Ivan Rodriguez May 5, 2009 (3505516605)

Ivan Rodriguez throwing to a baseman ("Ivan Rodriguez May 5, 2009 (3505516605)" by Cathy T from Washington, DC area is licensed under CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/?)

If you grew up playing baseball, you probably wanted to play every position on the field at least once. Next to pitcher, one of the most alluring positions on the field for young kids is catcher. Catchers seem to get all the glory. From wearing an intimidating array of safety padding including a helmet and chest protector to engaging baserunners in game-saving home plate collisions, catchers see all the action. That said, becoming one of the best Major League Baseball (MLB) catchers of all time takes a combination of talent, toughness, and determination.  

Speaking of talent and determination, researchers at the University of Essex and York St John University report athletes who constantly strive for on-field perfection and obsess over failure are at an increased risk of burnout. The study assessed over 250 athletes across a variety of sports including football, hockey, and golf, just to name a few. Researchers found that athletes who are considered ‘hyper self-critical performers,’ meaning they are the first to criticize their own on-field performance, are more likely to suffer psychological difficulties and ultimately burnout. Obviously, even professional athletes need to remind themselves that it’s just a game. 

Still, there are always going to be those athletes who simply outwork their competition. However, another study found that even the most dedicated athletes must have the natural ability in order to compete at the highest level in sports. Researchers in Cambridge, England found that most of the difference in athletic ability between two athletes comes down to genetics. The study concludes that genetic differences are responsible for 72 percent of the variation of outcomes across the same training regimen. 

Natural talent and a healthy level of competitiveness produced some of the greats in baseball. But playing 162 games a year behind the plate, in the dead of summer, takes a special type of person and athlete. Catchers call the game from behind the plate and they’re truly an extension of the manager on the field, similar to quarterbacks in football. In fact, some of the best NFL quarterbacks in the game today were once catchers. Matt Stafford, Super Bowl-winning quarterback of the Los Angeles Rams, played catcher on his high school baseball team in Texas. In fact, Stafford was teammates with current Los Angeles Dodgers superstar pitcher Clayton Kershaw and he even caught for Kershaw in high school.  

So, who is number one when it comes to catchers? StudyFinds did the digging, consulting 10 sports and baseball-oriented websites in an effort to bring you the best MLB catchers of all time. Our list comprises the five most frequently listed MLB catchers from across these sites. As always, feel free to share your favorite players with us in the comments section below! 

woman wearing brown Easton baseball mitt playing baseball
Little league catcher (Photo by Rachel Barkdoll on Unsplash)

The List: Best MLB Catchers of All Time, Per Sports Experts

1. Johnny Bench (Cincinnati Reds)  

Topping the list is the legendary Cincinnati Reds catcher, Johnny Bench. For a lot of fans, Johnny Bench defined an era of baseball. “If one looks up the definition of catcher in the dictionary one will find a picture of Johnny Bench. Known as the ‘Little General’ of the Big Red Machine, Bench opened the eyes of the baseball world to a catcher who was as equally talented at the plate as he was behind it. While playing with the Cincinnati Reds in the 1960s and 1970s, Bench had one of baseball’s strongest arms and gunned down base stealer after base stealer. Bench led the Reds to two World Series titles and was awarded the NL MVP twice, the World Series MVP, 14 selections to the All-Star Game, 10 Gold Glove awards and a Rookie of the Year award,” explains Fueled by Sports

Bench received just about every major award a player could possibly receive over the course of his playing career. Bench was tough, he could hit, and he had a long and illustrious career that landed him at the top of several statistical categories. Still, Johnny Bench was a spectacle to watch play baseball. 

