Yankee starters with 200 wins but no shot at the Hall of Fame

2 10 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

A few Yankee pitchers are in a zone that mixes pride with frustration. They had distinguished careers, of which they should be proud, ending up tantalizingly close to Hall of Fame consideration.

But they have no shot at Cooperstown.

David WellsCarl MaysSad Sam JonesKenny RogersKevin BrownJoe Niekro, Bobo NewsomRick Reuschel and George Uhle all passed 200 wins but didn’t reach 250, where you get serious Hall of Fame consideration, or 300, where entry is nearly automatic.

With some exceptions, you need special achievements to push you into the Hall of Fame from the low 200s in wins. And these pitchers didn’t have them. They were good and pitched a long time. But not quite long enough or good enough. Most had their best seasons for other teams. I’ll address them in the order of their contributions to the Yankees.

David Wells

Boomer spent four seasons with the Yankees, 1997-98 and 2002-3. His only 20-win season came as a Blue Jay, but his Yankee records were solid: 16-10, 18-4, 19-7 and 15-7. That 1998 season placed him third in the Cy Young Award vote.

He was 6-2 in post-season games for Yankees, and undefeated 4-0 for the 1998 team, including two wins and an MVP Award in the American League Championship Series.

Plus he pitched a perfect game:

Carl Mays

Mays had more 20-win seasons than Wells, including 26- and 27-win seasons for the Yankees in 1920-21. He pitched for the Yankees from 1919-23. I gave the edge to Wells based on post-season performance. Mays was only 1-3 in the 1921-22 World Series. Read the rest of this entry »

Yankee pitchers win more championships than Cy Young Awards

1 10 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

Yankee pitchers have won the Cy Young Award only five times. But past or future Yankees have won 20 Cy Young Awards.

In other sports, winners of major individual awards often come from championship teams. But that’s less common in baseball, where the writers who decide the award winners have a strong bias against the Yankees, the team that has won the most championships.

In the 60 years that the Cy Young Award has existed, the Yankees have won 11 World Series and eight more American League championships, but only five Cy Youngs. In the 50 years that Cy Youngs have been awarded by league, the Yankees have won seven World Series and four more league championships, but only three Cy Youngs.

By contrast, check out other American League teams’ performance in championships and Cy Young voting:

  • The Red Sox and Orioles each have won three world championships and three more A.L. crowns and six Cy Youngs in that same period.
  • The Tigers have won two World Series, two more A.L. titles and five Cy Youngs.
  • The A’s have won four World Series, two more A.L. championships and five Cy Youngs.
  • The Royals have won one World Series, two more league titles and four Cy Youngs.
  • The Twins have four Cy Youngs, two World Series wins and one other A.L. title.
  • The Indians have won four Cy Youngs despite making it to just two World Series and winning neither.

I suspect this is a result of a combination of factors: anti-Yankee bias by the baseball writers who choose award winners; exaggeration of the importance of starting pitching in winning championships; the fact that the Yankees have tended to be greater at offensive positions than starting pitching; the longtime strength of Yankee bullpens and the fact that relievers seldom win the Cy Young.

Yankees win their Cy Youngs before they don pinstripes or after the Yankees let them get away. Roger Clemens did both, winning three for the Red Sox and two for the Blue Jays before becoming a Yankee and winning another. He won his seventh after leaving the Yankees to become an Astro. Read the rest of this entry »

Series on segregation in the Hall of Fame starts next week

30 09 2015

Next week I will publish a series of posts about racial discrimination in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and how the pre-1947 segregation continues in Cooperstown.

I sent a version of the first post to some newspapers for publication next week. One of the newspapers published it early. If you came here looking for the longer version of the post, please come back next week.

In the meantime, you might enjoy my series on Yankee starting pitchers.


Yankee pitchers who are nearly Hall of Famers: Mussina, Pettitte, Cone, Tiant, Kaat

30 09 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

Five Yankee starting pitchers have strong cases for the Baseball Hall of Fame, but probably not strong enough for most of them.

Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, David ConeLuis Tiant and Jim Kaat were among the greatest pitchers of their times, but fall short of the standards that normally get pitchers into Cooperstown.

In earlier posts in this series, I dealt with the Yankee Hall of Famers, 300-game winners who pitched for the Yankees and three Yankee starters who belong in the Hall of Fame.

These pitchers are a notch below the others. I won’t argue if an Era Committee someday welcomes one of these pitchers to Cooperstown, and they probably belong there, but I’d be surprised if they all make it and won’t campaign for any of them.

Mike Mussina

Moose passed on a shot at ensuring his spot at Cooperstown, retiring at the top of his game after 18 years. He had his only 20-win season in his final year, winning exactly 20 at age 39 and retiring with 270 wins.

Roger Clemens, who’s being kept out of the Hall of Fame only because of suspicions about performance-enhancing drugs, is the only 300-game winner who’s not in Cooperstown. You can’t be sure that a pitcher entering his 40s has 30 more wins in him. But a healthy and durable pitcher who wins 20 in his late 30s probably can win 30 more over two or three more years.

But Moose stuck with his announced retirement. And it’s hard to picture the Hall of Fame voters embracing a 270-game winner with only one 20-win season.

Moose’s case for the Hall of Fame is pretty similar to Bert Blyleven‘s or Don Sutton‘s (except that Sutton stuck around long enough to reach 300 wins). Like them, he never won a Cy Young Award or had a really great season. But he had a lot of good seasons. Nine times Mussina was in the top six in the Cy Young voting, but the closest he came was second, to unanimous-choice Pedro Martinez in 1999.

