Do we have a Yankees team with no future Hall of Famers?

19 07 2016

I wonder whether the current edition of the Yankees might not have a single player who will make the Hall of Fame.

Let’s start with speculation on the players with the best shots at Cooperstown:

Alex Rodriguez


Of course, A-Rod would be automatic by any statistical measure used historically to measure Hall of Fame qualifications. He ranks third in career RBI, fourth in homers, eighth in runs and 20th in hits. Throw in three MVP awards, the major league record for grand slam homers, five home run titles, two RBI titles, a batting championship, 329 stolen bases, a 40-40 season. Even with his disappointing post-season record (but he finally won a championship ring in 2009), that’s an automatic Hall of Famer, easily one of the best 10 to 20 players in baseball history. Except …

Rodriguez is essentially in the same situation as Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, though they are already on the Hall of Fame writers ballot and he’s still playing. Despite historically great careers on a par with (or even better than) Rodriguez’s, neither of them has reached 50 percent of the writers’ vote, and they need 75 percent to achieve election. What we don’t know is whether they (and presumably A-Rod, too) will be denied Hall of Fame admission forever, or have to wait some yet-unknown period in baseball purgatory.

I wouldn’t be surprised if they all get in someday through a Veterans Committee, rather than the writers’ vote. I doubt if the Hall of Fame will adopt my suggestion for a Scoundrels Committee to consider drug cheats and gamblers, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a committee decide some day that they’ve been punished long enough.

I feel confident, though, that A-Rod will wait longer than Bonds and Clemens, beyond the fact that he will be retiring about a decade after they did. Their offenses came before baseball had rules and testing, and each eventually was cleared in court (even if the baseball world remains doubtful). A-Rod, by cheating after his first admission of drug use, is a more certain drug offender and a more egregious one.

I’d guess that A-Rod makes the Hall of Fame someday, along with Bonds, Clemens and perhaps a few more drug cheats (David Ortiz might be the fourth most-likely, though his popularity could push him ahead of Bonds, Clemens and Rodriguez, all more accomplished but widely disliked). But I’d guess there’s a 25 percent chance, if not higher, that the players facing the strongest suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs never make it to Cooperstown. And A-Rod certainly is in that group.

Still, A-Rod probably has the best shot at the Hall of Fame of anyone on the current Yankees.

Carlos Beltrán


Beltrán has perhaps the second-best shot at Cooperstown among current Royals. At 39, he doesn’t have many years left, but he made the All-Star team this season and could pad his career totals a bit more and push himself from long shot to probable.

He’s a nine-time All-Star, which sounds like it makes him a likely Hall of Famer. But Elston Howard, Fred Lynn and Dave Concepcion also have nine All-Star selections, and they’re not in the Hall of Fame. Steve Garvey and Bill Freehan each have 10 All-Star selections but not yet a call from Cooperstown.

Beltrán’s career totals (411 hits, 1,501 RBI, 2,549 hits, 1,494 runs, 311 stolen bases) are certainly in the range where he should receive Hall of Fame consideration. And he’s a three-time Gold Glove winner. But at this point, he looks likely to fall short of Cooperstown, at least on the writers’ ballot and maybe forever.

He’s one of only eight members of the 300-300 club with that many career homers and steals. But that’s a meaningless achievement for Hall of Fame purposes. Willie Mays and Andre Dawson are the only club members with Cooperstown plaques. A-Rod is still playing and Bonds is being kept out of the Hall because of drug suspicion. But three other 300-300 members — Bonds’ father, Bobby, Steve Finley and Reggie Sanders — never even reached 11 percent of the writers’ Hall of Fame vote.

During the All-Star Game, I heard Joe Buck (or someone) reel off a list of a half-dozen or so stats (probably the ones above, maybe one or two more, perhaps his 1,000-plus walks and/or 500-plus doubles) and noted that only a handful of players, mostly Hall of Famers, had reached them all. But I think Beltrán probably comes up short. He never led his league in any important statistic.

