They call catching gear ‘The Tools of Ignorance,’ but the catcher is, more than any other player, the most important man on the diamond, despite his hidden identity behind the mask. He is the only player facing the playing field, he calls every pitch, he has to handle every pitch, he controls the running game defensively, he nursemaids the pitcher and, oh yes, if he can hit a little bit, all the better. So here are the top 10 catchers of all time.
10. Mike Piazza
Defensive deficiencies kept him from being higher on the list, but for a guy drafted in 1988 as an afterthought as a favor to his uncle, Tommy Lasorda, Piazza acquitted himself grandly. He was the 1,390th player picked, in the 62nd round, then won the 1993 Rookie of the Year and became perhaps the best offensive catcher in history— his 396 homers when playing the position are the most by any catcher. His career totals include a .308 batting average with 427 homers and 1,335 RBI, and his 1997 season (.362, 40 homers, 124 RBI) is probably the best ever by a backstop.
Reed Saxon - Associated Press
9. Ivan Rodriguez
Pudge jumping up with ball in hand after a home-plate collision with J.T. Snow for the final out in the Marlins’ NLDS Game 4 win vs. the Giants is one of the coolest series-clinching plays in history. Rodriguez, who played 21 seasons, finished as a .296 career hitter with 311 homers, 1,332 RBI, a record-13 Gold Gloves, seven Silver Sluggers and the 1999 AL MVP with the Rangers when he hit .332 with 35 homers, 113 RBI and 25 stolen bases, an incredible number for a catcher.
Eric Gay - Associated Press
8. Gary Carter
Called The Kid for his full-time exuberance and he was a media darling because of his love of attention. In 19 seasons he hit 324 homers with 1,225 RBI and made 11 All-Star teams while playing mostly for the Expos and Mets. He drove in more than 100 runs four times and helped the 1986 Mets to a World Series title. He died after a battle with brain cancer on Feb. 16, 2012.
Ken Levine - Getty Images
7. Carlton Fisk
The Iron Man Behind the Mask played 24 seasons and caught 2,226 games at baseball’s most demanding position, providing some sock for the two Sox teams, Boston and Chicago. The 1972 AL Rookie of the Year made 11 All-Star teams and hit 376 home runs with 1,330 RBI. His homer in extra innings to win Game 6 of the 1975 World Series for the Red Sox against the Reds is considered one of baseball’s most dramatic moments.
Dave Tenenbaum - Associated Pres
6. Gabby Hartnett
Hit 236 home runs with a .297 career average between 1922-’41 with the Cubs and Giants. Most known for his famous Homer in the Gloamin’ that helped the Cubs win the 1928 pennant. Nicknamed ‘Old Tomato Face,’ the six-time All-Star was the first catcher to hit 20-plus homers in a season and he routinely led all NL backstops in caught-stealing percentage. Hartnett won the NL MVP in 1935, hitting .344 with 13 homers and 91 RBI.
5. Bill Dickey
Another great Yankees catcher who missed two years of prime time serving in World War II, but he hit .313 for his career as Yogi Berra’s predecessor (both wore No. 8). Nicknamed ‘The Man Nobody Knows,’’ he hit .362 in 1936 and over .300 in 10 of his first 11 seasons. He possessed a rifle-like arm to highlight strong defensive tools. Like Berra, his teams always won — seven World Series while he made 11 All-Star teams.
4. Mickey Cochrane
After being a multi-sport athlete at Boston University, he led a potent Philadelphia Athletics team of the late 1920s and early 1930s to three consecutive pennants. He later became a player/manager in Detroit, where he won two pennants. He batted .320 for his career and won two AL MVPs (1928 and ’34) before his career ended at age 34 when he was hit in the head by a pitch. His career batting average stood as a record for catchers until 2009.
3. Roy Campanella
He followed Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers, the year following Jackie's debut. Like Robinson, he endured racial slurs and prejudices and shook them off. Because he came out of the Negro Leagues, he played only 10 years and his career was cut short by an auto accident that paralyzed him. He won three MVPs (1951, ’53 & ’55), was an All-Star eight of his 10 years and set a record at the time for catchers with 41 home runs and 142 RBI in 1953.
Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graph
2. Yogi Berra
He perhaps hit as well, maybe better, than the No. 1 guy on this list and never saw a pitch he couldn’t swing at, but wasn’t as good defensively. Yogi was a three-time American League MVP (1951, ‘ 54 & ’55), finished with 1,430 RBI and was an 18-time All-Star on New York Yankees teams that totally dominated baseball during his time, winning 10 World Series titles.
Louis Requena/MLB Photos - Getty
1. Johnny Bench
When one says catcher, one says Johnny Bench, The Big Man on the Big Red Machine. It was difficult to determine whether he was better defensively or offensively because he was so proficient at both. He redefined the position defensively and as his manager, Sparky Anderson, once said, ‘Don’t ever embarrass anybody by comparing them to Johnny Bench.’ Some totals: 389 homers, 1,376 RBI, 14 All-Star teams, two MVPs (1970 & ’72), 19868 NL Rookie of the Year and 10 Gold Gloves.