In 10 years with the Orioles and eight with New York, Mussina led the American League once in wins, once in winning percentage and once in shutouts. He also led the league once in innings pitched and twice in starts. But never in ERA or strikeouts.

Moose finished higher in Cy Young voting more often than either Sutton or Blyleven. He was a league leader about as many times as Blyleven and more times than Sutton. And both also had just one 20-win season.

Mussina was an All-Star five times, the same as Sutton, and Blyleven made only two All-Star games. Moose won seven Gold Gloves and neither of the others ever did.

Sutton never won less than 50 percent of the Hall of Fame vote and was elected his fifth year of eligibility, crossing the 75-percent threshold with 82 percent. His 324 wins ensured his election and he made it relatively quickly.

Blyleven started out getting in the teens in the voting, but his percentages gradually increased, reaching 80 percent in 2011, his 14th year on the ballot.

Mussina started out faring better in Hall of Fame voting than Blyleven, getting 20 percent his first year and 25 percent this year, his second on the ballot. Blyleven didn’t reach that level until his fifth year on the ballot.

I can see Moose making the Hall of Fame in his final years on the writers’ ballot, as Blyleven did, or being an eventual Era Committee choice. He’s definitely comparable to Hall of Famers, but he’s a borderline candidate, and I don’t argue strenuously for borderline candidates. At least three Yankee starters — Tommy John, Ron Guidry and Allie Reynolds — were notably greater pitchers than Mussina and belong in the Hall of Fame before him.

For several Yankees, a big part of my case for putting them in the Hall of Fame is their excellence in the post-season and World Series play. Mussina was average in October, 7-8 in post-season and 1-1 in World Series play.

But the Hall of Fame voters don’t care about post-season play and they do tend to smile on those who play well for long careers. So Moose has a shot.

If Bleacher Report’s rankings reflect Hall voting, Mussina has a good shot. He rank 35th all-time on the list, ahead of about half of the starters in the Hall of Fame. That’s higher than I would rank him.

Andy Pettitte

The Hall of Fame voters’ disdain for post-season performance is the reason Andy Pettitte probably wouldn’t have made the Hall of Fame, even if his reputation hadn’t been tainted by his admitted use of human growth hormone.

Pettitte won 256 games, usually enough to get a pitcher into Cooperstown. Of the nine pitchers with more wins than Pettitte who are not in the Hall of Fame, four were Yankees: Mussina, Roger ClemensTommy John and Jim Kaat (only briefly a Yankee; more on him shortly).

And no one in history has more post-season wins than Pettitte’s 19. Only John Smoltz has more post-season strikeouts. Pettitte was the anchor of the starting rotation for a dynasty that won four World Series in five years and another nine years later. In addition to his October prowess, he led the Yankees in wins and innings pitched in two of their championship years an in innings in a third.

As with Bernie Williams, Pettitte will be hurt by how differently baseball’s Hall of Fame voters regard championships (which is because of their anti-Yankee bias). You simply can’t name a football or basketball player who was as important to a championship dynasty as Pettitte who isn’t in his sport’s Hall of Fame.

But, as I noted the first time he retired, Pettitte is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate, and Yankees who are borderline simply don’t get in. Add his drug involvement, even though he was one of the few PED users who readily admitted his use, and I don’t think he has much of a shot at Cooperstown.

He retired in 2013 and has to wait another three years before he can be on the Hall of Fame ballot.

David Cone

Of course, if Pettitte’s 19-11 post-season record isn’t going to help him get into the Hall of Fame, Cone’s 8-3 record won’t do the trick either. He lasted just one year on the writers’ ballot, getting just 3.9 percent of the vote.

But here’s why there’s some hope for Cone, Pettitte and Mussina to make it to Cooperstown eventually: They were among the best dozen or so pitchers of their time, and that many pitchers from an era usually make the Hall of Fame.

I assigned Hall of Fame pitchers to decades, giving multiple decades to some pitchers if they achieved some Hall of Fame credentials in that decade. For instance, Nolan Ryan didn’t achieve much with the 1968 or ’69 Mets, so he doesn’t count as one of the Hall of Famers from the ’60s. He had great decades in the ’70s and ’80s, so of course he counts there. He pitched only four years of the ’90s, and didn’t win many games then. But he won the last of his 11 strikeout crowns in 1990 at age 43. He pitched his sixth and seventh no-hitters in the 1990s, not to mention placing his famous headlock on Robin Ventura in 1993, his final year, at age 46. So I count Ryan as a Hall of Famer from the last three of his four decades.

Five different decades had a dozen or more Hall of Famers: the 1900s, Teens, ’20s, ’30s, ’60s and ’70s.

The 1980s, ’90s and beyond will get more Hall of Famers as time goes ons. The low numbers of Hall of Famers from the 1930s (9), ’40s (7) and ’50s (8) may reflect careers shortened by service in World War II or lives lost in the war.

The 1990s have already produced six Hall of Fame starting pitchers: Ryan, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Clemens makes seven pitchers from the era who were clearly better than this Yankee trio, though we don’t know when, if ever, Hall of Fame voters will decide they have meted out enough punishment to Clemens and other greats whose fame includes suspicion of drug use.

