The average Major League Baseball catcher squats behind home plate more than 200 times on any given night, not just for pitches thrown during the game but for warm-up tosses, too. They wear more equipment than any other player in baseball, and their gloves are the largest in the sport.

Little-known fact: Special catcher’s mitts are manufactured for those who must catch a knuckleballer’s pitches, because those tend to flutter all over the place and a larger mitt is needed. This was not such a little-known fact when the likes of Phil Niekro, Wilbur Wood and Tim Wakefield were playing. Those mitts are 35 inches in diameter compared to the standard of 32 inches.

This is probably the most demanding position in baseball because of the toll it takes on a player’s knees and because of the throwing accuracy needed to catch runners trying to steal bases, which is happening more often in the 2023 season because of rules changes limiting pickoff attempts for pitchers. So, catcher is both an important and underappreciated position in baseball, and the hope here is that this list will give y’all a better appreciation for the greats of the game who spent countless hours having an umpire leaning over them.

Who is the best catcher of all time?

That is a matter of opinion, and folks from different generations would give you different answers. Old-timers in New York would say Roy Campanella from the old Brooklyn Dodgers. Midwesterners would say Johnny Bench of the Big Red Machine Cincinnati Reds teams, or Mickey Cochrane of the Detroit Tigers, or Gabby Hartnett of the Cubs. It is a subjective thing, and there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to this question.

Famous Catchers in MLB

Yogi Berra, Mike Piazza and Gary Carter are among the most famous catchers of the past 70 seasons, with Berra being an all-time famous favorite because of his sense of humor. In fact, “people of a certain age” are among those who truly appreciate the beauty of Berra’s humor, which would likely be offensive to someone in this era of the easily offended becoming easily offended. Joe Torre and Thurman Munson were beloved for different reasons, and part of Munson’s fame came from his premature death. But for baseball fans, the demands of being a catcher are especially appreciated. It is the toughest position to play in that sport, and baseball folks are particularly cognizant of that fact.

Ranking the Top 10 Greatest Catchers of all time

  1. Gabby Hartnett

Years Active: 1922 to 1941
Chicago Cubs, New York Giants
Career Stats: .297 batting average, 236 HRs, 1,179 RBIs
Honors and Awards: National League All-Star (1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938), NL MVP (1935)

Had there been an MVP vote in 1930, Hartnett, from Woonsocket, R.I., would have been a great candidate. He batted .339 with 37 home runs and 122 RBIs -- the latter two statistics being career highs. He won the NL MVP award five years later, batting .344 in 1935. Hartnett also had a great arm, boasting a career caught-stealing rate of 56 percent.

  1. Buster Posey

Years Active: 2009 to 2021
Team: San Francisco Giants
Career Stats: .302 batting average, 158 HRs, 729 RBIs
Honors and Awards: National League All-Star (2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2021), NL MVP (2012), NL Rookie of the Year (2010), Gold Glove Award (2016), Comeback Player of the Year (2012, 2021)​​

When Posey was named the National League MVP in 2012, it broke a four-decade drought for catchers. Prior to Posey, the last NL catcher to receive that honor was Johnny Bench in 1972. And the only AL catchers to do so were Ivan Rodriguez in 1999 and Joe Mauer in 2009. Posey batted .309 and averaged 19 home runs and 88 RBIs per year from 2012 to 2016 -- finishing in the Top 20 in NL MVP voting all five years. The Leesburg, Ga., native won three World Series titles.

  1. Carlton Fisk

Years Active: 1971 to 1993
Teams: Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox
Career Stats: .269 batting average, 376 HRs, 1,330 RBIs
Honors and Awards: American League All-Star (1972, 1973, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1985, 1991), AL Rookie of the Year (1972), Hall of Fame Inductee (2000)

What made Fisk a Hall of Fame catcher was his longevity. He played in 24 seasons until the age of 45. He hit 18 home runs at the age of 42 and did it again at 43, playing at least 134 games in each of those seasons. The Bellows Falls, Vt., native provided one of baseball’s most memorable moments ever: In the 12th inning of Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, Fisk hit a walk-off home run, wishing and waving it fair at Fenway Park as he hopped down the first-base line.

  1. Bill Dickey

Years Active: 1928 to 1946
Team: New York Yankees
Career Stats: .313 batting average, 202 HRs, 1,209 RBIs
Honors and Awards: American League All-Star (1933, 1934, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1946), Hall of Fame Inductee (1954)

Although he never won an MVP award, Dickey finished in the top six of the voting in four consecutive years from 1936 to 1939. In each of those seasons, he batted at least .300, hit at least 22 home runs and knocked in at least 105 RBIs. The Bastrop, La., native hit 102 home runs during this four-year stretch and hit 100 in the other 13 years combined. He hit at least .310 in 10 seasons and had a career strikeout rate of just 4.1 percent. He was a player/manager in his final season.

  1. Gary Carter

Years Active: 1974 to 1992
Teams: Montreal Expos, New York Mets, San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers
Career Stats: .262 batting average, 324 HRs, 1,225 RBIs
Honors and Awards: National League All-Star (1975, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988), Gold Glove Award (1980, 1981, 1982), Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee (2003)

Carter, a native of Culver City, Calif., had nine seasons with at least 20 home runs and four with at least 100 RBIs, including three straight from 1984 through 1986. He had a cannon arm behind the plate, too. He threw out 810 potential base-stealers, which is more than any other catcher on this list. Sadly, he died of a brain tumor in 2012 at age 56. It is said that he never uttered a curse word in his life and coined the term “F-bomb.” In the postseason, he batted 15-for-35 (.429) with two home runs in 1981, and he had two homers and nine RBIs while leading the New York Mets to the 1986 World Series title.

