Catching is the most stressful and demanding position on the diamond defensively. Accordingly, there tends to be less offense expected from catchers than from other players as long as they field well. However, all that changed in the 1930’s with the advent of catchers like Mickey Cochrane, Gabby Hartnett and Bill Dickey who were very good hitters. Cooperstown houses 15 catchers in the gallery, with the median score belonging to Buck Ewing, 24573. Let’s see how some outsiders rank:
Year Inducted: 1989 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 431/447)
There are two positions in baseball that have seen rapid evolution of what player is considered the best at that respective position. The best players at first base, second base, shortstop and right field have been established since at latest the 1920’s. While left field and center field were more recently than the others listed, there was very little turnover between the periods. However, there has been a lot of turnover at third base and catcher, with the latter seeing the most change. Beginning with the 1930’s, the title of best catcher of all-time was passed down by several players, from Mickey Cochrane to Bill Dickey to Yogi Berra, and there was very little time between those players’ careers. Likewise, Berra didn’t hold the mantle very long, as that title was soon passed to its current holder, Johnny Bench.
Year Inducted: 2016 (BBWAA, ballot #4, 365/440)
It was a moment that no one thought could happen. Following more than a week off after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, baseball resumed in New York City. Facing their arch-rival Atlanta Braves and fighting for their playoff lives, the Mets were just coasting along in the game. In the bottom of the eighth, and down 2-1, up came the Mets MVP, and with one swing of the bat he put an entire city on his back and made everything alright again, even if it was for a brief moment. That moment, along with a brilliant resume, helped carry Mike Piazza into the Hall of Fame.
Year Inducted: 1972 (BBWAA, ballot #2, 339/396)
For most teams that carry a catcher for a long period of time, the transition from one catcher to the next can be a major passing of the torch. When Mike Matheny was the catcher for the Cardinals, he helped train his eventual replacement in Spring Training, and guided him throughout most of the season at the Major League level. The Cardinals were so pleased at how well Yadier Molina did, they let Matheny (a very good defender behind the plate and someone the entire pitching staff admired) walk in free agency after the 2004 season. It was very akin to what the Yankees did in the 1940’s. Bill Dickey retired in 1946, and spent some time that season and the following years training his successor to be a good catcher. The end result was making Yogi Berra one of the greatest catchers of all-time.
Year Inducted: 2003 (BBWAA, ballot #6, 387/496)
Most Hall of Famers, even if they play for other teams, become eternally linked with only one franchise. Despite playing with a lot of different teams, Rickey Henderson is inescapably linked to the Athletics. Babe Ruth played with the Red Sox and Braves, but is tied forever to the Yankees. Some players can make a link to two different teams. Catfish Hunter immediately springs to mind, but also Reggie Jackson (A’s and Yanks) and Dave Winfield (Padres and Yanks). However, neither of them were the face of two Major League teams in two different continents. That accomplishment went to Gary Carter.
Year Inducted: 2000 (BBWAA, ballot #2, 397/499)
The scene from Fenway Park is now iconic. 1975 World Series, Game Six, tied 6-6. Bottom of the 12th inning in a back and forth affair. The last time a run had scored, Bernie Carbo had hit an emotional tying home run off of Reds’ closer Rollie Eastwick in the 8th inning. The crowd was buzzing, hoping for a miracle to keep the Sox season alive another day. After longtime legend Carl Yastrzemski makes an out to end the 11th, and Rick Wise works some magic to keep the game tied, the Sox still have some great hitters lined up to win it in the 12th. Rookie Pat Darcy goes back to work for the Reds. First pitch was taken for a ball. The next pitch is rifled deep down the left field line, and Carlton Fisk’s name is now etched in playoff lore forever. That moment may define Fisk’s career, but shouldn’t overshadow how awesome he was.
Year Inducted: 1954 (BBWAA, ballot #9, 202/252)
Yogi Berra became the full-time catcher for the Yankees at the height of their dominance, and would go on to be a part of a record 10 World Championship seasons. Berra, of course, would for a time be considered the best catcher of all-time. And yet, even he would admit that, while he was an excellent hitter, he had to learn how to be a strong defender from someone. Berra’s predecessor, whom he completely overshadowed in a matter of weeks of taking up the reigns from him, was one of the best catchers of all-time in his own right. That, of course, was the legendary Bill Dickey.