If the ’90s are going to get a dozen starting pitchers into the Hall of Fame, you really can’t get there without Mussina, Pettitte and Cone, even if Clemens gets there eventually.

Jack Morris and Curt Schilling were arguably better than the Yankee trio, but neither won as many games as Mussina or Pettitte. Schilling and Cone tied for the lowest ERAs of the group, 3.46. Mussina and Pettitte had lower ERAs than Morris’s 3.90.

Cone was the only Cy Young Award winner in the bunch, though Schilling finished second three times and Pettitte once (he was screwed in 1996). Counting the times they led their leagues in wins, winning percentage, ERA, shutouts or strikeouts, Schilling and Cone each had five, Morris four, Mussina three and Pettitte one.

Morris and Schilling both were great in the post-season (let’s pretend a moment that that matters in Hall of Fame selection), but Pettitte won more post-season games than both of them combined. Schilling’s 11-2 October record is stellar, but Cone’s 8-3 is better than Morris’s 7-4.

Moving into the 2000s, when each of the Yankee trio had great years, as did Clemens and the five of the six Hall of Famers from the ’90s (all but Ryan), and Roy Halladay is a contender. His 203 wins usually wouldn’t be enough to make Cooperstown, but he’s a two-time Cy Young winner who led his leagues six times in the key categories mentioned above. His 3-2 record in the post-season includes a no-hitter.

With the exception of Clayton Kershaw, other star pitchers of this century either had injury-shortened careers (Chris Carpenter and Johan Santana) or are too early in their careers to project their Hall of Fame chances (David Price, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez) or appear likely to fall short of Hall of Fame standards (CC Sabathia, whom I’ll discuss in a later post in this series). None of the best Hall of Fame prospects of this century overlapped significantly with the three Yankees under consideration here.

Other pitchers of the 1990s and early 2000s with some sort of Hall of Fame credentials don’t match up well with Mussina, Pettitte and Cone. Jamie Moyer pitched forever and won 269 games, just one behind Mussina. He won 20 twice, led the league in winning percentage once and was in the top six Cy Young vote-getters three times. Just one comparison: Moose was in the top six nine times, Pettitte and Cone five each. Moyer was an All-Star once, compared to five times each for Cone and Moose and three for Pettitte. Moyer does hold one major league record: most home runs allowed.

Other leading pitchers of their era include a bunch who spent time with the Yankees (and will be discussed later in this series): Doug Drabek, Jack McDowellBartolo Colón, Jimmy KeyDenny NeagleDavid Wells, Kevin Brown, Kenny Rogers, CC Sabathia, Freddy Garcia. A bunch of non-Yankees also were among the best pitchers of the time: Tim Hudson, Mark Buehrle, Bob Welch, Orel Hershiser, Chuck Finley, Tim Wakefield, Barry Zito, Pat Hentgen, Mark Mulder, John Burkett, Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz, Dontrelle Willis, Jake Peavy, Brandon Webb, Adam Wainwright, Tim Lincecum, John Lackey, Josh Beckett, Kevin Appier.

Though some of those are still pitching, none of them has a Hall of Fame case as strong as Mussina, Pettitte or Cone. Except for Clemens, Schilling, Morris, Halladay, and the Hall of Famers, the best contemporaries lag behind this Yankee trio (usually behind two, sometimes all three) in most if not all of these measures: career wins, ERA, strikeouts, 20-win seasons, leading the league, All-Star appearances, Cy Young voting, post-season performance.

By any criteria you want to choose, Mussina, Pettitte and Cone were among the best pitchers of their time.

So if Hall of Fame selection of pitchers from the 1900s and early 2000s results in a dozen starters (including Clemens; I’ll settle for 11 Hall of Famers if he never makes it), the group will be Ryan, Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Johnson, Martinez and five of these six pitchers: Schilling, Morris, Halladay, Mussina, Pettitte and Cone.

I suspect, given the Hall of Fame voters’ bias for longevity, that Moose has the best shot of the Yankees. I think Cone was the best pitcher of the three. Pettitte might pay a price for his drug use.

I expect at least one will make it eventually, and I’ll be surprised if all three do.

Luis Tiant

Tiant was a Yankee only briefly and late in his career, winning 13 and eight games for them in 1979 and ’80.

He was best known as the ace of the 1970s Red Sox, who lost the World Series to the Reds in seven games and lost the AL East title to the Yankees in a one-game playoff (he didn’t pitch that game; Mike Torrez was the starter). But he had great seasons for the Indians, too.

El Tiante was a character and a gamer. Here’s why he should be in the Hall of Fame:

  • He won 229 games, more than Jim BunningDon Drysdale, Catfish Hunter, or Sandy Koufax, contemporaries of Tiant who made the Hall of Fame.
  • He won 20 games four times, more than contemporaries Bert Blyleven, Bunning, Drysdale, Whitey Ford, Koufax, Phil Niekro, Nolan Ryan or Don Sutton.
  • Tiant led his league in ERA twice (1968 and 1972), both times with ERAs under 2.00. Blyleven, Bunning, Steve Carlton, Drysdale, Bob Gibson, Hunter, Ferguson JenkinsJuan Marichal, Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Robin Roberts and Sutton were players whose careers overlapped with Tiant’s who didn’t lead their leagues twice in ERA. Ford, Jim Palmer and Ryan matched Tiant’s two ERA crowns.
  • Tiant led his league in shutouts twice. Contemporaries Carlton, Drysdale, Hunter, Jenkins, Niekro, Perry, Roberts and Sutton led their leagues only once in shutouts or never posted the most shutouts. Blyleven, Bunning, Ford, Marichal, Palmer, Ryan and Tom Seaver matched Tiant with two shutout titles.
  • He was 3-0 in post-season play, undefeated in the 1975 post-season with a playoff win over the three-time defending World Series champion Oakland A’s and two wins over Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine in the World Series. Bunning, Marichal, Niekro, Perry, Roberts and Ryan didn’t match Tiant’s three post-season wins (some also played most of their careers before league playoff started). Drysdale and Seaver were 3-3 in the post-season, (Drysdale all in the World Series). Other contemporaries in the Hall of Fame had more post-season wins than Tiant, but weren’t undefeated.

