Year Inducted: 1947 (BBWAA, ballot #6, 128/161)
Catchers are expected to have short careers. They put a lot of physical strain on their bodies and will typically decline much faster than other players. Even so, it’s tough for them to stand out offensively, especially if they are rated negatively defensively. What made some of the greatest catchers as great as they were (Fisk, Carter, Berra, Piazza and of course Bench) was that they either were multidimensional (Carter and Bench) or just completely shattered all expectations of what people expected offensively of catchers (all the others). But, there’s one catcher that was there to start the offensive expectations among catchers, Mickey Cochrane.
Cochrane was a fantastic and well-rounded player. In his brief 13-year career, with the A’s and Tigers, Cochrane hit .320/.419/.478 with a wRC+ of 132. Cochrane smashed 119 homers along with 64 triples and 333 doubles, establishing himself as one of the best catchers in the history of the game very quickly. Cochrane was a strong bat in the middle of the lineup, again a rarity for catchers in that day. In only 13 seasons he drove in 831 runs while scoring over 1000 times. Not to be seen as just an offensive hitter, Cochrane was a fine defender behind the plate, being worth +43 runs defensively.
Upon his retirement in 1937, Cochrane ranked first among all catchers ever in fWAR, OBP and wRC+. He also ranked 2nd in average, third in slugging, third in homers and seventh in RBI. Combining all of that with his defense, and there’s a strong argument for the best catcher of all-time.
Cochrane’s career came to a disappointing end in his final two seasons. Cochrane was named as player-manager of the Tigers in 1934 and did a great job, guiding the Tigers to the AL Pennant in 1934 and 1935 and winning the World Series in 1935. Unfortunately, the Tigers’ brass decided to add even more to his plate by making him GM as well. This, unsurprisingly, led to a minor meltdown in 1936 that caused him to play in only 23 games. He recovered in 1937 only to be hit in the head by a pitch and being knocked out cold and immediately ending his career.
Cochrane retired as the best catcher in history, only to quickly be surpassed by a train of catchers including one guy playing at the same time as he did in Bill Dickey. Still, Cochrane’s accomplishments as a great backstop shouldn’t be forgotten. The BBWAA gave him probably the highest honor, including his 2 MVP trophies. It wasn’t Berra or Dickey that got the title of the first catcher inducted by the writers-it was Cochrane that took that glory.
Stay tuned for the next updates.
On deck, 11/17/16:
#67- Dandy Don
#66- The best screwball of all-time