The Backstop Boys: The Greatest Catchers Of All-Time

One of the most physically and mentally demanding positions in baseball is catching. Often, catchers are held to a different standard compared to pitchers and infielders. Teams must be strong up the middle, and if you have a quality defensive player with some production, that can lead you to a World Series.

These players did their best to win or set some impressive records. But, there will be at least four more people on this list who will end up in Cooperstown a little bit down the road.

Among the players that stayed behind the plate, only 14 have been elected into the Hall of Fame, including the slowest man in baseball.

Buck Ewing Was The First Of His Position To Do Something Unique

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Ewing was one of the first of his position to crouch behind the plate. That cut down the time it would take to throw runners out at second, and catch the ball closer to home.

In the early part of his career, Ewing didn’t wear a chest protector or a solid mask.

Josh Gibson Could Have Broke The Color Barrier

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Gibson posted an absurd 1.026 OPS and .624 in the Negro Leagues. Playing for the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords, Gibson hit an impressive .350 during his career.

Unfortunately, he never played in the big leagues, passing away a few months before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.

Gabby Hartnett Had An Insane Season In 1930

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The former Cubbie had one of the best statistical seasons for a catcher. In 1930, Hartnett batted .339 with 37 home runs and 122 RBI. In 1937, he would hit .354, an average that stood still for 60 years.

Old Tomato Face would rake in 236 home runs and have a career batting average of .297.

Guess who broke Hartnett’s record in 1997? Hint: he was a catcher for the New York Mets in the 2000 World Series.

Joe Mauer

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A three-time winner of the batting title, Mauer is the only catcher to accomplish the feat in the American League. Mauer has over 2,000 hits in his career, and he set an MLB single-season record for catchers.

In 2009, he had a .265 batting average as well as a record .444 OBP.

Roy Campanella

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Aside from his knack for hitting, Campanella was known for his quickness. He finished his career with 242 home runs and 856 RBI. His numbers could have been better if he didn’t suffer a career-ending injury.

Campanella was immobilized after a tragic car accident.

Mike Piazza

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While his defense wasn’t as good as others on this list, Piazza was an offensive juggernaut for the Mets and Dodgers. The 12-time All-Star had one of the greatest seasons in MLB history.

In 1997, the Hall of Famer slash line was .362/.431/.638 with 40 home runs and 124 RBI.

The original “Pudge” is coming up next. He played a crucial role in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.

Johnny Bench

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Bench was able to gun down runners. He would help the Cincinnati Reds to two World Series titles while piling up MVP, Gold Glove Awards, and Rookie of the Year.

His two MVP seasons had him compile 45 home runs and 148 RBI, then 40 home runs and 125 RBI.

Buster Posey

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Posey has already amassed numbers and awards that should have him reach Cooperstown. He is a three-time World Series champion, MVP, Rookie of the Year, and more. The Giants back-stopper is no slouch behind the plate.

By the time Posey’s career comes to an end, he’ll be regarded as one of the greatest catchers baseball has ever seen.

Carlton Fisk

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Fisk has the sixth-most RBI all-time by a catcher. With 1,330 RBIs and 376 homers, the original “Pudge” ranks fourth all-time in WAR.

Not only did Fisk launch the game-winning home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, but it also became one of the most memorable plays ever.

The catcher who would become somewhat of a Carlton Fisk is still on the way.

Gary Carter

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One of the most popular players in the league, Carter led all catchers in a few categories. Total chances, put-outs, assists, and double plays were his calling card in the 70’s and 80’s.

Carter played for the Montreal Expos but helped lead the New York Mets to a memorable World Series run in 1986.

Ernie Lombardi Was The Slowest Man In Baseball

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“Schnozz” was known for his massive hands. He had an odd batting stance where he would interlock his hands. A career .306 hitter, the catcher relied on his power to make up for his lack of speed.

In 1938, he was the backstop for back-to-back no-hitters.

Ivan Rodriguez

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The best defensive catcher was a sniper behind the plate. A member of the 2003 World Series champion Marlins, “Pudge,” leads all catchers with 2,844 hits, 14,864 put-outs, and 2,427 games caught.

His prolific career was rewarded when he was inducted into Cooperstown in 2017.

Read ahead to see the Yankee player who became their manager for just one season.

Yadier Molina

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Molina is one of the better defensive catchers of all-time. The Cardinal great is known for controlling the game behind the plate through his pitch selection. The Puerto Rico native ranks second all-time among catchers with 130 Defensive Runs Saved.