You can’t examine the careers of Tiant and his contemporaries and say he doesn’t belong in Cooperstown along with them. But he’s not there.

Here’s why Tiant won’t be in the Hall of Fame: He wasn’t in the top dozen pitchers of his time. Tiant’s great years fell in the 1960s and ’70s. The 1960s and ’70s already have 17 pitchers in the Hall of Fame (the 16 named above, plus Warren Spahn, who bested Tiant and most of his contemporaries in all the categories I examined).

I don’t think those pitchers were all better than Tiant, but 17 of Tiant’s contemporaries are in the Hall of Fame. I’ve argued that Ron Guidry and Tommy John should be there, too. Guidry probably won’t make it, but John probably will. And you could make about a strong a case for Mickey Lolich (not as strong as for Tiant, I think, but similar).

Tiant pitched in an era of great pitchers, and maybe a few more will make it. Red Sox tend to fare well in Hall of Fame selection, but Tiant never got more than 31 percent of the writers’ vote. I wouldn’t be surprised if he never makes it to Cooperstown.

But man, I enjoyed watching him pitch, and I’ll cheer him on if a Golden Era or Expansion Era Committee ever lets him in. The dividing line between the eras is 1973, about halfway through Tiant’s career. The Golden Era Committee rejected him last year.

(I’ll deal with Tiant again next week in a post about racial discrimination in Hall of Fame elections.)

Jim Kaat

Here’s a fun fact: Since Kaat pitched parts of two seasons for the Yankees in his 40s, the three post-19th-century pitchers with the most wins who aren’t in the Hall of Fame were all Yankees. Roger Clemens won 354 (I don’t have to explain again why he’s not in the Hall of Fame, do I?). Tommy John, who, of course, belongs in Cooperstown, won 288. And Kaat is next at 283.

Add three 20-win seasons for Kaat and 16 Gold Gloves (a record broken by Greg Maddux) and Kaat has a strong case, but the Golden Era Committee rejected him along with Tiant last year anyway. Two of his 20-win seasons came in 1974-75, so he could possibly get Expansion Era consideration, too.

Another fun fact: Kaat’s career spanned four decades, starting in 1959 with the Washington Senators and ending in 1983 with the Cardinals. Tiant’s whole career fit within Kaat’s. I won’t try to figure out how many more Hall of Famers he overlapped with than Tiant, but Early Wynn comes to mind.

I value peak performance more than longevity, so I’d favor Tiant if only one of them ever makes the Hall of Fame. Voters favor longevity, though, so I think Kaat might have the better shot.

Both men are long shots for the Hall of Fame. Here’s how I’d order the chances of the men in this post for making Cooperstown:

  1. Mussina
  2. Kaat
  3. Tiant
  4. Pettitte
  5. Cone

All are better than some in the Hall of Fame, and anti-Yankee bias is probably no factor in Kaat and Tiant’s cases. But I’ll be surprised if more than one or two make the Hall of Fame, shocked if they all do.

Also in this series

This is part of a series on Yankee starting pitchers. Other posts in the series:

Source note: Unless otherwise noted, all statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

Correction invitation: I wrote this series of blog posts over several months, mostly late at night while unable to sleep while undergoing medical treatment. I believe I have fact-checked and corrected any errors, but I welcome you to point out any I missed: stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com. Or, if you just want to argue about my opinions, that’s fine, too.

Yankee starting pitchers who belong in the Hall of Fame: Reynolds, John and Guidry

28 09 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

Three Yankee starting pitchers who aren’t in the Baseball Hall of Fame should be there: Tommy John, Ron Guidry and Allie Reynolds.

Roger Clemens also belongs there based on his achievements, but is being kept out of Cooperstown because of suspicion that he used performance-enhancing drugs. I dealt with Clemens in the 300-game-winners installment of this series on Yankee starting pitchers, so I won’t address him here.

I have detailed multiple times why John and Guidry belong in the Hall of Fame, so I will just summarize those arguments and link to earlier posts at the end of this one. Here I’ll primarily make the case for Reynolds, whom I touched on just briefly in 2013.

Allie Reynolds

Allie Reynolds' autograph on a baseball my wife's uncle used to take to Yankee Stadium in the 1950s. Yes, that's Mickey Mantle's autograph to the right. Also outfielder Gene Woodling and pitcher Bob Kuzava.

Allie Reynolds’ autograph on a baseball my wife’s uncle used to take to Yankee Stadium in the 1950s. Yes, that’s Mickey Mantle’s autograph to the right. Also outfielder Gene Woodling and pitcher Bob Kuzava. The ball now belongs to my son Mike.

