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Catcher Won-Lost Records

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Don with pipe

CATCHER WON-LOST RECORDS

I think I’m on solid ground if I assert that fans who go to the game care who wins, and I’ll venture to say that most fans want the home team, their team, to win. In fact, I would argue that this is what fans care about most. Watching a home-team victory is the particular experience most likely to send a fan home with a smile on his face. Anything else he might see takes a back seat. The fan who has a good time at the game is likely to want to repeat the experience, and seeing his team win is the number-one guarantor of a good time.

It’s fun for fans to cheer for individual players, of course. It’s a thrill to watch a favorite player hit a home run or make a great play in the field, but it’s a lot less fun if his team loses the game.

Personal numbers are great, but isn't baseball really about TEAM wins and losses? Don’t fans get most excited when the wins start piling up and that longed-for championship begins to seem not just possible but likely?

SQUAT AND COMMAND

I date my interest in catchers to a game in Fenway Park in the mid-1960s in which my horrified eyes beheld the spectacle of Red Sox receiver Bob Tillman retired on a 9-3 putout. That is, he was thrown out at first on what should have been a single to right field. Every fan knew that Tillman was no speed merchant, but this was too much. Tillman was supposed to be a professional athlete. I asked myself, what is this man’s value to the team?

The catcher on my high school baseball team, which I wasn’t good enough to make, was Dan McCarthy. McCarthy presented his coach with a daily dilemma. He was both the best receiver and the best hitter on the team, but he couldn’t catch and hit at the same time. If he caught he’d go hitless, but if you played him in right field, he’d go 4-for-4 for you. This frustrated everyone. McCarthy explained to me that the physical and mental demands of catching drained him of the energy he needed to fuel his offensive game.

Before long it occurred to me that the rarest animal in baseball is a great defensive catcher who can hit. This is why Johnny Bench, an All-Star with both glove and bat, came to be so lionized by the generation who watched him.

On defense, seven of the nine men who comprise a baseball team (the infielders and outfielders) spend most of their time standing around. Pitchers exert themselves mightily but are removed when they get tired and are then allowed a few days off. But catching demands both intense and sustained physical and mental involvement. Catchers, unless they are Tony Pena, play their position in an unnaturally deep crouch. Despite this handicap they complete most of the games they start, fielding well over 100 pitches and making that many throws. All the squatting, receiving, and throwing wear down the knees, hands, and arms. The most durable receivers can catch most of their teams’ games, but very few catchers play every day. A consecutive game streak of over 100 is remarkable.

Catchers, who view the entire field from their vantage point, have a reputation for being smarter (collectively at least) than players who play other positions. Although one occasionally hears some pundit describe an infielder as a “field general,” the term is most often applied to a catcher. For catchers a “take charge” mentality is a valuable asset, if not an absolute must.

Back to the top

ASSIGNING WINS AND LOSSES

The pitcher is the only member of a nine-man baseball team whose individual contributions are measured in wins and losses or, it might be more accurate to say, is held responsible for his team’s wins and losses.

Should catchers be awarded wins and losses the way pitchers are? If pitcher and catcher truly form “a battery,” a team within a team, as throughout most of baseball history they were thought to do, then yes, they should.

I have found tallying wins and losses to be a useful way to illuminate the achievements of a catcher, who handles not just one pitcher but an entire pitching staff.

I believe the most sensible way to determine catchers' won-lost records is to follow the guidelines presently used to assign wins or losses to pitchers. Researcher Bill James traces a team's won-lost record in games started by particular catchers, but this is not how we evaluate pitchers, and for a variety of reasons I prefer my approach.

I assign wins and losses by the same simple rules that govern pitchers. The man who was catching the winning or losing pitcher was the winning or losing catcher.

If two or more catchers appear in a game:

Credit the starting catcher with a win if he has caught at least 5 complete innings, his team is ahead when he is replaced, and his team remains ahead for the duration of the game.

Charge the starting catcher with a loss if his team is behind when he is replaced, and his team does not subsequently tie the score or gain the lead.

BUT if the score is tied at any time after the starting catcher is replaced, the game becomes a new contest insofar as determining the "catcher of record" is concerned.

Credit a substitute catcher with a win if he enters a game in which his team is ahead before the starting catcher catches 5 complete innings, and his team remains ahead for the duration of the game.

