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Baseball has been a pitcher’s game for a century and a half. However, some say the player behind home plate calls the shots on defense. Catcher is a premium position in baseball because of their defensive prowess. If you have a good catcher, you may be on your way to a World Series. For over a century, many great ones have been behind the plate. So, who are the best catchers of all time?
Who Are the Elder Best Catchers of All Time?
Making the list fair means comparing guys who played around the same time as each other. Here are the five old-school best catchers of all time.
5. Josh Gibson
Let’s start with a guy who never played Major League Baseball (MLB). Josh Gibson played in the Negro leagues from 1930 until 1946 before he died in 1947. Unfortunately, racial barriers prevented him from joining the MLB with the likes of Jackie Robinson.
As a catcher, Gibson was one of the best on offense and defense. In his 17 years of baseball, the Georgia native smashed 808 hits for a .373 career batting average. His exact statistics are dubious because of recordkeeping back then. However, there’s no doubt Gibson was one of the best baseball catchers of all time despite not stepping on an MLB field. 25 years after his death, the Baseball Hall of Fame introduced Gibson as the second Negro League member in Cooperstown.
4. Mickey Cochrane
He might not be the most famous Mickey to play in the MLB, but Gordon “Mickey” Cochrane held his own as one of the league’s best catchers.
His career was relatively short, lasting 13 seasons (compared to others who played for 20+ years). However, he made his years count with two American League (AL) MVPs and three World Series titles. In fact, he won the Fall Classic as a player-manager for the Tigers in 1935, bringing Detroit’s first baseball title.
3. Roy Campanella
Some Negro League stars went on to have successful MLB careers with the time they had left. Roy Campanella is one of those catchers, playing 10 seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers before his unfortunate automobile accident.
Campanella, or “Campy,” won the National League (NL) MVP three times between 1951 and 1955 before finally clinching a World Series in 1955. Plus, he made the All-Star team every year between 1949 and 1956. Consider Campanella’s legacy like this: he’s one of only two catchers to win a league MVP three or more times. The other guy comes soon on this list.
2. Johnny Bench
John Lee “Johnny” Bench defined an era for Cincinnati Reds fans, leading the charge in the Big Red Machine. With Bench calling the shots at catcher, the Reds won two World Series titles and made two more appearances in the early ‘70s.
On defense, Bench was an absolute menace. He threw out runners nearly half of all runners attempting to steal a base. His efforts were good enough to earn a Golden Glove for 10 consecutive seasons. Offensively, he was just as good, with 389 homers in his career. In fact, he led all catchers in home runs when he retired in 1983.
1. Yogi Berra
Yogi Berra is undoubtedly one of the best catchers of all time. He deserves the top spot on this list for his role in the Yankees’ resurgence in the late 1940s into the 1950s. Berra was integral to those teams, leading the boys from the Bronx to 10 World Series titles. He would later win one as the Mets’ coach before closing his career with two more Yankees titles.
Catchers are not famous for their offensive prowess, but Berra showed out with incredible consistency. Striking out Berra was a significant accomplishment because it didn’t happen often. Another rare occurrence for Berra was errors. He once went 148 straight games with no errors, making him super reliable on defense.
Berra is also famous for his mannerisms and endless quotes. While you may feel tempted, don’t use Berra quotes on the first date if they’re not a baseball fan. The legend can quickly become confusing.
Who Are the Modern Best Catchers of All Time?
Now, let’s fast forward in time a little bit. Who are the best catchers of all time in the modern era? Let’s dive into the top five.
5. Joe Mauer
Joe Mauer is among the recent retirees on this list. The Minnesota Twins legend spent 15 years with the franchise, earning three Gold Glove Awards and an AL MVP in 2009. He only makes it to No. 5 because he switched to first base later in his career.
However, he’s too good to leave off. In his MVP season, Mauer set the record for the highest batting average and on-base percentage (OBP) for a catcher. Plus, his three AL batting titles are the most by any catcher in any era.
4. Carlton Fisk
If you like longevity, Carlton Fisk is your guy. The Commander is a Red Sox and White Sox fan favorite, playing a combined 24 seasons for the two teams. His stats might not be as spectacular as the other catchers, but he did bring consistency for his whole career. In fact, he made the All-Star team in 1991, just two years before retiring.
Fisk is famous for coming in strong on baseball’s biggest stages. In the 1975 World Series, Fisk hit the game-winning home run in the 12th inning. The homer gave Red Sox fans hope they could break the Bambino Curse. While the Red Sox lost Game 7, Fisk cemented his legacy as a hero in Boston. Fisk finished his career with 11 All-Star appearances, three Silver Slugger Awards and a Golden Glove in 1972.
3. Mike Piazza
Mike Piazza flipped the narrative on catchers by demonstrating just how great guys in this position can be when batting. The Pennsylvania native started out as a first baseman but switched to catcher.
Piazza racked up a whopping 427 home runs and 2,127 hits. He wasn’t known for catching base stealers but consistently produced on offense. Piazza never won an MVP but was always in the running while on good teams. He made the 2000 World Series, commonly known as the Subway Series, before falling to the Yankees.
2. Buster Posey
Buster Posey is the most recent retiree on the list, wrapping up his career in 2021. He might not have the longevity of Berra or other catchers on the list. However, he’s one of the best to do it in any era. Posey was a significant factor in the Giants winning three World Series between 2010 and 2014, establishing himself as a legend with Madison Bumgarner.
Posey is everything you want in a catcher. He won the NL MVP in 2012 after recovering from a terrible injury in 2011. The 2012 season, although only his fourth in the majors, was something to behold. He won NL Comeback Player of the Year, the NL Hank Aaron Award and a Silver Slugger to pair with his MVP. When he’s up for the Hall of Fame, Posey will be a surefire pick.
For now, Posey will be a part of the Giants ownership group and bring this franchise back to the Fall Classic.
1. Ivan Rodriguez
Ivan Rodriguez embodies what a catcher does best: throw guys out and send them back to the dugout. I-Rod caught 661 players stealing base, making him an absolute force behind the plate. He made his way around the league, playing with six different teams in 21 seasons. Pudge led the Marlins to the 2003 World Series despite the team’s core being so young.
Fans love I-Rod for his defense, but he was also a force with the bat. Pudge finished his career with 311 home runs and 2,844 hits. His accolades included seven Silver Slugger Awards, 13 Golden Gloves and an AL MVP in 1999.
Throwing Out the Best Catchers of All Time
The catcher is arguably the most important position on defense, even when you include the pitcher. Greatness is required to excel in this position, and these 10 guys brought it their whole careers. Did we miss anybody on the best catchers of all time list? Who would you want to see?