There have been many good players to wear the mask and pads for the Yankees but in my estimation there have been a small handful that I would refer to as being "Great Yankee Catchers". At the top of the list is Hall of Famer Yogi Berra. in 19 seasons, Berra had a career .285 average with 2150 hits (321 2B/49 3B/358 HR), 1430 RBI, 704 BB, 414 K's (for more on that impressive little number, read my blogpost Yogi Berra 414 in 7555), and an OPS of .830 (.348 OBP/.482 SLG). His fielding percentage at the catching position was .989 and threw out 49% of basestealers. Not to mention that Yogi won 10 rings as a player while appearing in a total of 14 World Series (along with 3 more as a coach), 3 AL MVP awards (1951, 1954, 1955), 7 years of being in the top five of MVP voting and 15 All-Star appearances. The following players are listed in terms of when they played and not in terms of any kind of rank.
Hall of Famer Bill Dickey played 17 seasons and had a career .313 average with 1969 hits (343 2B/72 3B/202 HR), 1209 RBI, 678 BB, 289 K's (in 6300 At-bats. CRAZY!!!!) and an OPS of .868 (.382 OBP/.486 SLG). His fielding percentage at the catching position was .986 and threw out 47% of basestealers. Though Dickey didn't win any AL MVP awards, he did finish in the top 10 five times and in the top 5 three times with 11 All-Star appearances. Dickey was a pivotal member of 7 World Series Champion teams (He appeared in 8 World Series). Dickey lost two years due to his joining the military during World War II (1944-1945) before playing his last season in 1946.
Elston Howard had the unenviable task of being both the first African American player on the New York Yankees and replacing a Yankees legend behind the plate. Howard did both gracefully. In 14 seasons Howard had a career .274 batting average with 1471 hits (218 2B/50 3B/167 HR), 762 RBI, 373 BB 786 K's and an OPS of .749 (.322 OBP/.427 SLG). His fielding percentage at the catching position was .993 and threw out 44% of basestealers. Howard won the AL MVP award in 1963 and had three top 10 MVP votes. He won three Gold Glove awards, appeared in 9 All-Star games and was a member of 4 World Series Champions (his teams made it to 10 World Series)
Arguably one of my favorite Yankees of All-Time, Captain Thurman Munson rounds out the group of "Great Yankees Catchers". Munson's career was cut short by a fatal plane crash during the 1979 season so his sample size is limited but very impressive. The heart and soul of the 1970's Yankees played for a total of 11 seasons and had a .292 career batting average with 1558 hits (229 2B/32 3B/113 HR), 701 RBI, 438 BB 571 K's and an OPS of .756 (.346 OBP/.410 SLG). His fielding percentage at the catching position was .982 and threw out 44% of basestealers. Munson won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 1970, was the AL MVP in 1976 and had top 10 MVP votes. He was a 3-time AL Gold Glove winner, a 7-time All-Star and appeared in three straight World Series (1976-1978) and was the backbone of back-to-back World Series Champions in 1977-1978.
Since I am placing Jorge Posada in the same category with these Yankee greats, here are Posada's vitals. In 17 seasons Posada had a career .273 batting average with 1664 Hits (379 2B/10 3B/275 HR), 1065 RBI, 936 BB, 1453 K's and an OPS of .848 (.374 OBP/.474 SLG). His fielding percentage at the catching position was .992 and threw out 28% of basestealers. Posada was never an AL MVP but placed in the top 10 twice, he was a 5-time All-Star, a 5-time Silver Slugger and an important part of 4 World Series Champions while appearing in 6 World Series.
Ok, so here I stand after laying out the numbers. So where do I stand. Offensively, I'd rank Posada behind Berra and Dickey. As I posted in my blogpost Jorge Posada Reaches Milestones on my other baseball blog Latinoball dated June 15, 2010 which stated that at the time:
Posada is now one of only five catchers to amass 250 home runs, 1,500 hits and 350 doubles over the course of a career. Who are the others four? Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk and Ivan Rodriguez.
That gives Posada a bit of an advantage over Berra and Dickey but what stands out to me is the plate disciple that Berra and Dickey showed. In a combined 13855 at-bats, Berra and Dickey struck out 703 times. Players like Shane Reynolds will do that in three to four seasons. Posada better reflected his times since he was a power hitter and the majority of today's power hitters (with the exception of Albert Pujols) tend to have high strikeout numbers. Posada also compares favorably to Berra and Dickey in OPS (Posada .848/Berra .830/Dickey .868) and somewhat when it comes to hits (Posada 1664/Berra 2150/Dickey 1969). There is no denying that Posada came up big for the Yankees time and time again as Berra and I believe Dickey did for their respective Yankees teams.
Defensively I always had the mindset that Posada was an average catcher but looking at the respective numbers he also ranks up there with the rest. I know the track record of Posada having issues with certain starting pitchers is well known but there is no denying that Posada made a tremendous career from originally being a shortstop to catching for the Yankees. Looking at fielding percentage Elston Howard ranks the highest at .993 with Berra at .989, Dickey at .986, Munson and Posada .982. Where Posada does pale in comparison is in the percentage of basestealers. Where Posada threw out only 28% of basestealers, Yogi ranks the highest at 49% with Dickey at 47% and Howard and Munson at 44%. So defensively I'd have to rank him last within the five catchers.
I have purposely decided to not include Post-season performance. The reason being is that the game today is different than the game of Berra, Dickey and Howard's day. Where those players only had the World Series, Munson's age had a Championship Series and a World Series and it was expanded in Posada's day with a total of three rounds of playoffs. We know Posada was money in the post-season as was Berra, Dickey, Howard and Munson since they all played for World Series Champions. If someone wants to make the comparison, by all means do so. I welcome your point of view.
In total, I would rank Posada fourth behind Berra, Dickey and Howard since I'll give Howard the nod on defensive numbers. Munson played at least 6 less years than the others so he's only in 5th because of the lesser amount of total games played. The gap between the players is not that great when you factor in stadium size, player sample size, era and overall changes in the game. Agree? Disagree? Let me know.
For Further Reading
- Click Here to access Yogi Berra's career statistics from Baseball Reference.com
- Click Here to access Bill Dickey's career statistics from Baseball Reference.com
- Click Here to access Elston Howard's career statistics from Baseball Reference.com
- Click Here to access Thurman Munson's career statistics from Baseball Reference.com
- Click Here to access Jorge Posada's career statistics from Baseball Reference.com