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Continuing our ongoing series wherein we determine the greatest baseball players of all time at each position by crowdsourcing our rankings to the internets, we now turn to those stalwart souls who donned the “tools of ignorance”: the catchers.

As with our previous rankings of shortstops, second basemen, and starting pitchers, we used a Google search to find the first 10 lists of the top 10 catchers of all time to show up, on the dodgy assumption that millions of clicks and searches must have meant that these lists were somehow the best.

We then aggregated the rankings on a 1000-point scale by subtracting each player’s rank on each list from 101. Thus a #1 rank was worth 100 points while a #10 rank was worth 91 points for a maximum possible 1000 points.

We also added a new twist this time around by using those lists that happened to rank more than 10 players as tie-breakers (where necessary), scoring the lower rankings in the same way as top ten rankings but adding them up after a decimal point.

Anyway, here’s what the internets came up with for the top 10 greatest catchers of all time (along with overall point total, and first place votes in parentheses, *=HOF):

1. *Johnny Bench – 991 (6)
2. *Yogi Berra – 979
3. Mike Piazza – 955
4. Ivan Rodriguez – 864 (1)
5. *Roy Campanella – 855
6. *Mickey Cochrane – 852
7. *Bill Dickey – 845 (1)
8. *Gary Carter – 753
9. *Carlton Fisk – 669
10. *Josh Gibson – 394 (1)

There was rather overwhelming consensus on who the top nine catchers of all time were, if not the exact order: even 9th-place Carlton Fisk appeared on seven out of ten top-10 lists.

The order itself is pretty good, and very similar to the order I would probably go with myself, two of the only differences being that I might be tempted to bump Mickey Cochrane up to 5th place over sentimental favorite Roy Campanella, and I would almost certainly bump Carlton Fisk up one spot, ahead of Gary Carter.

I would also rank Josh Gibson higher. Gibson was left off some lists which did not include Negro Leaguers, but none of the four lists he appeared on ranked him lower than 4th place, suggesting that he should be higher up this list.

Still, I do think the internets got the top 10 players right. Pretty amazing that this approach keeps yielding solid results, considering how slipshod the method is.

By the way, were you surprised to see Piazza as high as 3rd all time, especially given how poor his defense was? I was, myself, and actually his most commong ranking was 7th, but other than Bench and Berra he was the only player to appear on all 10 lists, and upon consideration I think that 3rd is actually about right. Although he certainly took away value with his glove, the offense he provided in his peak years was just so spectacular that it far, far outweighed what he gave away on defense.  His 142 career OPS+ is far and away the highest of any catcher.

And for those of you wondering which catchers fell just outside of the inner circle, and what happened to that tenth first-place vote, here are the next 10:

11. *Buck Ewing – 283 (1)
12. *Gabby Hartnett – 281
13. Joe Torre – 186
14. Elston Howard – 182
15. *Biz Mackey – 96
16. *Louis Santop – 92
17. Ted Simmons – 91.762
18. Jorge Posada – 91.498
19. Jason Kendall – 91.402
20. Wally Schang – 90

Interestingly, four catchers who are in the Hall of Fame failed to make the internets’ top 20: Ray Schalk, Rick Farrell, Rodger Bresnahan, and Ernie Lombardi.

Of course, Schalk Ferrell and Bresnahan routinely top lists of people who should have never been elected to the hall, and Lombardi is generally considered to have been overrated (although probably still hall-worthy), so perhaps their absences are not so surprising after all.

Elston Howard placing so relatively high on the list probably speaks to the presence of some Yankees fans among the authors of these lists, although he almost certainly belongs somewhere in the top 20.

On a personal note, it is gratifying to see Ted Simmons make the second tier, as I have long felt that he should be in the Hall of Fame by now.

So what do you think? Agree with these rankings? Think they’re crazy? Let us know in the comments!