One of the reasons Reynolds isn’t in the Hall of Fame is the longtime disdain of the Baseball Writers Association of America members for giving any consideration to post-season performance. Their anti-Yankee bias would collapse if they gave any weight to World Series success in Hall of Fame selection. But they cling fiercely to that bias, so championships and post-season performance, which count greatly for selection to the football or basketball halls, mean nothing in selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Golden Era Committee ballot included Reynolds in 2011, but he was snubbed by a committee that chose Ron Santo (who never played in a World Series).

Reynolds was arguably the best pitcher ever in World Series play. The only pitchers with as many World Series wins as Reynolds are Whitey Ford with 10 and Red Ruffing and Bob Gibson, tied with Reynolds at seven. Ford also lost eight games, so his actual dominance doesn’t match that of Reynolds, Ruffing and Gibson, who were all 7-2.

Bob Gibson's autograph, with some Cardinal teammates, on a ball belonging to my son Joe.

Bob Gibson’s autograph, with some Cardinal teammates, on a ball belonging to my son Joe.

Gibson’s 1.82 ERA was better than Ruffing’s 2.63 or Reynolds’ 2.79, and Gibson’s 92 strikeouts beat the 62 for Reynolds and 61 for Ruffing. I would argue that Gibson was the greatest starting pitcher in World Series play, edging out Reynolds.

But here’s what Reynolds did that none of those pitchers did: He saved four World Series games, too, giving him a key role in 11 wins. 

The greatest streak by any team ever in baseball history was the Yankees’ run of five straight world championships from 1949 to 1953. And the greatest pitcher of that greatest dynasty was Allie Reynolds. Here’s what he did in the regular season and World Series during that run: Read the rest of this entry »

Yogi Berra was the best of the greatest catcher tradition of any team

26 09 2015

Wednesday I paid tribute to the amazing career, life and wit of Yogi Berra, who died at age 90. Today I want to honor Berra again by explaining how he anchored a team with, by far, the greatest tradition of catching excellence.

Hall of Fame catchers

Let’s start by comparing teams’ Hall of Fame catchers: Berra and Bill Dickey make the Yankees one of only four teams with two catchers in the Hall of Fame:

My baseball autographed by Yogi Berra

My baseball autographed by Yogi Berra

Setting aside other Yankee catchers who belong in the Hall of Fame (more on that later), Berra was elected to Cooperstown in his second year of eligibility. Dickey was elected in his ninth year on the ballot. They make the Yankees the only team with two catchers elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

They give the Yankees 26 seasons with Hall of Famers doing most of the catching (15 from Dickey and 11 from Berra, who was an outfielder and backup catcher his final four years). Dickey and Berra gave the Yankees Hall of Fame catchers (at least in a part-time role) for a nearly unbroken string from 1929 to 1963.

Dickey spent the 1944-5 seasons in the Navy during World War II, returning in 1946. He caught only 54 games during that season, becoming a player-manager after manager Joe McCarthy resigned, and turning the catching responsibilities over mostly to Aaron Robinson. But Berra debuted that season, catching seven games. In 1947, Robinson caught 74 games and was an All-Star, but the torch was being passed. Berra caught 51 games that season and 71 the next, splitting time that year with Gus Niarhos, then nailed down the full-time job in 1949.

Bill Dickey's autograph on a baseball my wife's uncle used to take to Yankee Stadium for autographs in the 1950s.

Bill Dickey’s autograph on a baseball my wife’s uncle used to take to Yankee Stadium for autographs in the 1950s.

Between them, Dickey and Berra caught more than 3,400 games for the Yankees (1,708 for Dickey, 1,697 for Berra) from 1928 to 1963, a 36-season span broken only by Dickey’s Navy service. Both men also managed and coached the Yankees (Dickey, in fact, coached Berra in catching skills).

Berra, with 305 homers as a catcher, is fourth in career homers at the position, and Dickey, with 200, is 13th. Berra leads all catchers in career RBI (1,430) and Dickey is eighth at 1,209. Dickey is second to Mickey Cochrane in batting average at .313. They rank fourth and sixth in slugging at .486 (Dickey) and .482 (Berra).

Dickey had 11 All-Star seasons (the game wasn’t played his first four full seasons), Yogi 15 straight All-Star seasons. And, of course, both won strings of championships: 10 World Series titles (five in a row) for Berra and seven (four in a row) for Dickey.

Dickey played his full career for the Yankees. Berra played his last four games (two at catcher) as a player-manager for the Mets in 1965.

Let’s compare the Yankees to the other teams with two Hall of Fame catchers:


Bench was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but Lombardi never got more than 16 percent of the writers’ vote and was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1986, 39 years after his career ended.

They combined for 23 years as the Reds’ primary catchers (13 for Bench, who moved to third base his final three years 10 for Lombardi, who also played for three other teams), and 18 All-Star seasons (13 for Bench) as Reds catchers. All those numbers fall short of the Berra-Dickey numbers. Bench, with 1,742 games caught, was a little ahead of the Yankees, but Lombardi played only 1,203 games for the Reds.

Bench was third all-time in homers as a catcher, with 327, and third in RBI, and Lombardi was third (behind Dickey) in batting average. But the Reds didn’t have near the combined high rankings of the Yankee pair.

The Reds won two championships in Bench’s time and one in Lombardi’s, but that’s not even half Dickey’s championship total.