Look at his neighbors on the career-leader lists and you see a few Hall of Famers, but also quite a few that didn’t make it to Cooperstown. He hasn’t caught Kenny Lofton yet in career runs, Steve Garvey in hits or Carlos Delgado in RBI or homers. He isn’t top-50 in any of those categories (though he’s approaching it). On the homer list, he trails a bunch of sluggers with little or no shot at Cooperstown: Jason Giambi, Dave Kingman, Jose Canseco, Juan Gonzalez or Andruw Jones.

Beltrán’s career averages — .281, .354, .492, .846 — are solid enough they don’t hurt his case, but they don’t help it either. He’s not top-100 in any of those categories.

If post-season performance counted for a whit in Hall of Fame voting (as it does in all other sports), Beltrán’s 16 post-season homers and his record-setting 2004 post-season might push him into the Hall of Fame, but as I’ve noted time and again here, post-season performance and championships simply don’t matter when choosing members of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

If Beltrán has another strong year or two, his Hall of Fame chances grow considerably, but I’d guess he’s a little less than a 50 percent shot right now.

Mark Teixeira


Teixeira‘s case for the Hall of Fame is similar to Beltrán’s: Each has over 400 homers, each has eight 100-RBI seasons, each has a 40-homer season (Tex has more 30-homer seasons). Each has won multiple Gold Gloves. Beltrán has more speed and a higher batting average, but Tex’s other career averages are higher (but, again, not so high as to ensure a spot in Cooperstown). Unlike Beltrán, he has led his league (once each in homers, runs and RBI, twice in total bases).

Teixeira is younger, 36, and he was an All-Star last year. But that was his only All-Star appearance in his 30s, and he hasn’t played 125 games in a season since 2011. He appears to be in a significant career decline, and he’s not likely to match Beltrán’s career totals in anything but walks.

CC Sabathia


When Sabathia won his 200th game during the 2013 season, I considered writing a post about his chances of winning 300 games. I’m glad I didn’t. At that point, he was about 33, and would have been able to reach 300 by around age 40 at about 14 or 15 wins a year (down from his pace of the previous seven years). Of course, Sabathia has slowed down way below that pace, winning just a total of 13 games since the start of 2014. With 219 wins at age 36, he has almost no chance of reaching 300 wins.

You can hardly argue that Sabathia is in the top 10 starting pitchers among his contemporaries. His early career overlapped with Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, all substantially better, as well as Curt Schilling and Roy Halladay, both of whom were also better but more comparable. Johan Santana was better, but not as durable, and Hall of Fame voters love longevity. More recently, Clayton Kershaw is absolutely better. And I’d expect that by the time Sabathia would be facing Hall of Fame consideration, some younger pitchers such as Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez and Zack Greinke will have eclipsed Sabathia as well. Some eras have sent more than 10 starting pitchers to the Hall of Fame, but I’m certainly not going to predict enshrinement for a guy who wasn’t in the top 10, or maybe even the best dozen, of his day.

Without a sustained return to his performance level of 2008-2012, Sabathia isn’t going to make the Hall of Fame. It’s hard to imagine any of the other Yankee starting pitchers getting as close to Cooperstown consideration as Sabathia, though.

Other players


Starlin Castro is a long way from Hall of Fame territory, but he might have a better chance than any Yankee but A-Rod. With three All-Star appearances and 1,000-plus hits at age 26, he has a solid start and a shot at Cooperstown if he can maintain this pace for another decade-plus.

Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances, both 28, are pitching dominantly, each with multiple All-Star selections. Both are a long way from Hall consideration, but off to starts that could take either one there. Andrew Miller saved 36 games last year and made his first All-Star team this season. At age 31, he’s a long way from Hall of Fame consideration. He waited too long to blossom, unless he spends the next decade as a dominant reliever.

Brian McCann is a seven-time All-Star at age 32, with nine seasons of 20 or more homers. His numbers don’t put him out of reach of the Hall of Fame for a catcher. But among his contemporaries behind the plate, at least Buster Posey, Joe Mauer and Salvador Pérez appear more likely Hall of Famers. And Yadier Molina has a comparable career to McCann at this point. It’s hard to imagine four of this era’s catchers making it to Cooperstown, and McCann might not even be fourth-best.

