I am a former sports editor and currently serve as a historian with the Society of American Baseball Research and manage a valet operation.
Who Are the All-Time Greatest Catchers in MLB History?
When debating which position on a baseball field is the most important, the catcher has about as good of an argument as anyone. Without the catcher, who’s going to retrieve all the pitches? Certainly not the umpire.
But catchers are more than a player who simply catches pitches. The catcher makes the pitch calls and aligns the defense, all while playing a very challenging defensive position himself. And they may take a collision or two with a base runner who is trying to score.
Throughout history, several players have defined the position in different ways — whether as a winner (see: Yogi Berra), a defensive whiz (see: Ivan Rodriguez), or as a great hitter (see: Mike Piazza). And all of them — plus many others — need to be remembered for their contributions to the game and impact on catching.
To be considered, a player must have played at least half of his games as a catcher. This list of the 10 greatest catchers in MLB history is then based on the following criteria:
- Impact (Place in history, how he changed the position, etc.)
- Defensive Success (Fielding percentage, caught stealing percentage, Gold Glove, etc.)
- Offensive Success (Individual awards, above-average career totals, etc.)
10. Mike Piazza
- Years Played: 1992–2007
- Games at Catcher: 1,630 of 1,912 (85.3%)
- Playoff Appearances: 1995–96, 1999–2000, and ‘06
- Fielding Percentage: .989
- Caught Stealing Percentage: 23.2% (423 of 1,823)
- Key Offensive Stats: .308 average and 427 home runs
- Accolades: Hall of Fame (2016), Rookie of the Year (1993), 12-time All-Star (1996 MVP), and 10-time Silver Slugger
Mike Piazza wasn't highly regarded when he came into professional baseball, but that didn't stop him from building a Hall of Fame career. As he developed from 1,390th overall pick to a superstar, he brought an offensive skill set that had rarely been seen from a catcher. His prowess with the bat helped make up for the few weaker spots in his game (such as his throwing arm), and the 396 home runs he hit while catching are a Major League record. He hit a career-high .362 in 1997, which at the time tied the single-season record for catchers (Joe Mauer later hit .365 in 2009), and his 10 Silver Slugger awards are the most ever won by a catcher.
9. Gary Carter
- Years Played: 1974–92
- Games at Catcher: 2,056 of 2,296 (89.5%)
- Playoff Appearances: 1981, ‘86, and ‘88
- Fielding Percentage: .991
- Caught Stealing Percentage: 35.1% (810 of 2,308)
- Key Offensive Stats: 324 home runs and 1,025 runs
- Accolades: Hall of Fame (2003), 11-time All-Star (1981 and ‘84 MVP), 5-time Silver Slugger, and three Gold Gloves
Though it took longer than it should have, Gary Carter was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003 in his sixth year of eligibility, becoming the first player to don a Montreal Expos cap on his plaque. "The Kid" was arguably the best National League catcher throughout most of his career, which was primarily played with the Expos and the New York Mets. Known as a solid hitter and defender, Carter was a member of the 1986 World Series champion Mets and is considered one of the best players in Expos history.
8. Carlton Fisk
- Years Played: 1969, 1971–93
- Games at Catcher: 2,226 of 2,499 (89.1%)
- Playoff Appearances: 1975 and ‘83
- Fielding Percentage: .988
- Caught Stealing Percentage: 33.8% (665 of 1,967)
- Key Offensive Stats: 376 home runs, 1,276 runs, and 1,330 RBI
- Accolades: Hall of Fame (2000), Rookie of the Year (1972), 11-time All-Star, 3-time Silver Slugger, and one Gold Glove
Carlton Fisk may be best remembered for one postseason home run, though that doesn't discount the fact he played in four different decades and held the records for the most games played and most home runs hit as a catcher when he retired. The original "Pudge" was a star for the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox, and enjoyed a career that spanned 24 seasons. He famously waved an extra-inning home run fair in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, but his Red Sox would lose Game 7 to the Cincinnati Reds. Fisk was quite durable throughout his career, playing more than 130 games in half of his seasons, and was known to be superior at managing games from behind the plate.
7. Bill Dickey
- Years Played: 1928–43, ‘46
- Games at Catcher: 1,708 of 1,789 (95.5%)
- Playoff Appearances: 1932, 1936–39, and 1941–43
- Fielding Percentage: .988
- Caught Stealing Percentage: 46.6% (465 of 998)
- Key Offensive Stats: .313 average, 202 home runs, and 1,209 RBI
- Accolades: Hall of Fame (1954) and 11-time All-Star
Bill Dickey was a seven-time World Series champion as the catcher for the New York Yankees. He missed two seasons due to military service in World War II, but enjoyed a 17-year career that left him enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Dickey hit a position-record .362 in 1936, a record for catchers that wasn't surpassed until 2009. He had wanted to become a slugger like teammate Babe Ruth but modeled his offensive game as a contact hitter instead — though he still hit more than 20 homers each season from 1936 to '39. His biggest value came from a tremendous throwing arm behind the plate, and as a teacher and game manager. Dickey was a player-manager in 1946, the final season of his career, and after he retired, he helped mentor Yankee catchers Yogi Berra and Elston Howard.
