also recorded a career total of 19.3 Defensive WAR.

Bench exploded onto the national scene by winning the Rookie of the Year Award as a 20-year-old in 1968 after hitting .275/.311/.433 with 15 home runs and 82 RBIs while earning the first of 10 consecutive Gold Glove Awards. He also set a career high by gunning down 57.2 percent of attempted base stealers, which led the NL.

At the age of 22, Bench won the first of two NL MVP Awards. He hit .293/.345/.587 and led the majors with 45 home runs and 148 RBIs while helping the Reds win the National League pennant. Bench won the MVP and led the majors in home runs (40) and RBIs (125) again in 1972, and the Reds again made it to the World Series, but lost to the Oakland A’s in seven games.

Bench and the Big Red Machine eventually got over the hump in 1975, beating the Boston Red Sox in one of the most dramatic World Series of all time. The Reds repeated in ’76, and Bench earned World Series MVP honors for hitting .533/.533/1.133 with two home runs and six RBIs in a four-game sweep of the Yankees.

Like many catchers, Bench eventually moved out from behind the plate. While manager Sparky Anderson made it a regular practice to start Bench in the outfield and at first base during much of his career, Bench played the majority of his final two seasons at third base before retiring at the age of 35.

(Photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame Web site, baseballhall.org)