Credit a substitute catcher with a win if he enters a game when his team is behind or the score is tied, and his team subsequently gains the lead while he is catching and remains ahead for the duration of the game.

Charge a substitute catcher with a loss if he enters a game when his team is ahead or the score is tied, and his team subsequently loses the lead while he is catching and remains behind for the duration of the game.

My catcher won/lost system differs from the pitchers’ system in only one situation:

Credit a substitute catcher with a win if (a) he either scores or drives in the tying or go-ahead run in the inning in which he replaces the starting catcher, (b) he takes a defensive position behind the plate immediately, and (c) his team gains or remains in the lead for the duration of the game. (See Examples A and B)

Example A: Game of June 20, 1953 (Detroit at New York).

Charlie Silvera was New York's starting catcher. The score was tied 2-2 when New York came to bat in the bottom of the 6th inning.

After New York loaded the bases, Johnny Mize pinch hit for Silvera and struck out. The next batter was Yogi Berra, pinch hitting for shortstop Willie Miranda. Berra singled to knock in New York's 3rd and 4th runs. Berra replaced Silvera behind the plate when Detroit took its turn at bat in the top of the 7th inning. New York went on to win 6-2.

Under my rules, Berra earned the win because he personally batted in the go-ahead run and then took over at catcher. My guidelines differ from the rules assigning wins and losses to pitchers only in cases of this type. (These situations rarely occur.)

If Mize had driven in the go-ahead run, Silvera would have been the winning catcher.

If Berra had remained in the game in right field, with Ralph Houk replacing Silvera at catcher, Silvera would have been the winning catcher even if Berra replaced Houk at catcher in a subsequent inning.

If these events had occurred in the bottom of the 9th inning, Silvera would have been the winning catcher. (Berra would have had no opportunity to take a defensive position.)

Example B: Game of July 23, 1993 (Toronto at Texas).

Geno Petralli was Texas’ starting catcher. The score was tied 5-5 when Texas came to bat in the bottom of the 7th inning.

After Texas loaded the bases, Ivan Rodriguez pinch hit for Petralli and singled to knock in Texas’ 6th run. Rodriguez replaced Petralli behind the plate when Toronto took its turn at bat in the top of the 8th inning. Texas won 6-5.

Under my rules, I assigned Rodriguez the win because he personally batted in the go-ahead run and then took over at catcher. My guidelines differ from the rules assigning wins and losses to pitchers only in cases of this type.

Back to the top

THE LEVIS EFFECT

Catcher won-lost records can reveal when a catcher is making a contribution to team success that is genuine but unsung. I call this phenomenon “The Levis Effect.”

In 1992 a friend who enjoyed Triple-A games in Colorado Springs raved to me about a non-nonsense catcher named Jesse Levis. He swore that this University of North Carolina product was too good for the minors, and he was right. But Levis’ road to the big leagues was bumpy. He would sip four cups of big league coffee with the parent Cleveland Indians but could never dislodge incumbent Sandy Alomar Jr. In April 1996 the Tribe shipped him to Milwaukee for the equivalent of a dozen rosin bags and a gallon can of pine tar.

The 1996 Brewers, who hadn’t had a winning season in four years, were high on a catcher they’d developed named Mike Matheny. Levis, two and a half years older than Matheny at age 28, was installed as Matheny’s backup.

A funny thing happened in Milwaukee that season. Although the club played markedly better with Levis catching, the pundits praised Matheny and denigrated Levis. Perhaps Matheny resembled more closely what sportswriters thought a catcher should look like. At 6-3 and 205, Matheny was 6 inches taller and 25 pounds heavier than Levis.

In the offseason I wrote a letter to the sage who covered the Brewers for the Milwaukee Journal:

Dear Mr X:

Since the end of the 1996 baseball season, I have been reading in the Journal, the USA Today Baseball Weekly, and other publications that the Milwaukee Brewers are desperately seeking a catcher to back up Mike Matheny. I'm puzzled. What's the knock on Jesse Levis?

I don't live in Milwaukee and I wasn’t able to watch the Brewers in person this year. However, my game-by-game log of the 1996 season shows conclusively that the Brewers were a better team with Levis behind the plate, if one defines better as “winning a higher percentage of games.”

