Who are the best catchers in Red Sox history? Ranking the Top 5
For a position so essential to baseball — no player handles the ball more often — the catching ranks in Red Sox history are surprisingly shallow. Multiple seasons belong to players like Johnny Peacock, Pinch Thomas, Hick Cady, Roxy Walters, and Muddy Ruel, names that sound like they should belong to bouncers before big leaguers.
The dearth of catching talent may partly explain why the Red Sox routinely featured lousy starting rotations, at least until Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, and Co. arrived to give the club perennial Cy Young contenders no matter who squatted behind the plate.
Had this list extended to 10 instead of five, some of the names would surprise you. Wally Schang, anyone? How about Bill Carrigan? There'd definitely be room for Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Anyway, the overall talent level may be thin, but the top five are legit, with three All-Stars and two Hall of Famers.
5. Birdie Tebbetts
Born in Vermont, raised in New Hampshire, and educated at Providence College, where he earned a degree in philosophy, Tebbetts (pictured, right) made All-Star teams in 1948 and 1949 after arriving from the Tigers for declining backstop Hal Wagner. The trade turned out to be a steal, with Tebbetts holding down the position for parts of four seasons and earning MVP votes twice.
The Red Sox averaged 95 wins from 1948-50 with Tebbetts behind the plate, but missed the postseason each year, twice by just a game, including a heartbreaker in 1948 when the Tigers beat Denny Galehouse in a one-game playoff to break a tie atop the American League and advance to the World Series vs. the crosstown Braves. Tebbetts hit .287 over 419 games in Boston before embarking on an 11-year career as a manager with the Reds, Braves, and Indians.
4. Rich Gedman
Keeping things local, we turn to the pride of Worcester, who realized a childhood dream when he became the starting catcher in 1981 at age 21, placing second to Yankees left-hander Dave Righetti in the Rookie of the Year race. Geddy became a fan favorite and helped ease the loss of New Hampshire native Carlton Fisk over a contract snafu just months earlier. He smacked 24 homers in 1984 and made his first All-Star team in 1985 with a sneaky great season, hitting .295 with 18 homers and an .846 OPS.
He was an All-Star again in 1986, though his production started to wane under the tutelage of hitting coach Walt Hriniak, whose controversial approach left Gedman helicoptering one-handed swings that dropped him into a slump for basically the rest of his career. Still, his arrival with ace Roger Clemens briefly left Red Sox fans dreaming of a decades-long All-Star battery.
3. Rick Ferrell
The 1930s may have been the glory years for catchers across baseball, with Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, Ernie Lombardi, Gabby Hartnett, Al Lopez, and Ferrell piling up All-Star berths. All of them reached the Hall of Fame (Lopez as a manager), and Ferrell started his journey to Cooperstown in earnest once he arrived from St. Louis in 1933. He hit .302 with a .394 on base percentage over parts of five seasons with the Red Sox, making four All-Star Games and teaming with his brother Wes, a right-hander and 25-game winner in 1935, to form the best brother battery in history.
An outstanding pitch framer, Ferrell's strong receiving skills earned him a second act with the Senators after he and Wes were surprisingly traded in 1938 to Washington, where Ferrell was able to corral the knuckleball of Dutch Leonard, who recorded his only 20-win season on Ferrell's watch in 1939.
2. Jason Varitek
Former GM Dan Duquette earned his spot in the Red Sox Hall of Fame with one of the great swindles ever when he acquired both Varitek and sinkerballer Derek Lowe from the Mariners in 1997 for washed-up closer Heathcliff Slocumb. All Varitek did over 15 seasons was become the heart and soul of the Red Sox, first as a defense-oriented catcher who prided himself on getting the most out of pitching staffs fronted by the incomparable Pedro Martinez, and then as a standout offensive star and captain who made three All-Star teams and earned one Silver Slugger Award.
He delivered two iconic moments along the way, first by stuffing his glove in the face of Alex Rodriguez to prove the Red Sox wouldn't be pushed around during the 2004 season, and then by leaping into the arms of closer Keith Foulke three months later when the Red Sox ended their 86-year World Series drought.
1. Carlton Fisk
Had Haywood Sullivan just mailed Fisk his contract renewal on time in 1980, the New Hampshire native might've spent his entire career here. He instead settled for 11 seasons filled with honors like a Rookie of the Year and Gold Glove in 1972, as well as seven All-Star berths. They called the rugged 6-foot-3, 200-pounder "Pudge," and he took no prisoners. Fisk was a tenacious competitor who never backed down from a fight, particularly when it came to the Yankees.
His rivalry with New York counterpart Thurman Munson was legendary, highlighted by a 1973 brawl, and Fisk found himself throwing punches again after a collision with Lou Piniella in Yankee Stadium three years later. He also delivered one of the most famous home runs in World Series annals, willing his shot fair off the foul pole to win Game 6 of the 1975 Fall Classic vs. the Reds. He changed Sox in 1981, spending 13 years in Chicago and cementing his Hall of Fame credentials before retiring at age 45 as an 11-time All-Star.