6. Ivan Rodriguez
- Years Played: 1991–2011
- Games at Catcher: 2,427 of 2,543 (95.4%)
- Playoff Appearances: 1996, 1998–99, 2003, and ‘06
- Fielding Percentage: .991
- Caught Stealing Percentage: 45.7% (661 of 1,447)
- Key Offensive Stats: .296 average, 311 home runs, and 2,844 hits
- Accolades: Hall of Fame (2017), AL MVP (1999), NLCS MVP (2003), 14-time All-Star, 13 Gold Gloves, and 7-time Silver Slugger
Ivan Rodriguez is one of the most complete catchers in baseball history. Rodriguez combined All Star-caliber offense with a defensive skill set that was perennially one of the best in baseball. From 1992-2001, he won a Gold Glove and was selected as an All-Star in every season. In total, he won more Gold Gloves (13) than any other catcher in history, and his 14 All-Star selections are tied for the second-most ever among catchers. Rodriguez played 2,427 games as a catcher during his 21-year career, which is a record for the position. Throughout his career, he threw out would-be base stealers (45.7%) at a much higher rate than the combined rate of the entire league (30.3%), while collecting nearly 3,000 hits and falling four percentage points short of a .300 career average.
5. Mickey Cochrane
- Years Played: 1925–37
- Games at Catcher: 1,451 of 1,482 (97.9%)
- Playoff Appearances: 1929–31, 1934–35
- Fielding Percentage: .985
- Caught Stealing Percentage: 39.4% (388 of 985)
- Key Offensive Stats: .320 average and 1,041 runs,
- Accolades: Hall of Fame (1947), AL MVP (1928 and ‘34), and 2-time All-Star
Mickey Cochrane's competitive drive helped push the Philadelphia Athletics and Detroit Tigers to a combined five pennants and three World Series championships during his 13-year career. After playing under legendary manager Connie Mack in Philadelphia, Cochrane became a player-manager in Detroit in 1934 and led the Tigers to back-to-back World Series appearances — including the first championship in team history in ‘35. He was known as a superb caller of pitches during games and added plenty of offensive contributions, including a .357 average in 1930. Cochrane’s career ended abruptly at age 34 when he was struck in the head by a pitch and suffered a major skull fracture. He survived the incident and became the third catcher inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1947.
4. Josh Gibson
- Years Played: 1930–46
- Key Offensive Stats: .345 average, 113 home runs, and 480 runs
- Accolades: Hall of Fame (1972)
Unfortunately, Josh Gibson never had the privilege of playing Major League Baseball. The larger-than-life Negro Leagues star is considered one of the most powerful sluggers in the history of baseball, but because he didn't play in the Majors, many of his statistics were compiled in exhibition games. Therefore, a complete picture of his offensive prowess does not exist (though estimates and his Hall of Fame plaque credit him with some 800 overall home runs). Nevertheless, many of those who saw him play and many historians still rate Gibson as one of the finest catchers to ever play baseball. He played for the Homestead Greys and was said to have a quick release from behind the plate that limited the number of base runners who would try to steal against him. In 1972, he became the first Hall of Famer inducted solely on contributions to the Negro Leagues.
3. Roy Campanella
- Years Played: 1948–57
- Games at Catcher: 1,183 of 1,215 (97.4%)
- Playoff Appearances: 1949, 1952–53, and 1955–56
- Fielding Percentage: .988
- Caught Stealing Percentage: 57.4% (252 of 439)
- Key Offensive Stats: 242 home runs, 856 RBI, and 627 runs
- Accolades: Hall of Fame (1969), NL MVP (1951, ‘53, and ‘55), and 8-time All-Star
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. Campanella was an All-Star in all but his first and last seasons, and hit 30 or more homers four times, while also winning a trio of MVP awards in a five-year span. His quick reflexes behind the plate helped him throw out an MLB-record 57.4% of would-be base stealers during his career. He won a World Series with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955, and hit five extra-base hits during that seven-game series victory over the New York Yankees.
2. Yogi Berra
- Years Played: 1946–63, ‘65
- Games at Catcher: 1,699 of 2,120 (80.1%)
- Playoff Appearances: 1947, 1949–53, 1955–58, 1960–63
- Fielding Percentage: .989
- Caught Stealing Percentage: 48.6% (403 of 829)
- Key Offensive Stats: .285 average, 358 home runs, and 1,430 RBI
- Accolades: Hall of Fame (1972), AL MVP (1951, ‘54, and ‘55), and 18-time All-Star
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. Berra is credited with bringing success to New York’s pitchers during his career by catching 173 shutouts and Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Offensively, he was a power hitter in the middle of a fearsome lineup, and his balanced game left him as the third player in American League history to win three MVPs. After his Hall of Fame playing career, he coached or managed in the big leagues until 1989.
