Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Who Belongs in the Hall? (Part V--Catchers)

To date, the doors of Cooperstown have opened to 13 catchers. Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk and Johnny Bench are the only Hall of Famers who played a portion of their careers beyond the 1970's. Bench leads the pack in homers with 389. Fisk has more hits and runs scored than anyone on the list. Yogi Berra gathered more ribbies than any of his fellow inductees while Mickey Cochrane posted the highest batting average at .320. Voters have been influenced by defensive greatness over the years as evidenced by the presence of three light-hitting Deadball receivers--Roger Bresnahan, Rick Ferrell and Ray Schalk. Many have argued that Ferrell and Schalk were so offensively challenged that they don't even belong on the list.

There is a good chance that the list will grow to 14 at some point in the future as Mike Piazza becomes eligible this year. Though he joins a ballot stuffed with viable holdovers from last year, the position of catcher has been largely overlooked in the past and Piazza was arguably the greatest offensive backstop in history. He holds the positional record for homers  (396) and his 146 intentional walks are an indication of the respect he was afforded at the plate. Rookie of the Year in 1993, Piazza went on to make 12 All-Star appearances while capturing 10 Silver Slugger Awards. He helped 3 different clubs to a total of 5 playoff appearances. Factors that may impede his candidacy include a somewhat weak arm and penchant for committing errors. He led the league in muffs 4 times, but topped the circuit in putouts the same number of times. Despite his defensive shortcomings, I believe that Mike Piazza belongs in the Hall of Fame and he'll get there later if not sooner.

Another catcher who should make it on the first ballot is Ivan Rodriguez, though he won't become eligible for several more years. Rodriguez, who retired in 2011, was a model of defensive excellence, capturing 13 Gold Gloves and establishing the all-time career mark for putouts by a backstop. Extremely durable, he hung around for 21 seasons, making 14 All-Star appearances and capturing an MVP award in 1999. He won a World Series with the Marlins and helped turn the Tigers around in 2006, guiding the club to a Fall Classic appearance that year. Overall, he has a pretty impressive career offensive line with a .296 BA, 311 homers, 1,332 RBI's and 2,844 hits, which included 572 doubles (earning him a rank of #22 on the all-time list). With those credentials, his entry into the Hall is inevitable. 

Catchers I believe have been overlooked in the past include Ted Simmons and Joe Torre. Simmons played 21 seasons, enjoying his peak years between 1971 and 1983. He hung around the majors for about 5 seasons too long. Had he retired at the top of his game in '83, he would have finished a 17-year career with a .292 batting average (which would give him a rank of #6 among Hall of Fame catchers), 222 homers (placing him at #7) and 1,195 RBI's (6th best in the Hall). Simmons was a slightly above average fielder, but he had a weak arm like Piazza. Still, he finished among the all-time top 30 in putouts and double plays turned. Sabermetric scores compare him favorably to inductees Yogi Berra and Carlton Fisk. Torre spent 18 seasons in the majors, hitting .297 with 252 long balls and 1,185 ribbies. He was a 9-time All-Star and an MVP in 1971. His 230 hits, 137 RBI's and .363 batting average were tops in the NL that year. Defensively, Torre was solid, capturing a Gold Glove in 1965 and leading the league in fielding percentage twice. It's a safe bet that Torre will end up with a plaque someday, but it will likely be as a manager. His 4,329 career wins, 6 pennants and 4 World Series championships are too good to ignore.  

Catchers of Cooperstown caliber nowadays are few and far between. Buster Posey of the Giants is off to a good start, having captured Rookie of the Year honors in 2010 and an MVP award in 2012. Currently playing in his fifth season, the 26 year-old was hitting above .300 at the time of this post. Another standout who may get the call someday if he can stay healthy and productive is Joe Mauer of the Twins. 30 years-old and playing in his tenth big league campaign, Mauer has 3 batting titles to his credit along with 3 Gold Gloves, 4 Silver Slugger Awards and 6 All-Star appearances. He was MVP in 2009 and currently owns a .323 lifetime batting average. But catching is a demanding position and Mauer has had his share of injuries. Time will tell.  


No comments:

Post a Comment