Current baseball practice measures the accomplishments of only one player, the pitcher, in terms of wins and losses. For years, however, I've been studying the won-lost percentages of major league catchers, the guys who handle a team's entire pitching staff and are asked to supply brainpower as well as physical skills.

I've enclosed some facts and figures about the 1996 Brewers catchers. Look them over before you write off Jesse Levis. I've also enclosed some supplementary material from my notebooks.

Jesse Levis may or may be a good hitter. He may or may not stop the running game. Indisputably, however, he proved himself a winner in his first real opportunity to spend an entire year on a major league roster. I'm just a fan, but if I could choose, I'd rather have a winner on my ballclub than a hitter or a thrower.

Why is Jesse Levis so unappreciated? From the armchair I'm sitting in, I'd like to reward the guy with a substantial raise!

Sincerely yours…

Although (not unexpectedly) I received no reply to this missive, I didn’t let the matter rest. Levis’ contract had expired. Suspecting there might not be as much interest in him as he deserved, I asked the Milwaukee front office for the name and address of Levis’ agent. I furnished the agent with the same facts and figures I sent the Journal, plus a detailed game-by-game analysis of the Brewers’ performance under their various catchers.

This table shows the crux of the argument:

 
1996 Milwaukee
GC
GS
CG
GR
W
L
ND
 
 
 
 
Jesse Levis
90
57
45
33
41
27
22
 
 
Mike Matheny
104
97
67
7
37
51
16
 
 
Dave Nilsson
2
0
0
2
0
1
1
 
 
Kelly Stinnett
14
8
3
6
2
3
9
 
 
All
210
162
115
48
80
82
48
 

 
GC
=Games caught
 
 
GS
=Games started
 
 
CG
=Complete Games
 
 
GR
=Games relieved
 
 
W
=Won
 
 
L
=Lost
 
 
ND
=No decision
 

Note: Games Relieved is the number of games the catcher entered as a substitute. Games Started + Games Relieved = Games Caught.

The team played better, much better, when Levis caught. Levis was 14 games over the break-even point, Matheny 14 games under. Levis’ winning percentage of .603 dwarfed the collective .415 mark of Matheny, Nilsson, and Stinnett. A team playing .603 ball for an entire season wins 98 games.

Only one major league team, Cleveland, played better than .603 ball in 1996 (99-61, .615), and among American League catchers who caught at least half their team's games, only one other posted as many as 14 wins over .500, and only one other had a higher winning percentage: He was Cleveland's Sandy Alomar Jr (69-38, .645).

More detailed analysis demonstrated that “The Levis Effect” was real. Levis batted left and Matheny right. If Milwaukee manager Phil Garner had been doling out catching assignments on a strict platoon basis, Levis would have caught the lion’s share of the games, as the club faced righthanded starters in 117 of Milwaukee’s 162 contests. But Garner did not platoon his catchers according to lefty-righty matchups. I also checked to see whether Levis' excellent won-lost record was an illusion created by his handling of certain pitchers exclusively. It was not. Garner did not assign any Milwaukee starter a “personal catcher.”

After he received and read the material, Levis’ agent got back to me to express his thanks. Several weeks later he informed me that Levis had signed a new contract with the Brewers, one that called for a salary increase.

I don’t think the Brewers regretted it, because the Levis Effect continued in 1997. Once again Levis played a backup role although the Brewers played better with him than without him.

 
1997 Milwaukee
GC
GS
CG
GR
W
L
ND
 
 
Jesse Levis
78
40
31
38
26
24
28
 
Mike Matheny
121
112
66
9
48
53
20
 
Kelly Stinnett
25
9
4
16
4
6
15
 
All
224
161
101
63
78
83
63

Unfortunately for Levis, he would never be awarded a regular job. He caught a total of just 264 major league games for the Indians and Brewers, the last in 2001.

Back to the top

THE LEVIS EFFECT IN ST LOUIS, 1993-94

In 1993 two righthanded hitters split most of the catching chores for the St Louis Cardinals, Tom Pagnozzi and Erik Pappas.

In 1994 Pagnozzi got hurt in spring training, so Pappas won the job by default.

By May 5, Pappas had caught 15 games. His batting average was .091 (4 for 44), with no homers and 5 RBI. He had 4 assists and had committed 4 errors, with a fielding percentage of .955.

