RANKED: Top 20 Catchers of All-Time
20. Biz Mackey
Before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball and the sport became an integrated league, Mackey was generally regarded as one of the all-time greats. Playing for the Hilldale Giants, Mackey was a career .328 hitter.
Excelling throughout a career that lasted nearly 30 years, Mackey was named to five East-West All-Star teams. Fellow legends, including Roy Campanella, were quick to praise Mackey — “In my opinion, Biz Mackey was the master of defense of all catchers.” While Mackey never reached the major leagues, he is often given credit for impacting many Negro leaguers who eventually made the jump.
19. Buck Ewing
Considered the greatest catcher of all-time by Connie Mack, Ewing finished his career with a .303 average and 354 stolen bases. Ewing was a step ahead of most catchers during his time (1880-1897), adapting to the pace of the game and coming up with a strategy to keep himself ahead of the pack.
Ewing was one of the first catchers to crouch behind the plate, and to set up closer to the hitter — cutting down the time it would take to throw runners out at second, and catch the ball closer to home garnering more strike calls. Ewing played the early part of his career without a chest protector or a solid mask, giving Ewing an easy claim to being one of the toughest (and craziest) catchers of all-time.
18. Thurman Munson
Aside from having the most championships in professional sports, the Yankees have a history of great catchers playing in the Bronx. Before a plane crash tragically cut Munson’s life short, he solidified himself as one of the best catchers in baseball history.
Munson was a 7-time All-Star, 3-time Gold Glove winner, Rookie of the Year, and MVP. The star catcher helped lead the Yankees to two World Series victories — in the process becoming the only catcher in MLB postseason history to hit at least .300 (.357), have 20+ RBIs (22), and throw out 20+ runners (24). The Yankees honored their captain by retiring his No. 15 shortly after his death.
17. Ted Simmons
One of the feistiest players to ever catch a game, Simmons had a very good career with the Cardinals and Brewers. An 8-time All-Star, Simmons was behind the plate for two Bob Gibson no-hitters.
The St. Louis man won the Silver Slugger Award in 1980, and had seven seasons where he broke the .300 mark. Simmons had an extraordinarily long career spanning 21 seasons, which helped him set major league records among catchers in career hits (2,472) and doubles (483). Although those records have since been broken, the Cardinals’ backstop ranks second all-time among catchers with 1,389 RBI and 10th with 248 home runs.
16. Gabby Hartnett
Until recently, the Chicago Cubs had a lot of things go against them. But while the team struggled to win, the franchise did have its fair share of Hall of Fame players — including Gabby Hartnett.
Hartnett was a 6-time All-Star for the Cubbies, including one season in which he won the National League MVP. Hartnett posted one of the best statistical seasons ever for a catcher in 1930, batting .339 while hitting 37 HR and knocking in 122 RBI. In 1937, Hartnett hit .354, an average that stood for 60 years until Mike Piazza hit .362. The Cub slugged 236 home runs, and hit .297 over his 19-year career.
15. Yadier Molina
The first of three active players on this list, Molina has plenty of room to finish higher by the time he’s done playing. The Cardinal great quickly became one of the best catchers in baseball after reaching the major leagues.
Molina is an 9-time All-Star, 9-time Gold Glove winner, and 4-time Platinum Glove winner. Easily one of the better defensive catchers of all-time, Molina is also known for controlling the game behind the plate through his pitch selection. The Cardinals have won two World Series with Molina manning the plate. Molina currently ranks second all-time among catchers with 130 Defensive Runs Saved, and is among the top 70 all-time in nearly every defensive category.
14. Jorge Posada
Part of the Yankees “Core Four,” Posada became one of the winningest catchers of all-time. Playing his entire 17-year career with the Yankees, Posada was synonymous with greatness throughout the 90’s and 2000’s.
The heart of the Yankees most recent dynasty, Posada guided the Yankees to four World Series. A 5-time All-Star and Silver Slugger winner, Posada provided a consistent bat and good defense for the Bombers. The future Hall of Fame catcher finished his career with 275 home runs and 1,065 RBI. Between 2000 and 2011, Posada hit more home runs and batted in more runs than any catcher in the big leagues.
13. Joe Mauer
The man with the seventh best WAR for a catcher, Mauer could have had a shot at a top-5 ranking if he had finished his career behind the plate. Injury scares forced Mauer to switch to first base in the past few years, but there is no taking away from what he accomplished as a catcher.