1. Johnny Bench
- Years Played: 1967–83
- Games at Catcher: 1,742 of 2,158 (80.7%)
- Playoff Appearances: 1970, 1972–73, 1975–76, ‘79
- Fielding Percentage: .990
- Caught Stealing Percentage: 43.4% (469 of 1,079)
- Key Offensive Stats: 389 home runs, 1,376 RBI, 1,091 runs, 381 doubles
- Accolades: Hall of Fame (1989), NL MVP (1970 and ‘72), NL Rookie of the Year (1968), World Series MVP (1976), 14-time All-Star, and 10 Gold Gloves
The epitome of a balanced catcher is Johnny Bench, one of the leaders of the vaunted "Big Red Machine" teams of the 1970s. The longtime Cincinnati Reds backstop was perennially among the top players in the National League during his prime, earning an All-Star selection and a Gold Glove each year from 1968 to ‘77, and picking up MVP votes (including two wins) in eight of those seasons. His Hall of Fame plaque claims he “redefined standards by which catchers are measured,” after combining offensive and defensive skill sets that had never been seen from a catcher during his 17-year career. He debuted at age 19 and became the first NL catcher to win Rookie of the Year honors when he claimed the award in 1968.
The durable receiver helped the Reds to four NL pennants during the 1970s (including two World Series championships). Along the way, he led the NL in caught stealing percentage three times, RBI three times, and home runs twice. Of his 389 career home runs, 327 came as a catcher, which stood as the Major League record for the position at the time of his retirement. He was even more powerful during the postseason, slugging 10 home runs in the playoffs, including five in the World Series. In Cincinnati’s 1976 sweep of the New York Yankees, Bench had four extra-base hits in 15 at-bats on the way to series MVP honors.
Who Is the Greatest Catcher of All Time?
Johnny Bench is the greatest catcher of all time, combining offensive and defensive prowess that propelled the Reds into a decade of dominance. A debate often pits Bench against Yogi Berra, and while Berra enjoyed a longer career and more championships, Bench packed better numbers into a tighter timeframe to redefine success from the position. The wild card in the debate is Negro Leagues star Josh Gibson, who very well could have been the best ever, but the unfortunate circumstances surrounding segregation in baseball robbed him of proving his worth.
While the top 10 catchers of all time are listed above, the following are a handful of honorable mentions who deserve to be recognized for their accomplishments.
Roger Bresnahan (1897, 1900–15)
Hall of Famer Roger Bresnahan opened his career as a pitcher, but switched to catcher in 1901 with the Baltimore Orioles before moving to the New York Giants. There, he led his team to the 1905 World Series championship. Two years later, he became the first backstop to wear shin guards, one of several protective innovations he brought to the game. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans’ Committee in 1945, one year after his death,
Yadier Molina (2004–present)
In 2021, Yadier Molina became the first player to catch 2,000 games for one franchise and the sixth player overall to catch 2,000 games. Molina has been a stalwart for the St. Louis Cardinals since breaking into the league in 2004. He’s made nine All-Star teams and won nine Gold Gloves (including four Platinum Gloves), and has helped the Cardinals to two World Series titles. Going into the 2021 season, Molina had a .281 average and 2,001 career hits, a .328 career average in the World Series, and a .995 fielding percentage.
Bruce Petway (1906–25)
A star in the Negro Leagues at the beginning of the 20th century, Bruce Petway was known as the one of the earliest catchers to accurately throw out runners at second base from a squat. During an exhibition game in Cuba in 1910, Petway threw out Ty Cobb on a stolen base attempt, which brought him some notoriety. In a poll by the Pittsburgh Courier in 1952, Petway was voted as the second-best catcher in Negro League history (behind Josh Gibson). He was nominated for induction into the Hall of Fame in 2006 but was not selected.
Buster Posey (2009–19, ‘21)
A standout for three World Series champion San Francisco Giants teams in the 2010s, Buster Posey was among the best players in baseball during his prime and made six All-Star teams. He lifted San Francisco to championships in 2010, '12, and '14, claiming Rookie of the Year honors (2010) and MVP honors (2012) along the way. A strong defender, Posey has a career fielding percentage of .995, and going into the 2021 season, he added a .302 average and 140 career home runs.