On May 5 Pagnozzi came off the disabled list, and Cardinals outrighted Pappas to Louisville. By the time the season ended prematurely on August 11, Pagnozzi had caught 70 games. He hit .272 (66 for 243), with 7 homers and 40 RBI. He had 41 assists and committed 1 error, with a fielding percentage of .998.

Pappas never returned to the major leagues after his banishment to Louisville. Pagnozzi signed a contract for a whopping (at that time) 2.5 million dollars per season.

Justice, you say? Produce or begone? Surely Pappas’ banishment and Pagnozzi's return saved the season in St Louis!

Consider this: Pappas' 1994 won-lost record was .500 (7-7). Maybe that’s nothing to write home about, but it was a whole lot better than Pagnozzi's mark of 28-39, .418.

Interestingly, Pappas had the superior record in 1993 as well.

 
1993 St Louis
GC
GS
CG
GR
W
L
ND
 
 
 
 
Tom Pagnozzi
92
90
83
2
47
43
2
 
 
Erik Pappas
63
53
49
10
32
24
7
 
 
Marc Ronan
6
3
1
3
0
2
4
 
 
Hector Villanueva
17
16
13
1
8
6
3
 
 
All
178
162
146
16
87
75
16
 
 
 
 
1994 St Louis
GC
GS
CG
GR
W
L
ND
 
 
 
 
Terry McGriff
39
33
30
6
18
15
6
 
 
Tom Pagnozzi
70
67
63
3
28
39
3
 
 
Erik Pappas
15
15
13
0
7
7
1
 
 
All
124
115
106
9
53
61
10
 

 
GC
=Games caught
 
 
GS
=Games started
 
 
CG
=Complete Games
 
 
GR
=Games relieved
 
 
W
=Won
 
 
L
=Lost
 
 
ND
=No decision
 

The conclusion is inescapable that even in 1994, when Pappas was producing poor “personal numbers,” the Cardinal team was better off with Pappas catching than with Pagnozzi.

Another righthanded hitter caught 17 games for the 1993 Cardinals. Hector Villanueva's won-lost record was 8-6 (.571), although he threw out just 3 runners and hit .145!

Righthanded batting Terry McGriff was the “second catcher” for the 1994 Cardinals. McGriff batted poorly (71 OQ as opposed to Pagnozzi's 99), but the Cardinals won 18 of his 33 decisions (.545).

After signing his big contract, Pagnozzi posted a cumulative losing record for 1995 and 1996. Was he overrated, overpaid, or both? Was he part of the solution in St Louis, or part of the problem? You be the judge!

Back to the top

THE LEVIS EFFECT IN CINCINNATI, 1994-96

Early in 1997 I wrote to a Cincinnati Enquirer sportswriter.

Dear Mr Y:

I read with interest your article on Eddie Taubensee in the January 29 issue of the Enquirer. I was intrigued by your use of statistics (particularly Stolen Base Percentage and Catcher Earned Run Average) to demonstrate Taubensee's defensive and game-calling shortcomings.

Stolen Base Percentage and Catcher Earned Run Average are worth knowing. But I'd like to introduce you to some stats I think are even more significant: Catcher Won-Lost Percentage.

Current baseball practice measures the accomplishments of only one player -- the pitcher -- in terms of wins and losses. For years, however, I've been studying the won-lost percentages of major league catchers. My system for awarding wins and losses is similar to the one currently used for pitchers.

My game-by-game logs of the 1995 and 1996 seasons reveal that the Reds were a better team with Taubensee behind the plate, if one defines better as "winning a higher percentage of games".

I've enclosed some facts and figures about the Reds catchers. When Taubensee joined the club in 1994 after Joe Oliver was injured, he did not perform as well as Brian Dorsett (a vastly underappreciated contributor). But in 1995 the team was vastly better with Taubensee than with the overrated Benito Santiago, whose lifetime winning percentage is far below .500. And the 1996 Reds won more with Taubensee than with Oliver.

Eddie Taubensee may or may be a good hitter. He may or may not stop the running game. He may or may not call a good game or handle pitchers well. He may be a good guy in the clubhouse, or he may be a pain in the rear. But there is one thing I can say with certainty about his recent performance: he has proven himself a winner. I'm just a fan, but if I could choose, I'd rather have a winner on my ballclub than a hitter or a thrower or a personality guy.

