Previously on The BBWAA Project:
And finally, we reach catcher …
Eight catchers have been elected by the BBWAA, but believe it or not only one catcher in the history of the BBWAA voting — Johnny Bench — was elected on first ballot. Even Yogi Berra was a second-ballot choice.
Median career: 54.3 WAR (High: Johnny Bench, 72.3; Low: Roy Campanella, 31.6)
25th percentile career: 50.25
Median peak: 35 (High: Gary Carter, 46.5; Low: Gabby Hartnett, 29.0).
25th percentile peak: 32.3
Here are the BBWAA catchers as ranked by fans on Baseball Reference EloRater:
No. 42: Johnny Bench
No. 64: Yogi Berra
No. 68: Gary Carter
No. 79: Carlton Fisk
No. 116: Mickey Cochrane
No. 121: Gabby Hartnett
No. 128: Bill Dickey
No. 144: Roy Campanella
Catchers, it seems to me, are the hardest players for the BBWAA to rank. Their careers are short — Carlton Fisk is the catcher with the most hits in the Hall of Fame at 2,356. They rarely get even 600 plate appearances in a season — Johnny Bench has the most of any Hall of Fame catcher with seven — Yogi Berra only had four, Fisk in his long career had only three. The position is so demanding, so taxing and exacting … and we still struggle to really get at the heart of catcher’s defense, how to rate it, how important it is and so on.
Catchers have done pretty well for themselves in the MVP voting. Yogi Berra and Roy Campanella each won three, Johnny Bench won two … Thurman Munson, Mickey Cochrane, Gabby Hartnett, Ernie Lombardi, Elston Howard, Ivan Rodriguez, Joe Mauer, Buster Posey … the catcher tends to get represented. But come Hall of Fame time, it’s tough. As mentioned, Yogi Berra was not elected first ballot. Yogi Berra! The mind boggles.
The Veterans choices for catcher are not especially majestic.
No. 177: Ernie Lombardi
No. 355: Roger Bresnahan
No. 585: Rick Ferrell
No. 691: Ray Schalk
When you look at that list, it actually kind of boggles the mind that Ted Simmons (No. 127) is not in the Hall of Fame.
This year’s candidate:
Career: 56.1 WAR (plus 1.8 against median)
Peak: 40.7 WAR (plus 5.7)
Ranking: No. 98.
Looking back at this made me rethink something: OF COURSE Mike Piazza, based on his performance, deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. It goes without saying. He is the best hitting catcher in Major League Baseball history, second-best of all time to Josh Gibson. Of course he’s a Hall of Famer.
But the BBWAA has been historically VERY stingy about putting catchers into the Hall of Fame. Oh, the best of the best will make it eventually … but the BBWAA is in no rush. Mentioned Yogi. Well, Roy Campanella, who won three MVP awards in five seasons — and spent his younger days in the Negro Leagues — wasn’t elected until his fifth. Carlton Fisk, overall, was probably a better catcher than Mike Piazza — he waited. Gary Carter, who had the highest peak of the group, waited six years.
I’m not saying I AGREE with waiting — I think it’s a dumb thing. Tom Tango sent me another good idea about how to stop the nonsensical wait period for players you KNOW will get into the Hall of Fame. Will get to that at some point. I’m just saying this is the BBWAA’s history. Yes, there’s no question that a whisper campaign of PED use hurt Piazza … but he got 52.2% of the vote which is way more than Gary Carter on his first ballot and about as much as Campanella. I’m just saying: This is the BBWAA. Piazza’s first-year numbers are not really out of line with some great catchers of the past who had to wait. He will get into the Hall.