Bench measured up to either of the Yankee catchers, but Lombardi didn’t, and the pair certainly lags behind Berra-Dickey duo. And that’s as close as any team’s pair of Hall of Famers comes.

Personal note: My only trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame was in 1989 for Bench’s induction, keeping a promise to my son, Mike, a huge Bench fan. Someday I’ll write a post about that trip.

Red Sox

Fisk was elected by the writers in his second year on the ballot, same as Berra. Ferrell never got even 1 percent of the writers’ vote and was elected to Cooperstown in 1984, 37 years after his career ended.

Fisk was the Red Sox’ primary catcher for eight seasons, seven All-Star seasons. Ferrell was the Red Sox’ primary catcher only four seasons, three of them as an All-Star. In other words, their Red Sox seasons combined nearly matched Dickey or Berra alone.

White Sox

Fisk played more years with the White Sox, nine years as their primary catcher, but only four All-Star seasons. Schalk, who played before the All-Star Game, played 13 seasons as the White Sox’ primary catcher. He peaked at 45 percent of the writers’ vote and was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1955, 26 years after his career ended.

Fisk is second in career homers by a catcher and ranks high in other batting categories, but with his career split almost evenly between the two Sox teams, he didn’t do nearly as much for either team as Dickey and Berra did for the Yankees. And Schalk doesn’t rank anywhere among the best-hitting catchers.


Campy’s career was shortened on the front end by racial segregation and on the back end by an auto accident that paralyzed him. In between, he gave the Dodgers 10 years as their primary catcher, eight of them in a row as an All-Star. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his fifth year on the writers’ ballot.

Piazza played five years as the Dodgers’ primary catcher, all of them as an All-Star. He played more for the Mets. He set the record for career homers by a catcher and ranks high in other categories, but most of that hitting wasn’t for the Dodgers. He got 70 percent of the writers’ vote this year, and I expect him to be elected to the Hall of Fame in another year or two.

Campy’s and Piazza’s combined contributions perhaps exceeded Berra’s or Dickey’s but don’t approach the Yankees’ combined achievements.


Bresnahan played seven seasons for the Giants early in the 20th Century. He caught 974 career games, only once topping 100 games behind the plate in a season.

Ewing was a 19th-century player who never caught 100 games in a season. He also pitched, played the outfield and played every infield position. He caught 636 games in 14 seasons, 11 of them for the Giants.

The Giants’ Hall of Fame catchers don’t nearly compare to Berra and Dickey.


If we’re going to count Piazza as a likely Hall of Famer, we should note he’ll give the Mets two catchers in Cooperstown. Gary Carter played mostly for the Expos, but caught five years for the Mets, four of them as an All-Star. Add them to Piazza’s eight years for the Mets (six as an All-Star) and their combined Met careers don’t match Dickey or Yogi alone.

By Hall of Famers, the Yankees have a clear advantage in catching tradition over any other team.

Hilldale Daisies/Giants

Hall of Famer Biz Mackey succeeded Hall of Famer Louis Santop for the Negro League team known as the Hilldale Daisies in Santop’s time and Hilldale Giants in Mackey’s. While their Hall of Fame profiles list Hilldale as each catcher’s primary team, Mackey also played for the Philadelphia Stars, Newark Eagles, Indianapolis ABCs and the Baltimore/Washington Elite Giants and Santop also played for the Fort Worth Wonders, Philadelphia Giants, New York Lincoln Giants and Chicago American Giants.

MVP catchers

Three teams got three MVP awards from their Hall of Famers:

  • Berra was MVP in 1951, ’54 and ’55, giving the Yankees three. Dickey never won an MVP.
  • Campy won MVP awards in 1951, ’53 and ’55. Piazza was never an MVP.
  • Bench won two MVP awards and Lombardi one, to give the Reds three MVPs for their catchers.

However, the Yankees had two more MVP catchers: Elston Howard in 1963 and Thurman Munson in 1976. No Red or Dodger pitcher who isn’t in the Hall of Fame won an MVP, so the Yankees have the most MVP awards won by catchers, with five.

Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane won MVP awards for the A’s and Tigers, but neither team had another Hall of Fame or MVP catcher. Hall of Fame catcher Gabby Hartnett also won an MVP, but he’s the only Cub catcher to win either honor. (More on Cochrane and Hartnett later.)

The other catchers to win MVP awards are not yet eligible for Hall of Fame voting, Ivan Rodriguez of the Rangers in 1999, Joe Mauer of the Twins in 2009 and Buster Posey of the Giants in 2012.

Adding Posey to the Giants’ combo of Ewing and Bresnahan, they still fall further behind the Yankees’ MVP and Hall of Fame catchers: Berra, Dickey, Howard and Munson. More on the Twins’ and Rangers’ other catchers later.

I’ve already noted that Munson belongs in the Hall of Fame and will make the case in a future post for Howard. But just adding Hall of Famers and MVPs, the Yankees had either a Hall of Famer or a past or future MVP or both behind the plate, at least part-time every year from 1928 to 1979, except for 1968 (the gap between Howard and Munson) and those two years Dickey was in the Navy. Add another 16 All-Star seasons (nine for Howard, seven for Munson) to the 26 for Berra and Dickey, a total of 42 All-Star seasons by four catchers over a 52-year stretch. No team comes close to that.

Borderline Hall of Famers

Beyond the four I’ve already mentioned, Wally Schang (five prime years a Yankee) has stronger case for the Hall of Fame than Schalk from the same era (higher batting, on-base and slugging averages, more homers, hits, runs and RBI.