“As distinctive a player as they come, because his one-handed catching stance made it look too easy (and encouraged a lot of people to try — and fail — to do it too). In essence, Bench was the perfect archetype for his position, catching’s answer to Willie Mays, the guy whose game was all power. Power to the fences, a cannon behind the plate, the guy on the Big Red Machine who would beat at the plate after Morgan and Rose got on base,” writes ESPN

ESPN is referring to Joe Morgan and Pete Rose, arguably two of the best MLB players ever. Even with the presence of these all-time greats, Bench’s play stood out. “Ask any baseball fan who was the greatest catcher of all time, and most will answer ‘Johnny Bench.’ Bench checked all of the boxes for the position. Great defense? Check. Bench won ten Gold Gloves and was renowned for his handling of pitchers and cannon for an arm. Offense? Check. Bench had tremendous power, leading the league in HRs twice and RBI three times. Only Mike Piazza has more career HRs at the position, and only Yogi Berra and Ted Simmons have more RBI,” adds Pitcher List

2. Yogi Berra (New York Yankees, New York Mets)

Perhaps the only player as synonymous with the catcher’s position as Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra is a true legend. Aside from having a knack for quotable sayings, Berra is the only other catcher besides Roy Campanella to earn an MVP award three times, and for good reason. 

“Yogi Berra won 10 World Series championships as a player, more than any other player in history. The legendary catcher appeared in 14 World Series with the Yankees as one of the most balanced catchers of all-time. Berra combined average and power at the plate, with sound defense and a strong throwing arm on defense to build a 19-year career that featured a position-record 18 All-Star selections. Add in the general admiration of him because of his ‘Yogisms’ and story-telling, and Berra is among the most recognizable figures in baseball history,” explains How They Play

Yogi Berra also won a record-tying three Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards during his illustrious career. And yes, he was one of the best behind the plate men in all of baseball history, helping Yankee pitchers throw an astounding 173 shutouts during Berra’s career. 

“Not only did he play 19 seasons but Berra was also named to the All-Star Team 18 times in addition to winning MVP honors three times, including back-to-back years in 1954 and 1955. If winning means anything, Berra won 10 World Series titles with the Yankees as a player and three more as a coach with the Mets and Yankees. Keep in mind that he did all of that after winning a Purple Heart during World War II,” adds Franchise Sports

A Purple Heart, three MVPs, 18 all-star appearances, and a bevy of quotable sayings all combine to make Yogi Berra a national treasure and a true American legend. “The most fascinating thing about Yogi Berra is that there are very few highlights in which he is portrayed as the star. He’s always the other guy– he’s the guy leaping into Don Larsen’s arms, or the guy arguing with the ump when Jackie Robinson steals home, or the guy watching helplessly at the outfield fence as Bill Mazeroski’s homer wins the World Series. But though Yogi was rarely the man of the moment, he was an amazing player. From 1949 to 1958, he hit 257 home runs and struck out 250 times,” writes ESPN

3. Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez (Texas Rangers, Florida Marlins, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees, Houston Astros, Washington Nationals) 

Although Rodriguez played for a whopping six different MLB teams throughout the course of his career, his impact was felt with each of these clubs. “From 1993 to 2007, ‘Pudge’ batted at least .273 and hit at least 10 home runs every season. He also 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. Because of that combination of offense and defense, he went to 14 All-Star Games, won 13 Gold Gloves and earned seven Silver Sluggers,” writes Bleacher Report

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez signing autographs
Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez signing autographs (“Ivan Rodriguez signs” by afagen is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.)

Pudge threw out a whopping 661 baserunners over his career. That equates to one base stealer per game for nearly five straight seasons. “His defense always earns him accolades, but Rodriguez finished his career as a .296 hitter with over 2,800 hits and 311 home runs, which is why he also won seven Silver Slugger Awards and was undoubtedly the best catcher of his generation,” adds Franchise Sports.  

These are some incredible numbers out of a catcher. Still, Ivan Rodriguez was a great all-around player who could impact a baseball game hitting at the plate, from behind the plate, and as a baserunner.  “Rodríguez joined the Rangers about halfway through the 1991 season and never looked back. He was an All-Star and Gold Glove winner for Texas every year from 1992 to 2001 and won AL MVP in 2001. That season, Pudge hit 332 with 35 HRs, 113 RBI, and 25 SBs. Yes, he could run too. Rodríguez left the Rangers via free agency after the 2002 season and joined the Florida Marlins, who promptly won the World Series,” explains Pitcher List