Is there room for improvement in Taubensee's game? Undoubtedly. Does he deserve the chance to be the #1 guy? After looking at his won-lost numbers, I say, absolutely! There is every likelihood that he will do a good job.

 
1994 Cincinnati
GC
GS
CG
GR
W
L
ND
 
 
 
 
Brian Dorsett
73
61
48
12
35
23
15
 
 
Joe Oliver
6
6
3
0
3
1
2
 
 
Eddie Taubensee
61
48
39
13
28
24
9
 
 
All
140
115
90
25
66
48
26
 
 
 
 
1995 Cincinnati
GC
GS
CG
GR
W
L
ND
 
 
 
 
Damon Berryhill
29
21
18
8
14
9
6
 
 
Benito Santiago
75
71
60
4
36
33
6
 
 
Eddie Taubensee
65
52
41
13
35
17
13
 
 
All
169
144
119
25
85
59
25
 
 
 
 
1996 Cincinnati
GC
GS
CG
GR
W
L
ND
 
 
 
 
Brook Fordyce
4
3
2
1
2
1
1
 
 
Joe Oliver
96
81
66
15
38
41
17
 
 
Eddie Taubensee
94
78
62
16
41
39
14
 
 
All
194
162
130
32
81
81
32
 

 
GC
=Games caught
 
 
GS
=Games started
 
 
CG
=Complete Games
 
 
GR
=Games relieved
 
 
W
=Won
 
 
L
=Lost
 
 
ND
=No decision
 

 
Three-Year Totals
GC
GS
CG
GR
W
L
ND
 
 
 
 
Eddie Taubensee
220
178
142
42
104
80
36
 
 
Others
283
243
197
40
128
108
47
 

Taubensee’s winning percentage was .565, versus .542 for all of Cincinnati’s other catchers. In a 162-game season, that’s the difference between 92 wins and 88. That could be the difference between a team that advances to the playoffs and one that stays home.

Back to the top

THE LEVIS EFFECT IN FLORIDA, 1996

Bob Natal of the 1996 Marlins didn't hit at all (.133 average, 56 OQ), and he was dropped from the team's 40-man roster after the season. But Natal's 12-12 record indicates that the team didn't suffer when he was catching. The Marlins performed just as well with Natal as they did with Gold-Glover Charles Johnson behind the plate.

 
1996 Florida
GC
GS
CG
GR
W
L
ND
 
 
Charles Johnson
120
113
100
7
57
58
5
 
Bob Natal
43
29
17
14
12
12
19
 
Joe Siddall
18
12
9
6
6
9
3
 
Greg Zaun
10
8
7
2
5
3
2
 
All
191
162
133
29
80
82
29

Back to the top

MOST CATCHERS IN ONE SEASON

The team that holds the all-time record for most catchers used in a season was not some ragged tail-ender. The 1911 Philadelphia Phillies were a strong contender for the National League pennant and might very probably have won the flag had they not lost the services of their number one backstop after a violent home plate collision in late July.

As Fred Lieb and Stan Baumgartner relate in their 1953 history The Philadelphia Phillies:

“The Phillies bobbed in and out of first place throughout the first half of the season, when the race developed into a humdinger, with five clubs, the Phillies, Giants, Cubs, Pirates, and Cardinals, in the running. The Phillies led at the proverbial Fourth of July halfway post, and as the Athletics also were first in the American League, Philadelphia fans were in a dither and speculating on an all-Philly World Series.”

At one time the Phillies led by as many as five games. After Independence Day the Cardinals and Pirates began to lose ground. Now the battle for first place was a three-way dogfight, and the Phillies continued to hold their own despite losing right fielder Silent John Titus to a fractured leg and volatile left fielder Sherry Magee to a league-mandated suspension after he coldcocked umpire Bill Finneran in the City of Brotherly Love on July 10.

Through their first 88 games the Phillies used only two catchers. (Their third-string man, Tom Madden, donned the tools of ignorance just once, absorbing a few innings of a 10-1 loss in the second game of a July 5 doubleheader.) Starting most of the games behind the plate was 32-year-old player-manager Charles “Red” Dooin. Dooin, sound defensively but in previous campaigns a below-average offensive performer, had emerged as a batsman to be reckoned with in 1911, averaging over .320 with an OQ above 110. Pat Moran, a smart 35-year-old veteran who’d been knocking around the National League since 1901, was an adequate backup.