Jorge Posada had a better career than several Hall of Fame catchers (he hasn’t been retired five years yet, so we don’t know how he’ll do with the writers, but I’m not optimistic). Still, he added another five All-Star season to the Yankees’ total.

No other team had five catchers with five or more All-Star selections. And I can’t think of another franchise with five catchers who had 10-year (or more) runs with the team.

All-Star catchers

Russell Martin spent only two years as a Yankee, but was an All-Star in 2011. Mike Stanley was an All-Star in 1995. Aaron Robinson was an All-Star Berra’s rookie season, 1947. We’re up to 50 All-Star seasons for Yankee catchers.

Other notable Yankee catchers

  • Ralph Houk, one of many Yankee autographs from the 1950s my wife's uncle collected on two baseballs that now belong to my sons.

    Ralph Houk, one of many Yankee autographs from the 1950s my wife’s uncle collected on two baseballs that now belong to my sons.

    Ralph Houk spent eight years as Berra’s backup, but is more notable for his 20-year managing career, including 11 years with the Yankees, winning the 1961-2 World Series. He had a 1,619-1,531 record, never finishing first again after losing the 1963 World Series. Still, he ranks 18th all-time in wins.

  • As I mentioned in Wednesday’s post, Johnny Blanchard joined Howard and Berra in 1961 in hitting 20+ homers, all sharing time behind the plate for the Yankees.
  • Joe Girardi spent four years catching for the Yankees, starting for the 1996 champions before Posada won the starting role. Of course, Girardi has been managing the Yankees since 2008.
  • Rick Cerone caught seven seasons for the Yankees, just two years catching more than 100 games.
  • Rick Dempsey was a Yankee backup catcher before becoming the Orioles’ starter for nearly a decade.
  • Jake Gibbs was more notable as an All-America quarterback for Mississippi than his 10 years as a Yankee catcher (backing up, except for that brief gap between Howard and Munson).
  • Rodriguez caught 31 games for the 2008 Yankees.

Other teams’ catching traditions

None of the teams with two Hall of Famers has enough other catching excellence to push them close to the Yankees. The Dodgers had John Roseboro starting for 10 years (three as an All-Star), Mike Scioscia for a decade and two All-Star selections and Steve Yeager for 14 years without an All-Star appearance (he caught 100 games only five times), plus Martin for five years, including his first two All-Star games. They might have the second-best tradition.

The Giants got a few All-Star seasons from Wes Westrum (two), Benito Santiago (one, plus for with the Padres), Bob Brenly (one), Dick Dietz (one) and Tom Haller (two, plus an All-Star year for the Dodgers). When you add Posey to the two Hall of Famers, the Giants could pass the Dodgers soon, if they haven’t already. But those Hall of Famers are pretty marginal, and the Giants are nowhere near the Yankees.

Other teams with two Hall of Famers had other notable catchers, but nothing approaching the Yankees’ consistency:

  • Howard spent his final two seasons with the Red Sox and Jason Varitek had three All-Star seasons in his 15-year career in Boston.
  • Johnny Edwards was a three-time All-Star catcher for the Reds before Bench arrived.

Other teams without two Hall of Fame catchers had decent catching traditions:


Mickey Cochrane is the only Tiger catcher in the Hall of Fame, but he’s in the argument for best catcher ever, so he deserves mention here. Add some excellent catching years from:

  • Bill Freehan (13 seasons as the primary catcher, including 11 All-Star seasons).
  • Lance Parrish (eight seasons starting for the Tigers, six as an All-Star).
  • Four All-Star seasons by Rodriguez.
  • The best four-year stretch of Mickey Tettleton‘s career, including one as an All-Star.
  • Rudy York was a five-time All-Star for the Yankees, but only one year as a catcher.

The Tigers might pass some of the teams with two Hall of Famers, but not approach the Yankees’ overall greatness at catcher.


The Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves have had some excellent catchers, even if none made the Hall of Fame as a player.

Del Crandall was an eight-time All-Star behind the plate for the Milwaukee Braves.

He was followed by Joe Torre, in Cooperstown for his managing career (primarily his Yankee championships). Torre was an All-Star catcher five straight years for the Braves. (In a game at Wrigley Field in the 1960s, I saw Torre make a Charlie Brown-style error on a popup, parking under it for a seemingly easy out, only to have it bounce out of his catcher’s mitt.) Nonetheless, he won a Gold Glove.

McCann also was a six-time All-Star for the Braves before joining the Yankees.

Other notable Braves catchers include 1971 Rookie of the Year Earl Williams, three-time All-Star Javy Lopez, two-time All-Star Bruce Benedict, one-time All-Stars Ozzie Virgil (he was on my fantasy team in the 1980s), Greg Olson and Johnny Estrada.

The Braves might have a stronger tradition at catcher than some of the teams with Hall of Fame catchers, but they don’t approach the Yankees’ continued excellence at the position.


The Cardinals also have a strong catching tradition without a Hall of Famer. Walker Cooper, who peaked at 14 percent of the writers’ vote for the Hall of Fame, had his first three All-Star seasons (of 10) as a Cardinal. (Cooper also was an All-Star for the Giants, Reds and Braves.)