4. Roy Campanella (Brooklyn Dodgers)

Next to Yogi Berra, Campanella is the only catcher to win the MVP award three times, and he could have possibly won more MVPs given his career wasn’t cut short. “Roy Campanella’s full potential as a Major Leaguer was never fulfilled. Firstly because he was relegated to the Negro Leagues due to baseball’s color line, and secondly because he was paralyzed in an automobile accident in January 1958. But the 10 seasons he played with the Dodgers were quite memorable, and he was regarded by some as the best catcher of his era,” explains How They Play

All too often, fans were robbed of players’ best seasons because of segregation in baseball, and Campanella is no exception. When you combine the seasons he lost in the Negro Leagues and the years his career was cut short due to his accident, Campanella could have been in the top spot on this list. 

“Campanella joined Jackie Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 10 seasons, the catcher was voted to 8 All-Star Games, won 3 NL MVP awards and was part of the Dodgers 1955 World Series championship team. Not only could Campanella hit well, but the Dodgers’ backstop possessed superior quickness behind the plate. Campanella finished his injury-shorted career with 242 home runs and 856 RBIs,” writes Fueled by Sports

If you add in a few seasons on either end of his career, Campanella would have certainly surpassed 300 home runs and 1,000 RBIs. “Unfortunately, Campanella was paralyzed in an automobile accident in January 1958, abruptly ending his career after just 10 years—the biggest reason his WAR is so much less than most of the guys in the top 10. Had he been able to play another five to eight years, he might have gone down as the best catcher ever,” adds Bleacher Report

5. Mike Piazza (Los Angeles Dodgers, Florida Marlins, New York Mets, San Diego Padres, Oakland A’s)

Piazza finished his career with a batting average of over .300 and more than 425 home runs. These numbers alone make him one of the best MLB hitters of his generation. “With the exception of the strike-shortened 1994 season, Piazza hit at least 32 home runs in each of his first 10 full years in the majors. (He still mashed 24 moon shots in 107 games in 1994.) He batted .318 with 35 home runs and 112 RBI in the process of winning 1993 NL Rookie of the Year unanimously. Piazza also batted at least .300 every season from 1993 to 2001, finishing top-14 in the NL MVP race each of those years. He never won the award, but he did place in the top seven six times. The most noteworthy year was 1997, when he batted .362 with 40 home runs and 124 RBI,” explains Bleacher Report

No, those numbers did not bring Piazza an MVP award for the 1997 season, but they did help cement his place as one of the best catchers, and a great hitter, of his generation. “The best-hitting catcher of all time, Piazza owns three of the top five individual seasons by a catcher based on OPS+ (including the top two). A 12-time All-Star with a .308 career average, he hit .362/.431/.638 in 1997, when he somehow failed to win MVP honors. Yes, he didn’t have a strong arm (although it should be noted he caught a lot of good staffs and played for a lot of winning teams), and there will always be accusations about his steroid use, but his rise from 62nd-round draft pick to Hall of Famer remains a great story,” writes ESPN

It’s hard to believe that the MLB draft has more than 60 rounds but it does. Regardless of where he was drafted or the accusations about steroids, Piazza was beloved by the fans. But, as one expert notes, Piazza wasn’t always a catcher. 

“Famously drafted by the Dodgers as a favor to family friend Tommy Lasorda, Piazza converted to catcher in the minor leagues and never looked back. He won Rookie of the Year in 1993 after batting .318 with 35 HRs and 112 RBI. Despite being a perennial All-Star, Silver Slugger, and MVP candidate with the team, the Dodgers traded Piazza to the Marlins in 1998. He played only five games with the team before moving on to the New York Mets, where he would spend most of the rest of his career. In total, Piazza would attend 12 All-Star games, winning MVP at one of them, and take home ten Silver Sluggers,” adds Pitcher List

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About Matthew Sherdan

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2 Comments

  1. Derrick Moite says:

    Ivan Rodriguez and/or Mike Piazza could have been replaced by CARLTON FISK and GARY CARTER

  2. Pat Oz says:

    Thurman Munson belongs on the list. Even though his career was tragically cut short, Munson played his heart out. Belongs in the HOF and on every Greatest list.