Mauer set an MLB single-season record for catchers with a .365 batting average in 2009 — as well as a record .444 OBP — on his way to the AL MVP. Mauer, a 3-time winner of the Batting Title, is the only catcher to ever accomplish the feat in the American League. Mauer has been named to six All-Star teams, and has won three Gold Gloves and five Silver Sluggers with the Twins. Mauer broke the 2,000 hit mark in 2018.
12. Ernie Lombardi
Affectionately nicknamed ‘Schnozz’, Lombardi made his way to the Hall of Fame on the strength of his bat and arm. A career .306 hitter, Lombardi relied on his immense power to cover for his lack of speed.
Other than being known for his schnozz, Lombardi was prominent for his massive hands — evidence above — and unique batting stance, in which he would interlock his hands. Lombardi hit over .300 in 10 different seasons, posting a lifetime .818 OPS and .460 SLG. The Schnozz was the backstop for back-to-back no-hitters, a feat that will stand the test of time — long live The Schnozz.
11. Bill Dickey
From player, to coach, to mentor — Dickey was one of the best the game has seen. A member of the famed Bronx Bombers, Dickey was a part of seven World Series champion teams while with the Yankees.
Dickey was an 11-time All-Star, who according to Bob Feller — “was the best all-around catcher of them all.” Finishing his career with a .313 BA, Dickey posted 11 seasons over .300, with the best stretch of his career being 1936-1939 — through those four years Dickey had 102 HR and 460 RBI, finishing no lower than sixth in MVP voting. After finishing his playing career, Dickey managed the Yankees for a season, mentoring the great Yogi Berra, who had this to say about Dickey: “I owe everything I did in baseball to Bill Dickey. He was a great man.”
10. Mickey Cochrane
Before an errant fastball to the head ended Cochrane’s career, “Black Mike” had a career that nearly every player in history would envy. Spending the majority of his career with the Philadelphia Athletics, Cochrane was an above-average hitter and a tremendous game caller.
A 2-time MVP and 3-time World Series champion, Cochrane finished his career with a .320 BA. In 1930, Cochrane hit a career best .357, subsequently hitting .349 the following year. Cochrane’s hitting ability was only part of the equation, as he was best known for his ability to control a game from behind the plate. Known as one of the best game callers of all-time, Cochrane segued into a career managing the Detroit Tigers from 1934-1938.
9. Gary Carter
He was called “The Kid”, but Carter was a man behind the plate. Carter was a very good hitter, but an even better defensive catcher.
Carter — 5-time Silver Slugger, 3-time Gold Glove, 11-time All-Star, 2-time All-Star MVP — was one of the most popular players in the league. He led all catchers in total chances, put-outs, assists and double plays for much of the late 70’s and early 80’s. In 1978, Carter set the record for fewest passed balls. Carter helped lead the memorable 1986 Mets to a World Series victory. Carter finished his career with 324 home runs and was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2003.
8. Josh Gibson
Referred to as the “black Babe Ruth”, Gibson was considered the best power hitter in the Negro Leagues throughout his career. Playing for the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords, Gibson hit a remarkable .350 over the course of his career.
In addition to his high average, Gibson posted an absurd 1.026 OPS and .624 SLG. Gibson never played in MLB, unfortunately passing away around the same time Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Regardless of where he played, Gibson made a lasting impact on those who witnessed his greatness.
“Josh was a better power hitter than Babe Ruth, Ted Williams or anybody else I’ve ever seen.” – Alonzo Boone of the Cleveland Buckeye
7. Buster Posey
The best catcher in baseball today is also one of the greatest the game has ever seen. By the time Posey finishes his career, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine him landing in the top 3.
Now 32, Posey has already amassed numbers and awards worthy of the Hall of Fame — 3-time World Series champion, MVP, Rookie of the Year, 6-time All-Star, 4-time Silver Slugger, Batting Title, Gold Glove. Posey is generally regarded as an excellent pitch framer, and is no slouch at the plate. To date, Posey is a lifetime .302 hitter, and has slugged 140 homers.
6. Ivan Rodriguez
Pudge Rodriguez — the best defensive catcher of all-time — also has an all-time classic nickname.