On the morning of July 26 the standings were tightly bunched at the top: the Cubs led the Giants by a game and the Phillies by a half game. This was rarified air for the Phillies to be breathing. The Cubs had won four pennants since the turn of the century, the Giants two. The Phillies, members of the National League since 1883, had never finished in first place.

Dooin, who had caught more than 900 big league games, was behind the mask as the Phillies met the Cardinals in St. Louis that Wednesday afternoon. The Redbirds teed off against veteran righthander Earl Moore, piling up a 4-0 lead after three innings, which would have been greater had not the 165-pound Dooin blocked and tagged three runners at home. After St Louis manager Roger Bresnahan, a catcher himself, threatened to fine the next Cardinal cut down at the plate, center fielder Rebel Oakes slid hard into Dooin and knocked him sprawling. Oakes got up, but Dooin had to be carried off the field with a badly shattered leg. Team officials and physicians knew immediately that Dooin would not play again in 1911.

According to Lieb and Baumgartner:

“There was no replacement for the aggressive and talented Dooin. Pat Moran might have helped, but he had a bad arm and could scarcely get the ball down to second. Two former American Leaguers, Ed “Tubby” Spencer and Tom Madden, were ineffective and batted little. In desperation, (club president Horace) Fogel engaged Jack Kleinow, who had been Jack Chesbro’s catcher on the early New York Highlanders, but he was well past his prime. In the late season, the Phillies brought up a real catcher, Bill Killefer, who had been with the Browns in 1909-10 and spent the 1911 season with Buffalo. Killefer, unusually fast for a catcher and nicknamed Reindeer, later was to win fame as (Grover) Alexander’s great battery mate, but Bill then was a green kid and batted a paltry .188 in six games. The pitchers lost confidence in these lame-armed has-beens and immature catchers; the morale of the staff was shattered and the entire team sagged…”

“After all the fine promise, and the days spent in first place, the 1911 Phillies’ finish saw the club in the conventional fourth spot. They blew their chances for third place to the Pirates in a barren six days in the last week of the unhappy season.”

The Phillies had played better than .600 ball with Dooin. They struggled at a .400 pace (26-39) after he went down. After the bones in his leg knitted he returned to the field in 1912 but was never the same, playing second banana to Killefer until he and the Phillies parted ways in 1914. With Pat Moran succeeding Dooin as manager, the club finally won its first pennant in 1915.

1911 Phillies
GC
GS
CG
GR
W
L
ND
 
 
 
Dick Cotter
17
13
13
4
7
6
4
 
 
Charley Dooin
74
69
66
5
44
27
3
 
 
Bill Killefer
6
5
4
1
1
4
1
 
 
Jack Kleinow
4
2
2
2
1
1
2
 
 
Tom Madden
22
21
16
1
8
12
2
 
 
Pat Moran
32
29
24
3
12
15
5
 
 
John Quinn
1
1
0
0
0
1
0
 
 
Ed Spencer
11
10
7
1
5
5
1
 
 
Jimmy Walsh
4
3
3
1
1
2
1
 
 
All
171
153
135
18
79
73
19
 

 
GC
=Games caught
 
 
GS
=Games started
 
 
CG
=Complete Games
 
 
GR
=Games relieved
 
 
W
=Won
 
 
L
=Lost
 
 
ND
=No decision
 

The horrible Chicago Cubs of 1960, who finished one game out of the National League basement only because the Philadelphia Phillies were worse, employed 8 catchers. The Cubs’ team ERA of 4.35 was a third of a run worse than the Phillies’ mark. The Cubs substituted at catcher 74 times in 1960.

As Cliff Kachline reported in the 1961 Sporting News Official Baseball Guide, “Owner P.K. Wrigley of the Chicago Cubs pulled a strange managerial switch, May 4. With the club in the cellar, he summoned Lou Boudreau from the radio booth to succeed Charlie Grimm at the helm. Boudreau, former American League skipper, had been broadcasting the Cubs’ games and was replaced at the mike by Grimm. However, when Boudreau asked for a three-year contract at the end of the season, he was released, October 4. Subsequently he rejoined the Cub radio team and Wrigley announced he would hire eight coaches – including Grimm – for 1961 and have them take turns running the team.”

