Baseball's greatest catchers
'The Kid,' who died on Feb. 16 of brain cancer at 57, was an 11-time All-Star who hit 324 home runs and drove in 1,225 runs for the Montreal Expos, New York Mets and (briefly) San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers. He finished second in MVP voting for the 1980 Expos, and third for the 1986 Mets, a team he helped win the World Series. Carter was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2003.
These days Berra might be more famous for his "Yogiisms" -- "It ain't over till it's over" and "It's deja vu all over again" being two -- than his baseball skills, but he was also a great catcher. The legendary Yankee was an All-Star 15 years in a row, was a three-time MVP, and was inducted into Cooperstown in 1972. He also hit 358 home runs and drove in more than 1,400 runs in his 19-year career.
As Mauer has battled injuries of late, his long-term prospects behind the plate are in question, but his numbers up to this point make him the best all-around catcher of his generation. He's a four-time All-Star, a three-time Gold Glove winner, and the 2009 MVP. Mauer is the only catcher to win three batting titles (2006, '08, '09) and is a career .323 hitter.
An 11-time All-Star, Bill Dickey hit .313 over the course of his 17-year career, all with the New York Yankees. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1954, and was also honored with a plaque (pictured) in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium.
The original "Pudge," Carlton Fisk started nearly 2,100 games behind the plate over the course of his 24-year career. He was an 11-time All-Star, hitting 376 home runs on the road to Cooperstown (inducted in 2000). In this famous moment from Game 6 of the 1975 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, Fisk waves his game-winning home run fair.
Gibson became a legend for his power at the plate during as 16-year career in the Negro Leagues in the 1930s and 40s. He became known as the "black Babe Ruth," though his talents were so great, some insisted on Ruth as the "white Josh Gibson." Sadly, Gibson died of a stroke in 1947 at 35. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972.
Rodriguez was a dynamic, multi-talented force in his 21-year career. The 1999 AL MVP was a 14-time All-Star and 13-time Gold Glove winner and played for seven different teams, most notably the Texas Rangers (12 seasons), and helped the 2003 Florida Marlins win the World Series. Rodriguez was known for his rocket arm behind the plate, and could also hit, as his .296 career average shows. He'll likely be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible in 2017.
In a 13-year career for the Philadelphia Athletics and Detroit Tigers, Mickey Cochrane hit .320 with a whopping .897 OPS. A two-time MVP (1928, 1934), Cochrane hit just 119 home runs, but was a doubles machine (333, including 42 in 1930). His career .419 on-base percentage ranks 20th all-time, just behind Mickey Mantle and Albert Pujols (both at .420 entering 2012 season).
During a 16-year career that stretched from 1992-2007, no catcher was more feared as a hitter than Piazza. The 12-time All-Star hit .308 with 427 home runs and 344 doubles in a career spent with the Dodgers, Marlins, Mets, Padres and Athletics.
While not known for his defense, Piazza wasn't as bad behind the plate as most think. "Really his weakness was his throwing," says San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who called Piazza "a great handler of pitchers. He called a great game, and as we all know, he could flat-out hit."
Ferrell, right, shown here with his brother Wes, who was a pitcher, hit .281 in an 18-year career from 1929-47. He was a seven-time All-Star, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984.
Munson's career lasted just 11 years, as he died in a plane crash in 1979, but the six-time All-Star -- and 1976 AL MVP -- left a big impact on the game. He hit .292 in his career but seemed to relish the big moments, hitting .357 in 30 playoff games and helping the Yankees to championships in 1977 and 1978.
"He wasn't a guy who had all the tools or a cannon for an arm," says Cleveland Indians minor league catching coordinator Rob Leary. "The guy was a winner, he found a way to get the job done."
Bench, shown with Reds manager Sparky Anderson in 1975, was the ultimate catcher, a force both offensively and defensively. He was a key component of Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine" that won the World Series in 1975 and 76. He was a two-time NL MVP, a 14-time All-Star, a 10-time Gold Glove winner and Hall of Fame inductee in 1989.
"He actually did some things to move the catching position forward as an athletic position as well," says Oakland A's manager Bob Melvin. "He was the first one-handed catcher, the gloves changed because of the way he caught the game. So he was a trend-setter, and on top of that, an offensive force. You just don't get too many like him."