Rodriguez is the model of consistency, maybe setting the bar higher than anyone not named Cal Ripken Jr.
He did it all during his 21-year career. A sniper behind home, Pudge caught over 50-percent of runners trying to steal against him a ridiculous nine times — finishing his career with a 46-percent caught-stealing rate. A member of the 2003 World Series champion Marlins, Pudge was a 14-time All-Star, 13-time Gold Glove winner and 7-time Silver Slugger award winner.
Pudge ranks first all-time in put-outs by a catcher (14,864) and games caught (2,427). Pudge was just as talented in the batter’s box. He ended his remarkable career with a .296 batting average, 311 HR and 1,332 RBI.
5. Mike Piazza
From the greatest defensive catcher to the best offensive catcher, Piazza is the absolute benchmark for catchers offensively. While his defense wasn’t nearly as good as others that surround him on this list, Piazza’s offense was in an entirely different realm.
A 12-time All Star and 10-time Silver Slugger winner, Piazza was an offensive dynamo for the Dodgers and Mets. A lifetime .308 hitter, Piazza hit 427 HR — 396 as a catcher — drove in 1,335 runs and had a .922 OPS. The slugger recorded three of the five best seasons by a catcher based on OPS+, and claims the highest offensive WAR, 65.9, of any catcher. Piazza had one of the greatest seasons in MLB history, regardless of position, in 1997 — a .362/.431/.638 slash-line with 40 HR and 124 RBI, finishing second in the NL MVP vote.
4. Carlton Fisk
Not only did Fisk waving his game-winning home run fair in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series become one of the most memorable plays in history — it inspired a fabulous scene featuring Henry Rowengartner and Heddo in Rookie of the Year.
The durable Hall of Famer held the major league record for games caught (2,226) before Pudge Rodriguez surpassed him. Fisk was an 11-time All-Star and 3-time Silver Slugger. Fisk has the sixth most RBI all-time by a catcher with 1,330, and is third in homers with 376. The original ‘Pudge,’ Fisk ranks fourth all-time in WAR — trailing only Johnny Bench, Gary Carter and Ivan Rodriguez.
3. Yogi Berra
The most recognizable catcher of all-time, Berra is a legend. Akin to Bill Russell in the NBA, Berra is that for MLB. Simply, the man is the ultimate winner.
Berra was a part of 10 World Series winning teams in New York. 10. With Berra behind the dish, the Yankees reached a total of 14 World Series. From 1950-1956, Berra finished in the top four of the MVP vote. A 3-time MVP and 18-time All-Star, Berra was the backbone of the Bronx dynasty. One of the most incredible stats when considering Berra’s greatness — he finished his career with 358 homers and only 414 strikeouts.
2. Roy Campanella
Yet another Hall of Fame player suffering a career-ending injury, it is remarkable what Campanella was able to achieve in such a short amount of time. Before a car accident left Campanella immobilized before his 11th season, the Dodgers’ backstop was phenomenal.
After spending many years of his career in the Negro Leagues, Campanella joined Jackie Robinson in Brooklyn. In 10 seasons with the Dodgers, Campanella was an 8-time All-Star, 3-time MVP, and won the 1955 World Series. In Campanella’s second MVP campaign, he hit .312 with 41 HR and 142 RBI.
Aside from his incredible knack for hitting, Campanella was known for his superior quickness behind the plate, having the ability to field his position better than most. Campanella finished his truncated MLB career with 242 HR and 856 RBI. There is no telling how great his numbers would have been given a full MLB career and without his tragic accident.
1. Johnny Bench
One of the most recognizable names in baseball, Bench is the archetype for modern-day catchers. The backstop for the ‘Big Red Machine’ turned baseball on its head with his power at the plate and behind it.
Blessed with one of the strongest arms in baseball, Bench mesmerized with his ability to gun down runners. Bench helped lead Cincinnati to two World Series wins, and piled up the individual accolades in the process — 2-time MVP, World Series MVP, 14-time All-Star, 10-time Gold Glove, and Rookie of the Year. Bench smashed 389 HR during his 17 seasons with the Reds. His two MVP seasons were just silly — 45 HR and 148 RBI in 1970, 40 HR and 125 RBI in 1972. Simply put, Bench is the greatest catcher in baseball’s history.
“I don’t want to embarrass any other catchers by comparing him with Johnny Bench.” – Sparky Anderson