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The All-Time MLB Team, Catcher: nominations open

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Something to kill time while the lockout rumbles on

Cincinnati Reds Johnny Bench, 1975 World Series SetNumber: X19964 TK3 R10 F33

This has been an off-season project I thought about doing years ago, but there’s always been plenty to talk about in the winter. This year, not so much, thanks to the lockout which shows no signs of ending. So it seems a good point to break it out. The aim, in short, is to pick the ten greatest players of all time, one at each position, including a tenth spot for a relief pitcher. The structure will be the same as for the ‘Pitties: an open nomination thread to select candidates, then a ballot with the nominees, and finally a post discussing the winner in some depth. We’ll be doing it by position, beginning with catcher, then one a week thereafter. Should keep us going until March, and hopefully spring training!

I did think about having two for each position: one from the pre-integration era, and one from the post-integration era. This was as much due to the paucity of available stats from the earlier times, as a desire to reflect the changing demographics. But in the end, I opted not to split things: it would have caused as many problems as it solved, such as how to handle players whose careers fell on both sides of 1947. However, I am opting to exclude any players still active, so avoiding the need to “guess” about future performance. Though there aren’t that many I’d say deserve consideration as best EVER. Albert Pujols and Mike Trout are the two that come obviously to mind. I’m also starting at 1870.

With that all out of the way, let’s start with a discussion of potential catcher candidates. I’ll be blunt. My knowledge of baseball is tied to my interest, and that more or less began in 1998 with the Diamondbacks. So I will largely be relying on stats like WAR, and so very much appreciate your opinions. To begin with, as a conversation starter, here are some basic stats for the top 10 catchers (min. 50% games played at the position) by bWAR. The links for their names go to the page, and if you want to see players and their numbers outside the top 10, here’s the full report;

Best catchers ever

Johnny Bench 75.1 1967 1983 8674 1091 2048 389 1376 891 1278 .267 .342 .476 126
Gary Carter 70.1 1974 1992 9019 1025 2092 324 1225 848 997 .262 .335 .439 115
Ivan Rodriguez 68.7 1991 2011 10270 1354 2844 311 1332 513 1474 .296 .334 .464 106
Carlton Fisk 68.4 1969 1993 9853 1276 2356 376 1330 849 1386 .269 .341 .457 117
Yogi Berra 59.6 1946 1965 8364 1175 2150 358 1430 704 414 .285 .348 .482 125
Mike Piazza 59.5 1992 2007 7745 1048 2127 427 1335 759 1113 .308 .377 .545 143
Bill Dickey 56.5 1928 1946 7065 930 1969 202 1209 678 289 .313 .382 .486 127
Gabby Hartnett 55.9 1922 1941 7300 867 1912 236 1179 703 697 .297 .370 .489 126
Ted Simmons 50.3 1968 1988 9685 1074 2472 248 1389 855 694 .285 .348 .437 118
Mickey Cochrane 49.9 1925 1937 6211 1041 1652 119 830 857 217 .320 .419 .478 129

Ivan Rodriguez and Mike Piazza are the only ones of the top 10 to have played in the era where I was following baseball. What impresses me most about Rodriguez is his sheer longevity. 21 years in the majors, and only 66 games without the mask on (I’d like to have seen the one game where he played 2B...). Catcher is such a demanding position - especially on the knees! - you have to be impressed. Carlton Fisk survived even longer, in terms of seasons, but did play fewer games, and also a hundred more as a DH. With regard to Piazza, what I know most is he went in the 62nd round of the draft. Sixty-second! 1,389 players were picked before him. But it’s Mike who is in Cooperstown.

As for the rest, there are names that I recognize, most obviously Yogi Berra, who is renowned as much for what he said, as what he did! But I’ve got absolutely no knowledge which could be used to rank them in any meaningful order, except for alphabetical. So I’m curious to know what people think. More generally, what traits make a “good” catcher? Obviously there’s a balance between the slugger with hands of stone, anf the hitless defensive wiz (we’ve seen both for Arizona - Welington Castillo and Jeff Mathis perhaps being the most obvious examples). What do the players listed above, or your own picks, bring to the table?

As usual, we need to narrow the candidates down to five or thereabouts, for the final poll. This will be done largely on the basis of recs in the comments, though the decision of the judging committee i.e. me, will be final in this regard. Just identify the player in the subject line, and make your case in the body of the comment. If you agree with a choice already made, give it a rec. If you don’t see your choice, post a new comment. I will delete subsequent top-level comments about the same game. Poll to follow on Friday!