The 1960 Cubs played 156 games (60-94-2), 17 under Grimm (6-11-0, .353). Boudreau’s record was 54-83-2 (.394). They finished 35 games behind the pennant-winning Pittsburgh Pirates.

1960 Cubs
GC
GS
CG
GR
W
L
ND
 
Earl Averill
34
21
9
13
11
8
15
Dick Bertell
5
4
3
1
3
2
0
Jim Hegan
22
12
4
10
5
10
7
Cal Neeman
9
4
0
5
1
4
4
Del Rice
18
16
11
2
5
10
3
Elvin Tappe
49
38
21
11
17
23
9
Sammy Taylor
43
31
23
12
11
16
16
Moe Thacker
50
30
16
20
7
21
22
All
230
156
87
74
60
94
76

Then there is the curious case of the 1998 New York Mets. The Mets used 5 catchers to fashion a 24-20 record through May 22. On May 23 they introduced their 6th receiver, perennial All-Star Mike Piazza, whom they had extracted from Florida in a ballyhooed trade for rookie outfielder Preston Wilson and a brace of minor league nonentities. With the aid of Piazza and 2 more catchers the Mets went 64-54 the rest of the way to finish 88-74, 18 games behind Atlanta in the National League East but just a game behind the Cubs and Giants in the wild card standings, which they might have captured had they not lost their last 5 games (with Piazza behind the plate). When all was said and done, the 1998 Mets were no better with Piazza on the club (.542) than they had been without him (.545).

1998 Mets
GC
GS
CG
GR
W
L
ND
 
Alberto Castillo
35
29
21
6
16
10
9
Jorge Fabregas
12
5
4
7
1
5
6
Todd Hundley
2
2
1
0
1
0
1
Mike Piazza
99
98
83
1
54
42
3
Todd Pratt
16
8
8
8
6
4
6
Tim Spehr
21
15
12
6
9
9
3
Jim Tatum
4
1
0
3
0
1
3
Rick Wilkins
4
4
4
0
1
3
0
All
193
162
133
31
88
74
31

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RANDY HUNDLEY'S DURABILITY RECORD

If anyone could claim to achieve total Cubness during the team’s revival in the late 60s, it was Randy Hundley. His 1969 Topps baseball card (number 347) depicts the Hundley that Bruin fans remember: casting off his muzzle, teeth bared, eyes blazing, ever eager to pounce on a pop foul or maul a baserunner foolhardy enough to approach his lair, home plate.

The December 1965 trade that brought Hundley and Bill Hands from the Giants for Lindy McDaniel, Don Landrum, and Jim Rittwage was a John Holland masterstroke. New manager Leo Durocher took one look at Hundley and rubber-stamped his name onto the Cubs lineup card virtually every day for the next 4 years.

Hundley hit just .228 in '68. But nobody hit much that year, and besides, who could accuse “The Hund” of dogging it? In 1968 he caught 1,385 innings in 160 games. Both are major league records. He started 156 games behind the bat (another record) and completed 147 of them. During this span he committed only 5 errors. He was the catcher of record in all of Chicago's 84 wins.

Hundley was so solid a fixture behind home plate that he seemed to blend into the brick. The Cubs carried 5 other receivers on their 1968 roster. Remember Randy Bobb, John Boccabella, John Felske, Gene Oliver, and Bill Plummer? None of those guys wore the tools of ignorance for more than 28 innings. They watched the games forlornly from the bullpen.

In 1969 Hundley led the National League in games caught for the 4th consecutive season and earned All-Star recognition. But the following year he suffered a knee injury too serious to cure by rubbing dirt on it, and at age 28 his career was effectively over. The Cubs never recovered. They did not contend seriously again until the entire team was rebuilt.