  1. Roy Campanella

Years Active: 1937 to 1957
Teams: Washington/Baltimore Elite Giants, Philadelphia Stars (Negro Leagues), Brooklyn Dodgers
Career Stats: .283 batting average, 260 HRs, 1,019 RBIs (overall) and .276, 242, 856 with Brooklyn
Honors and Awards: Negro Leagues All-Star (1941, 1944, 1945), National League All-Star (1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956), NL MVP (1951, 1953, 1955), Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee (1969)

In baseball history, only 10 players have been named MVP at least three times: Yogi Berra, Barry Bonds, Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Schmidt and Campanella. The Philadelphia native did so by batting at least .312 with 32 home runs and 107 RBI in each of his MVP seasons. With the exception of Mike Piazza, Campanella was the best slugging catcher ever. The Philadelphia native was paralyzed in an automobile accident in January 1958, abruptly ending his baseball career after just 10 years.

  1. Mickey Cochrane

Years Active: 1925 to 1937
Philadelphia Athletics, Detroit Tigers
Career Stats: .321 batting average, 108 HRs, 680 RBIs
Honors and Awards: American League All-Star (1934, 1935), AL MVP (1928, 1934), Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee (1947)

There was no AL MVP awarded in 1929 or 1930, which is about the only excuse for Cochrane's not winning more of them. One of the things that made Cochrane so great was that the man hardly ever struck out. The Bridgewater, Mass., native fanned only 217 times in 6,208 career plate appearances -- just 3.5 percent of the time. His batting eye in 1929 was particularly good, as he had 69 walks and just eight strikeouts in 606 plate appearances. Cochrane competed in five World Series during his career, winning with Philadelphia in 1929 and 1930 and later winning with Detroit in 1935 before becoming manager of the Tigers.

  1. Mike Piazza

Years Actie: 1992 to 2007
Teams: Los Angeles Dodgers, Florida Marlins, New York Mets, San Diego Padres, Oakland Athletics
Career Stats: .308 batting average, 427 HRs, 1,335 RBIs
Honors and Awards: National League All-Star (1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005), NL Rookie of the Year (1993), Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee (2016) 

Piazza hit at least 32 home runs in each of his first 10 full years in the majors and batted .318 with 35 home runs and 112 RBIs in the process of winning the 1993 NL Rookie of the Year by a unanimous vote. The Norristown, Pa., native also batted at least .300 in every season from 1993 to 2001. His most famous at-bat was a broken-bat foul ball in Game 2 of the 2000 World Series that prompted Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens to fire the barrel of the bat back at Piazza along the first base line.

  1. Ivan Rodriguez

Years Active: 1991 to 2011
Teams: Texas Rangers, Florida Marlins, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees, Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals
Career Stats: .296 batting average, 311 HRs, 1,332 RBIs
Honors and Awards: American League All Star (1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007), AL MVP (1999), Gold Glove Award (1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999,
2000, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2007), Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee (2017)

The Manati, Puerto Rico, native known as “Pudge” had an incredible arm behind the plate, throwing out 661 would-be base-stealers in his career and picking off 90 other guys who ventured a little too far from their bases. From 1997 to 2001, he batted at least .308 and hit at least 20 homers in each of those five years, peaking in 1999 with 35 dingers, 113 RBIs and a .332 average that resulted in his winning the AL MVP award. In the defensive department, he threw out 193 of 345 (55.9 percent) attempted base stealers, leading the AL in caught-stealing percentage in all five years. On his way to winning the 2003 World Series with the Marlins, Rodriguez hit .313 with three homers and 17 RBI, and he had at least one hit in 16 of 17 playoff games that year.

  1. Johnny Bench

Years Active: 1967 to 1983
Team: Cincinnati Reds
Career Stats: .267 batting average, 389 HRs, 1,376 RBIs
Honors and Awards: National League All-Star (1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1983), NL MVP (1970, 1972), NL Rookie of the Year (1968), Gold Glove Award (1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977), Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee (1989)

Johnny Bench’s Rookie of the Year season in 1968 was the first of his 13 consecutive years as an All-Star. He received votes for NL MVP in 10 of those 13 years. The Oklahoma City native hit at least 22 home runs in 11 seasons, and his MVP years were the best: 45 home runs and 148 RBIs in 1970 and 40 and 125 in 1972. Bench had a strong arm, throwing out more than 43 percent of players attempting stolen bases. Bench is the greatest Cincinnati Reds catcher of all time. Rodriguez is the only other catcher with at least 10 Gold Glove Awards.
Parameters of Rankings

What we looked for here was a combination of defensive and offensive prowess, along with longevity. When you are talking about a position where the wear and tear on the legs and knees is extreme, you cannot discount the shape a player needed to stay in to withstand the grind of standing and squatting so many times over the course of a career. We also gave extra points to catchers with rocket arms, because throwing out base stealers and picking off runners are two of the toughest defensive plays that can be made.

Did you know? Oakland’s 11-game streak began on May 17 with a 5-3 defeat against Arizona and ended on Memorial Day against Atlanta. Find out which teams have the longest MLB streaks ever. 

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