A History of the Catcher and a Sabermetric Ranking of 50 All-Time Greats


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About the Book

It’s often said that catcher is the most important, most demanding defensive position in baseball. This view explains why so many light-hitting catchers have enjoyed long—and by all accounts successful—major league careers. Yet arguments over the all-time greats invariably privilege offensive standouts, and even among these players batting statistics are more likely than fielding numbers to affect ranking. So what, historically, have been the expectations for major league catchers, and who stands as the greatest in a more balanced view of offensive and defensive contributions?
In Part I of this book, the history of catching and catchers is discussed in detail, with attention to the most celebrated players of each era. In Part II, the author employs sabermetric formulas to rank the 50 greatest catchers since 1920, when changes to the rules, the parks, and the ball dramatically changed the way baseball was played. Also included is a chapter on catchers of the 19th century, deadball era, and Negro Leagues, whose career statistics are either incomplete, inaccurate, or produced under markedly different playing conditions and rules.

About the Author(s)

William F. McNeil is a longtime baseball historian and the author of numerous books on the game. A member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), he is the recipient of five Robert Peterson awards for increasing the public’s awareness of the Negro Leagues. He lives in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Bibliographic Details

William F. McNeil
Foreword by Pete Palmer
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 267
Bibliographic Info: photos, tables, appendices, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2006
pISBN: 978-0-7864-2177-0
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      vii

Foreword by Pete Palmer      1

Introduction      3

Part I. Meet the Candidates

1 The Catcher—Baseball’s Quarterback      11

2 Great Catchers Who Are Out of the Loop      25

3 From Hartnett to Lombardi—1920 to 1940      39

4 Baseball’s Golden Age—1940 to 1960      60

5 Johnny Bench and the Modern Catcher—1960 to 1980      83

6 Piazza and the Big Sluggers—1980 to 2005      108

Part II. A Statistical Analysis of Baseball’ Greatest Catchers

7 Sabermetrics—Devising a Statistical System for Comparing Catchers      137

8 The Game’s Best-Hitting Catcher      161

9 The Number One Defensive Catcher of All Time      187

10 Baseball’s Greatest All-Around Catcher      214

Appendix 1: Offensive Statistics      229

Appendix 2: Offensive Ratings      232

Appendix 3: Defensive Statistics      235

Appendix 4: Defensive Ratings      238

Appendix 5: Final Ratings at 2-1 Offense to Defense      241

Appendix 6: Ratings with Other Offense to Defense Ratios      243

Appendix 7: The Top Ten Catchers      245

Bibliography      247

Index      251

Book Reviews & Awards

“fascinating…the book is a stunning realization of intricate organization blended with fabulous heartfelt storytelling…a well-crafted work”—Metro Spirit; “outstanding…a must have”—Chuck Rosciam,