Jacoby EllsburyBrett Gardner and Chase Headley, all 32, have two All-Star appearances combined, and none has any shot at the Hall of Fame. Didi Gregorius is just 26 but not on the Cooperstown path.

I’d guess there’s a Hall of Famer somewhere on this team, but it’s far from certain, and I wouldn’t be surprised in the 2016 (and 2015) Yankees get shut out of Cooperstown.

Yankee teams without Hall of Famers

My Mantle autograph

My Mantle autograph

From the time Frank “Home Run” Baker joined the Yankees in 1916 through 1968, Mickey Mantle‘s final year, the Yankees always had at least one Hall of Famer, a string that included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and more players bound for Cooperstown. Frankly, the string should have continued in 1969, Thurman Munson‘s rookie year, but Hall of Fame voters have denied Munson his due. Graig Nettles, who also belongs in the Hall of Fame, joined the Yankees in 1973, but the Yankees went until 1975, when Catfish Hunter joined the team, without any future Hall of Famers.

That launched another string of 16 seasons with always at least one Hall of Famer, including Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage, Dave Winfield and Rickey Henderson. The 1991-92 Yankees had two players who belong in the Hall of Fame, Don Mattingly and Bernie Williams, but no one who’s made it yet. Wade Boggs joined the Yankees in 1993, and certain Hall of Famers Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter joined in 1995.

But since Rivera and Jeter retired, the Yankees returned in 2015 to that rare spot in team history of perhaps not having a future Hall of Famer on the roster.

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

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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:

Reds

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.

Dodgers

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.

Giants

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.

Mets

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:

Tigers

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.

Braves

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.

Cardinals

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.

A’s

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.

Cubs

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.

Rangers

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.

Senators/Twins

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.

Pirates

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.

Phillies

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.

Ranking the best Yankee catchers

Update: I initially wrote this without ranking the Yankee catchers. But I’m starting the 2016 season with a series ranking the the top five Yankees at each position. Since this post covered the Yankee catchers, except for the rankings, I’m adding rankings:

  1. Berra
  2. Dickey
  3. Munson
  4. Howard
  5. Posada

Berra and Dickey are easy calls. The other three spots were tougher and could have been shuffled differently. Howard and Munson were MVPs. I gave Munson the advantage based on three straight seasons hitting .300 with 100 or more RBI (Howard never drove in 100 runs), more games caught and his stellar .357 post-season hitting (Howard hit .246). Posada played longer than Munson and Howard, and had better career hitting numbers. But they edged him, in my view, on peak performance, All-Star selections, defense and World Series hitting.

Notes

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:

 





Joe Torre should have made the Hall of Fame as a player

15 12 2013


Catching up on off-season Yankee news:

Joe Torre is a Hall of Famer — finally

I actually intended to write a post sometime this year making the case for Joe Torre‘s election to the Hall of Fame. But the Expansion Era Committee chose Torre to enter the Hall of Fame this year, along with his managing peers Tony LaRussa and Bobby Cox.

All three managers are clear Hall of Famers, ranking third (LaRussa), fourth (Cox) and fifth (Torre) on the all-time wins list for managers.

Torre was a strong candidate for the Hall of Fame as a player and probably should have been chosen on that basis, regardless of his performance as a manager. He and Elston Howard were the best catchers of the 1960s and most people who were best of their era at a position are in Cooperstown. He was a nine-time All-Star and most eligible players who’ve made that many All-Star teams are in the Hall. He also was MVP in 1971 (after moving to third base), leading the league in batting, RBI and hits.

No Hall of Fame catcher topped Torre’s career figures in all of the triple-crown categories (.297, 252 HR, 1185 RBI) as well as his 2,342 hits, and each of those figures ranks in the top half of all Hall of Fame catchers. Among third basemen, only George Brett topped Torre in all four categories, and his totals again measure up as a Hall of Famer compared to the third basemen in Cooperstown. And he won a Gold Glove as a catcher, so he wasn’t being kept out of Cooperstown because of defensive deficiencies (though he wasn’t good defensively at third). Read the rest of this entry »