And, he’s won two World Series while handling the plate.

Mickey Cochrane

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Before a fastball to the head ended his career, Cochrane compiled a .320 batting average. In 1930, he would hit a career-best .357, then hit .349 the following season.

Cochrane’s hitting ability was only part of the equation, as he was known for his ability to control a game from behind the plate.

Bill Dickey

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The 11-time All-Star posted 11 seasons hitting over .300. His best stretch was between 1936-1939. During that span, he had 102 home runs, 460 RBI, and he finished among the top five in MVP voting.

After his playing days, Dickey managed the Yankees for a season.

Read ahead to see which Yankee great Dickey mentored.

Jorge Posada

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Posada was the heart of the Yankees last dynasty. The four-time World Series champion had a consistent bat and played good defense.

The future Hall of Famer hit more home runs and batted in more runs than any catcher between 2000 and 2011, and was part of a Yankees trio that included Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.

Ted Simmons

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Simmons was one of the feistiest catchers in the game. The eight-time All-Star had seven seasons where he broke the .300 mark. He would set significant league records among catchers with 2,472 career hits and 483 doubles.

Both of those records have since been broken.

Yogi Berra

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Berra was a part of 10 World Series winning teams, all with New York. From 1950-1956, the Yankee great finished in the top four of the MVP vote. A three-time MVP and 18-time All-Star, Berra was thankful for one thing.

He was mentored by another Yankee great, player-turned manager Bill Dickey.

Thurman Munson

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The star catcher of the Pinstripes led New York to two World Series championships. Munson is the only catcher in postseason history to hit at least .300, have 20 or more RBIs and throw out over 20 runners.

The three-time Gold Glover and MVP had his No.15 retired shortly after his tragic death.

Biz Mackey

Mackey was named to five East-West All-Star teams. With a career that lasted nearly three decades, Mackey was considered one of the all-time greats.

While the Texas native never reached the major leagues, he was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

Mike Stanley

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Mike Stanley played for three different teams over the course of his career. He spent most of that time with the Rangers but only appeared in the postseason with the Yankees and Red Sox.

Early in his career, Stanley was used more as a platoon player than every day. By the end of his 16-year career, he had 187 home runs and 702 runs batted in.

Joe Torre

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Because of his legendary coaching career, the incredible catching career of Joe Torre has been seemingly forgotten. The catcher player for 17 seasons, mostly with the Atlanta Braves, and retired with a career WAR of 57.6.

Torre actually split his time between catching, first, and third base, and we think his versatility should be celebrated.

Bill Freehan

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Even if you don’t know the name Bill Freehan, you’e probably seen his picture. He caught the final out of the 1968 World Series, and the image snapped has become one of the most iconic baseball images of all-time.

For a span of ten years, Freehan was widely considered to be the best catcher in baseball. By the time he called it a career, he had three World Series titles to his name, cementing his place on this list.

Jim Sundberg

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Jim Sundberg played professionally from 1974 until 1989, and was the first player to catch more than 130 games in ten straight seasons. Usually catchers need to play less time as they get older or their knees give out.

Sundberg won six Gold Gloves by the time he retired, and would probably be remembered more fondly if he had played for more competitive teams in his career.

Jason Kendall

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Early in his career, Jason Kendall was on pace to not only become the greatest catcher of all-time but one of the greatest MLB players ever. By age 26, he had a 20 WAR, and was considered a prodigy.

After nine years in Pittsburgh, though, Kendall’s flame began to dim. Around the time he was 30-years-old, he suffered a devastating leg injury that nearly ended his career. He was never the same.

Darrell Porter

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Darrell Porter is probably the most tragic player on this list. Throughout he adult suffered he fought tooth and nails with a cocaine addiction. During his MLB career, he won a World Series and became the one of two catchers to score and drive in 100 runs.

When his career ended, he couldn’t keep his bad habits at bay. Porter, for as great as he was on the field, passed away just after his 50th birthday from a drug overdose.

Lance Parrish

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Lance Parrish played the underdog card when he originally made it to MLB. He had huge muscles, and as a result his manager didn’t think he would be flexible enough to play catcher.

By the end of his 19-year career Parrish caught over 1,800 games, proving Sparky Anderson wrong. He was mentored by Bill Freehan, and is one of the few catchers to find a normal spot in the heart of the batting order.

Kurt Suzuki

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A journeyman catcher for most of his career after making his name with the Oakland A’s, Kurt Suzuki is one of the best catchers of the modern era. Known for his ability to call a game, he also has decent power.

