Year Inducted: 1955 (BBWAA, 12th ballot, 195/251)
Sometimes, in order to make it to the Hall of Fame a player needs a great moment. It’s what has helped players like Bill Mazeroski, Kirby Puckett and Joe Medwick be remembered for all eternity. Baseball lore from the 1930’s is filled with legendary moments. Babe Ruth’s “Called Shot” in the 1932 World Series, Carl Hubbell’s domination at the 1934 All-Star Game and of course the Homer in the Gloamin. One man unites all these moments; Cubs legendary catcher Gabby Hartnett.
Hartnett played for parts of 20 seasons in the bigs, 19 of which were for the Small Bears in Chicago. And, by the end of his career, he was likely the best catcher the National League had ever seen. He hit .297/.370/.489 with a wRC+ of 127 with 236 homers, 396 doubles and 36 triples. Hartnett was a valuable bat in the middle of the Cubs’ lineup, driving in 1179 runs and scoring 867 runs. Hartnett was, like most catchers, not very fleet of feet. However, he was a slightly positive runner in his career and stole 28 bases.
Catchers should, of course, be able to defend their position well. And, Hartnett paired a strong throwing arm with good reflexes behind the dish to be worth +66 runs defensively after a long career. A good testament to how well he was defensively: he was never rated as a negative defender in his career. That’s incredible for a catcher.
Upon his retirement, among catchers, Hartnett ranked 1st in fWAR, doubles, homers and RBIs. He also ranked 5th in runs scored, 5th in walks, 2nd in hits and 4th in wRC+. It’s hard to imagine since players like Yogi Berra and Johnny Bench came very quickly after the end of his career, but Hartnett was, if not the best right at the top of catchers in the history of the game when he retired.
Hartnett was definitely the best catcher the National League had seen when he retired, and remained as such until Bench came around. However, over in the American League there were two other catchers that were also very good but didn’t quite play as much as Hartnett. Mickey Cochrane was better offensively (better wRC+ and OBP) and Bill Dickey was better defensively (while having a similar wRC+), and had another 3 years to play following Hartnett’s career so he ended with more value.
None of this is to take away from how great Hartnett was. He was an excellent hitter and a worthy addition to the Hall of Fame.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 10/17/16 This Dodger pitcher was famed for never missing a start.