Gabby Hartnett (1922–41)
When Gabby Hartnett broke into the league, he was known for his defense. By the time his career had finished, he’d become a balanced player who was also feared when he stepped up to the plate. Hartnett made six straight All-Star teams between 1933 and ‘38 and was the 1935 MVP in the National League. He closed his career as a .297 hitter and 236 home runs. He led the league in caught stealing percentage six times and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1955.
One star catcher who never got to see his career fully blossom was Thurman Munson, the Yankees star whose career was cut short when he was killed in a plane crash at age 32 in 1979.
Thurman Munson (1969–79)
A star starting catcher for the New York Yankees from 1970 until the time of death, Thurman Munson presents another of the “what-if” scenarios in baseball history. Munson was the 1970 American League Rookie of the Year and the 1976 MVP, and helped propel the Yankees to World Series championships in 1977 and ‘78. He was a seven-time All-Star and won three Gold Gloves — including in 1971 when he committed one error in 615 chances and threw out 61% of would-be base stealers (against the league average of 39%). Offensively, he hit .292 with 113 home runs, but in the postseason, he raised his average to .357 (and .373 in 16 World Series games).
Who Is the Best Defensive Catcher of All Time?
Because of how different eras of baseball have been played, it’s difficult to nail down the best defensive catcher of all time. Based upon Gold Gloves won, Ivan Rodriguez is the clear victor, while based upon fielding percentage, numerous players who spent more than 10 seasons in the Majors have a good argument. And Yaider Molina has been named the best defensive player in the National League four times. I’ve outlined several metrics below to provide examples of the leading candidates for the best defensive catcher of all time.
Players With Multiple Gold Gloves at Catcher
Ivan Rodriguez has won the most Gold Gloves of any catcher in baseball history with 13. Johnny Bench is the National League leader with 10, while the active leaders are Yaider Molina (nine for the NL) and Salvador Perez (five for the American League).
- Ivan Rodriguez (13)
- Johnny Bench (10)
- Yadier Molina (9)
- Bob Boone (7)
- Jim Sundberg (6)
- Bill Freehan (5)
- Salvador Perez (5)
- Del Crandall (4)
- Charles Johnson (4)
- Mike Matheny (4)
- Tony Pena (4)
- Brad Ausmus (3)
- Earl Battey (3)
- Gary Carter (3)
- Sherm Lollar (3)
- Joe Mauer (3)
- Thurman Munson (3)
- Tom Pagnozzi (3)
- Lance Parrish (3)
- Benito Santiago (3)
- Tucker Barnhart (2)
- Johnny Edwards (2)
- Ray Fosse (2)
- Elston Howard (2)
- Bengie Molina (2)
- Roberto Perez (2)
- John Roseboro (2)
- Matt Wieters (2)
Career Fielding Percentage Leaders at Catcher
|Rank||Player (yrs)||Fielding % as C|
Chris Snyder (10)
Tucker Barnhart (8)*
A.J. Ellis (11)
Ryan Hanigan (11)
Mike Redmond (13)
Jason Castro (11)*
James McCann (8)*
Damian Miller (11)
Joe Mauer (15)
Salvador Perez (10)*
A.J. Pierzynski (19)
Mike Zunino (9)*
What Catchers Threw Out the Most Base Stealers?
Roy Campanella threw out the highest percentage of would-be base stealers during his career (57.4%), which was 14.2 percentage points higher than the league-wide caught-stealing percentage during the span of his 10-year career. Others have posted wider margins compared to their peers, most notably Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez—who threw out 45.7% of would-be base stealers, which was 15.4 percentage points higher than the league-wide mark during his 21-year career.
Career Caught Stealing Percentage Leaders at Catcher
|Rank||Player (Years)||SB||CS||SB Att||CS %||MLB Total||Above MLB Avg.|
Roy Campanella (10)
Gabby Hartnett (20)
Buddy Rosar (13)
Al Lopez (19)
Mickey O'Neil (9)
Hank Gowdy (17)
Ray Mueller (14)
Jimmy Archer (12)
Sam Agnew (7)
Ray Schalk (18)
Ivan Rodriguez (21)
Roberto Perez (8)
Yadier Molina (18)
Single-Season Caught Stealing Percentage Leaders at Catcher
|Rank||Player||SB||CS||SB Att||CS %||Year|
Who Is the Best Offensive Catcher of All Time?
Mike Piazza is the greatest offensive catcher of all time. Piazza combined power and contact like no catcher had before. He holds the career record for home runs at the position and has the second-highest single-season average by a catcher. Those skills helped him become a Hall of Famer and made up for some of the shortfalls in his defensive game. His 10 straight Silver Slugger awards are more than any other catcher in baseball history.
How Many Catchers Are in the Hall of Fame?
There have been 19 catchers inducted into the Hall of Fame. The first inductee was Buck Ewing, who was enshrined in 1939, and the most recent inductee was Ted Simmons, who entered with the Class of 2020.
© 2021 Andrew Harner