Suzuki may not have the batting numbers to justify a higher spot on this list, but he more than earns his keep. He is widely respected by his teammates and has a career WAR of 20.

Russell Martin

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Another modern era catcher who has already cemented his legacy in MLB, Russell Martin is one of the greatest leaders the sport has ever seen. Playing mostly with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Martin has also spent time with the Toronto Blue, Yankees, and Pirates.

Despite bouncing around the league, wherever Russell has gone, success and postseason appearances have seemed to follow. It helps that he is one of the top rated defensive catchers of the last ten years.

Victor Martinez

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Like so many other catchers before him, Victor Martinez was one of the best backstops offensively and defensively early in his career. Later in his career injuries slowed him down, by the end he was forced into a role as a designated hitter.

If Martinez had been able to stay behind the dish longer, especially with the offensive numbers he was able to produce, there is no telling how high he would be on this list.

Brian McCann

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Brian McCann has played for two teams during his MLB career; the Atlanta Braves and the New York Yankees. During that time he has proven to be one of the better offensive catchers the league has ever seen.

In ten of the years he’s played, McCann has knocked 20 balls over the fence. The feat puts him in distinguished territory with Mike Piazza, Johnny Bench, and Yogi Berra.

Javy Lopez

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Aside from a mid-career lull that saw his offensive power numbers drop. Javy Lopez is one of the more consistent catchers on this list. His best season saw him hit 43 home runs and drive in 109 RBIs.

Unfortunately, playing most of his career alongside Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine didn’t allow Lopez the recognition he deserved. Even in his biggest year he failed to crack the top four in MVP voting.

Chris Iannetta

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Chris Iannetta is perhaps the greatest platoon catcher of all-time. Over the course of his thirteen-year career, his OPS is 130 points higher against left-handing pitching than it is against right-handed pitching.

Because of his extreme splits, Iannetta has never found a job as a full-time catcher. Still, he has shown the power behind the plate to warrant consideration and earn a spot on this list.

Mike Napoli

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Mike Napoli has made waves in MLB as a catcher, first baseman, and designated hitter. The reason for this is his offense. To put it simply, Napoli can hit the ball a country mile.

A series of injuries limited his ability to catch games regularly by the time he was 30. After, he was moved permanently to first base and later designated hitter.

Alex Avila

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Alex Avila is one of MLB’s great legacy players. He was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 2004 as a favor to his father. He rewarded the team on his call up by hitting 19 home runs.

Unfortunately, Avila’s numbers began to decline as he got several concussions, and his rookie campaign became considered a fluke. We will always wonder how good he could have been if he had stayed healthy.

Tim McCarver

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For 21 years, Tim McCarver was one of the best game callers behind the dish. His best pitcher/catcher relationship came with Bob Gibson, who had a career 2.44 career ERA when throwing to him.

Without McCarver, Gibson’s ERA blew up to a still respectable 3.02. And during games Gibson pitcher to McCarver, the catcher hit a lot of home runs, proving just how mutual the relationship was.

Mike Scioscia

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Mike Scioscia started his MLB career straight out of high school and never looked back. He had his most notable role with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and retired with a reputation for being able to block balls better than anyone else.

After retiring, Scioscia stayed in the game, eventually becoming the manager for the Angels, whom he led to a World Series title over the San Francisco Giants in 2002.

Bob Boone

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The father of the Boone clan, Bob Boone spent most of his career with the Philadelphia Phillies, where he earned a reputation as one of the best hitting catchers of the time. To many, he is also considered the greatest Philly backstop ever.

Boone retired in 1990, but his legacy was carried on by his sons; Brett and Aaron, the latter of which is currently the manager for the New York Yankees.

Brad Ausmus

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Currently the manager of the Anaheim Angels, Brad Ausmus is one of the best defensive catchers of all-time. Spending most of his 17-year career with the Houston Astros, he was never considered an offensive threat, but he was still always feared by his opponent.

Amazingly, Ausmus was originally drafted in the 47th round of the draft. He ended up playing more games in the league thean 1,150 of the players taken in front of him.

Matt Wieters

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Still going strong today, Matt Wieters is one of MLB’s most respected back stops. He has won two Gold Gloves and has been named an all-star four time, all despite never reaching his full offensive potential.

Today, Wieters is more of a role player than everyday player, but still shines when called upon. An elbow injury in 2014 limited his ability behind the dish, but that hasn’t stopped him from making an impact everywhere he’s played since.