Tim McCarver gets overrated as a catcher because of his long broadcasting career (I couldn’t stand him) and because he was part of a Cardinals team that won two World Series and played in a third over a five-year stretch. He played 21 years and was an All-Star twice, but he was a mediocre hitter, with a .271 average and only 95 homers. Still, he’s the only catcher I can think of who led his league in triples, with 13 in 1966. He spent seven years as the Cardinals’ primary catcher, including both All-Star seasons.

Ted Simmons, who overlapped with McCarver, was a better catcher, spending a decade behind the plate for the Cardinals, including six All-Star seasons. Neither Simmons nor McCarver lasted more than a year on the writers’ Hall of Fame ballot.

Darrell Porter wasn’t an All-Star for the Cardinals (he was for the Brewers and Royals), but he was the 1982 World Series MVP. Tony Peña caught four years for the Cardinals, one as an All-Star. Yadier Molina has seven straight All-Star seasons for the Cardinals.

Like the Braves, the Cardinals could surpass some of the teams with Hall of Fame catchers, but they’re nowhere close to the Yankees.


Cochrane played longer for the A’s than for the Tigers, and Terry Steinbach was a three-time All-Star, but I can’t think of another A’s catcher worth discussing here.


The Cubs’ fall-off after Hartnett is pretty dramatic. Probably Jody Davis (six years, two as an All-Star) or Randy Hundley (one All-Star season) would be their second-best catcher.


Rodriguez was the best defensive catcher of his time and a good hitter, too. Add him to Jim Sundberg, a two-time All-Star and six-time Gold Glove, and the Rangers have one of the strongest traditions of any expansion team.


Ferrell played eight seasons for the first Senators, which later moved to Minnesota and became the Twins. Mauer has given the Twins six All-Star seasons, but hasn’t caught 100 games since 2010. Butch Wynegar, an All-Star only his first two years, is the only other notable Twins or Senators catcher I can think of. Wynegar started for the Yankees in 1984-85.


The Pirates have had several good catchers: the best five-year run of Peña’s career (four seasons as an All-Star); an eight-year run (with three All-Star seasons) by Manny Sanguillen; four All-Star seasons (in six years) for Smoky Burgess; three All-Star seasons in Jason Kendall‘s nine-year run. But not a great catcher in the bunch.


Bob Boone was probably the best of a batch of good-fielding, weak-hitting Phillies catchers. He spent nine years in Philadelphia, including their first World Series title. Three time he was a an All-Star for the Phillies, and he ranks third in most games at catcher, behind Rodriguez and Fisk. But the greatest pitcher Boone caught, Steve Carlton, actually preferred pitching to McCarver, who extended his career by being Carlton’s personal catcher.

Carlos Ruiz has given the Phillies a solid decade behind the plate (a record four no-hitters caught), but only one All-Star appearance and a weak bat. Mike Lieberthal played longer (but not as long as a starter), with two All-Star appearances.

Homestead Grays

Of course, the Negro Leagues disbanded a decade or so after the “major” leagues integrated, so any Negro League catching tradition ended more than half a century ago. They are at a similar disadvantage comparing to the Yankees as any of the expansion teams. But, since I’m discussing the greatest catchers ever, I want to mention that Josh Gibson, perhaps the greatest catcher ever, played for the Homestead Grays.

No one’s close

The Orioles/Browns and Indians barely have any catchers worth mentioning here. And I’ve already mentioned the most notable expansion catching traditions. The Yankees have been the best and it’s not even close.

Yogi didn’t start the Yankees’ catching tradition. That started with Dickey, unless you want to go back to Schang. Simply put, no other team approaches that half-century of almost unbroken greatness from Dickey to Berra to Howard to Munson. The 1980s and early ’90s were a significant gap, but Posada’s decade-plus of excellence ran up the score on every other franchise when it came to catching excellence.

And of them all, Yogi was the best.


Style note: The Hall of Fame has had various committees and rules through the years to elect players who were passed over by the Baseball Writers Association of America as well as umpires, managers, executives and other baseball pioneers. I refer to them all as the Veterans Committee unless the specific context demands reference to specific committee such as the current era committees. Baseball-Reference.com has a detailed history of the various committees.

Source note: Unless otherwise noted, all statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

Correction invitation: I welcome you to point out any errors I missed in my fact-checking: stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com. Or, if you just want to argue about my opinions, that’s fine, too.

Starting pitchers: My series on Yankee starting pitchers will resume Monday with a post on Yankee pitchers who belong in the Hall of Fame. Other posts in the series:


Catfish Hunter and other Yankee pitchers who made the Hall of Fame primarily for other teams

25 09 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

Most of the Yankee pitchers in the Hall of Fame are there mostly, if not exclusively for their achievements with other teams:

Catfish Hunter

Catfish is the only pitcher in this post who added notably to his Hall of Fame credentials as a Yankee (the Yankee 300-game winners are in a separate post). He’s in the Hall of Fame, though, for his pitching for the Oakland A’s.

Catfish won 167 games for the A’s, concluding with four straight 20-win seasons. He also was 7-2 in the post-season (4-0 in the World Series), the best pitcher on a team that won three straight World Series. He won the Cy Young Award in 1974 and was in the top four in Cy Young voting the other two World Series years. He pitched a perfect game for the A’s.

But stingy A’s owner Charlie Finley, who couldn’t stand to pay the cost of maintaining a championship dynasty, violated Hunter’s contract and Catfish became baseball’s first big-name free agent. Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, hungering for the kind of success Finley had achieved, snapped Hunter up. Read the rest of this entry »


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