And finally, here are the ten top-10 lists I used to derive these rankings (again, these are the first 10 lists that came up in a Google search):

Top 50 Catchers of All Time” (TheBaseballPage.com)
Top ten catchers of all-time” (ArmchairGM)
MLB’s 10 Greatest Catchers of All-Time” (Bleacher Report)
All-Time Top 10 Greatest Catchers” (Baseball Fever)
The 10 Greatest Catchers in Baseball History” (Bleacher Report)
Baseball’s Top 10 Catchers of All Time” (Associated Content)
Top 10 catchers of ALL TIME” (CBSSports.com)
Historical WAR Review: Catchers” (Beyond the Boxscore)
52 Greatest Catchers Ever” (Encyclopedia of Baseball Catchers)
Ranking baseball’s all-time greatest catchers” (FoxSports.com)

9 Responses to “Crowdsourcing the Greats: The Greatest Catchers of All Time”

  1. Pudge Rodriguez has gotta be higher than Piazza. Speedy teams used to run all over Piazza. Obviously not a good thing for a pitcher’s concentration.

  2. Nick Kapur says:

    Here’s the thing about Piazza. Yeah, he sucked on defense. But his offense was so great that it honestly did not even matter. If you look at his WAR components and you add his defense (below average for a catcher and therefore negative) to his positional adjustment, he actually comes out ahead by 13 runs over his career. So while he was below average, he wasn’t completely terrible. Not to mention his team always had good ERAs, relative to league and even accounting for park.

    Although personally I would have actually put Pudge one spot ahead of Piazza, even if just for aesthetic reasons, because I like a catcher to be able to play defense too, if you pinned me down and made me choose, and a World Series or something depended on it, I’d actually take peak-years Piazza over peak-years Pudge for my team. Because he simply provided more overall value to his team: over the course of his career, Piazza averaged 5.4 WAR per season to Pudge’s 5.1, and that’s including defensive estimates.

  3. Sorry but offense is important but I don’t care how good offense is it does not negate defense. Defense is the most impotant thing when you are a catcher.

  4. As a former catcher (granted nothing past varsity ball), there are a few things that stand out to me:

    1) I can’t believe that Rodriguez was ranked behind Piazza. I know I’m beating a dead horse, but there was nothing like watching Pudge throw out a runner from his knees.
    2) I have only heard of the three of the catchers in the 11-20 range, namely Torre, Posada, and Kendall.
    3) Speaking of Kendall, I hope this gets people to stop trashing him. I actually wore number 18 as a freshman because of Jason Kendall. He could call a damned good game, hit for an ok average, and steal a decent amount of bases until he broke his ankle (I couldn’t track down video, but it was grotesque). Basically, it’s satisfying and surprising to finally see him get his due.

    One last thing – that’s an enormous jump between ranks 14 and 15. I have a hard time believing that Biz Markie is half as good as the next best catcher

    • Nick Kapur says:

      Just to be clear about these scores, having a score two times larger in no way means that that player was two times better. It simply means that that player appeared on two times as many top 10 lists.

      These scores say nothing at all about skill – they only speak to how close that player is to being considered the best all time by the hoi polloi on the internet.

  5. #15 Biz Markey? he raps, sings, djs, and catches?

  6. Biz Markey speaking to his pitcher on a mound visit:

    “You! Don’t listen to meeeeee!
    I set up on the black,
    But you threw it at his back!

    Oh baby!

    You, can’t throw the heeeeaaat!
    Whenever I call for the one,
    You give up a big home run!”

  7. And what Biz Markey lacked in defense, he made up for with his rapping.

  8. Bench vs. Berra as 1-2 could have gone either way. I’d rate Cochrane and Campanella above Piazza and I-Rod. Campy won 3 MVPs, was outstanding defensively and was- at his peak- the greatest power hitting catcher of all time- above Bench and Berra. Cochrane also won an MVP, was oustanding defensively, was a hihg ave. hitter and had solid midrange power. Piazza, while a great hitter with great power, was poor defesnively. I-Rod was possibly no. 1 defensively, and a good hitter wiht power, but has had a terrible on-base average the last several years.

    It has been the practice of sabermetricians to donwgrade Dickey’s rating, but people who saw them both usually rate Dickey over Berra. But I think he’s about where he should be. In a few years, if he sustains his perfromance, Joe Mauer (already three BA championships) may go down as the greatest hitting catcher and would then move into the top 10. Not sure where to place Josh Gibson, who according to Camply, hit balls as far as the Bambino.

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