1968 Cubs
GC
GS
CG
GR
W
L
ND
 
 
 
Randy Bobb
7
2
0
5
0
0
7
 
 
John Boccabella
4
4
2
0
0
2
2
 
 
John Felske
3
0
0
3
0
0
3
 
 
Randy Hundley
160
156
147
4
84
75
1
 
 
Gene Oliver
1
1
1
0
0
1
0
 
 
Bill Plummer
1
0
0
1
0
0
1
 
 
All
176
163
150
13
84
78
14
 

 
GC
=Games caught
 
 
GS
=Games started
 
 
CG
=Complete Games
 
 
GR
=Games relieved
 
 
W
=Won
 
 
L
=Lost
 
 
ND
=No decision
 

Hundley set major league records for games caught (160), games started (156), complete games (147), and innings caught (1385). All of these still stand except the complete games record. Ted Simmons of the Cardinals completed 148 of the 151 games he started in 1973, and Carlton Fisk completed 148 of the 150 games he started for the 1978 Red Sox.

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CATCHING 20 SHUTOUTS IN A SEASON

Although you don’t get extra credit for a shutout victory, baseball fans attach significance to whitewashes. The list of catchers who have caught 20 shutouts in one season is exceedingly short. It’s been done just 10 times, by 9 catchers.

 
Billy Sullivan, 1906 Chicago White Sox
21  
 
Johnny Kling, 1908 Chicago Cubs
23  
 
George Gibson, 1908 Pittsburgh Pirates
21  
 
George Gibson, 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates
21  
 
Ray Schalk, 1917 Chicago White Sox
20  
 
Jim Hegan, 1948 Cleveland Indians
24  
 
Yogi Berra, 1951 New York Yankees
23  
 
Johnny Edwards, 1963 Cincinnati Reds
21  
 
Bob Rodgers, 1964 Los Angeles Angels
23  
 
Tim McCarver, 1968 St Louis Cardinals
20  

For good measure, Sullivan, Kling, Gibson (1909), Hegan, and McCarver caught a shutout in that season’s World Series.

1909 was the year in which George Gibson set the all-time record for catcher wins in a single season (106).

Most of these accomplishments, as you might expect, occurred in seasons when hits and runs were hard to come by. It is interesting, then, that Hegan caught his record 24 shutouts in a season of robust offense. There was also plenty of offense in the American League of 1951, when Berra caught 23 shutouts.

Jim Hegan was a brilliant defensive catcher, and his lifetime winning percentage is excellent. Had he been just an average hitter, he’d be a sure Hall of Famer. Hegan, however, never had a single season in which he batted at or above the league average, as measured by the OQ. He was often removed for a pinch-hitter in the late innings of close games. His only halfway decent offensive year was the magical season of 1948, when he managed a 98 OQ.

Let us not forget the scourge of the Negro Leagues, Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe, who was famous for his ability to catch a shutout in the first game of a doubleheader (usually for Satchel Paige), then pitch a shutout in the nightcap!

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CATCHING 90 WINS IN A SEASON

As you can see, this is a short list. Only 9 catchers have done it.

 
George Gibson, 1908 Pittsburgh Pirates
91
 
 
George Gibson, 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates
106
 
 
Ray Schalk, 1920 Chicago White Sox
93
 
 
Steve O'Neill, 1920 Cleveland Indians
93
 
 
Mickey Cochrane, 1929 Philadelphia Athletics
93
 
 
Bill Dickey, 1937 New York Yankees
90
 
 
Bill Dickey, 1939 New York Yankees
90
 
 
Yogi Berra, 1950 New York Yankees
96
 
 
Roy Campanella, 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers
93
 
 
Yogi Berra, 1954 New York Yankees
101
 
 
Yogi Berra, 1955 New York Yankees
90
 
 
Carlton Fisk, 1977 Boston Red Sox
91
 
 
Carlton Fisk, 1978 Boston Red Sox
91
 
 
Rick Cerone, 1980 New York Yankees
90
 

George Gibson and Yogi Berra compiled especially impressive records of durability and achievement.

In 1909 Gibson set the major league record for wins caught in a season. Gibson caught every game from May 6 through October 2, 133 in a row (124 complete). He sat out on October 3 only because the Pirates had already clinched the pennant and manager Fred Clarke wanted to rest him for the upcoming World Series against Detroit.

Gibson caught 17 doubleheaders, including 2 on consecutive days (May 30-31).

1909 Pittsburgh
GC
GS
CG
GR
W
L
ND
 
 
George Gibson
150
150
141
0
106
42
2
 
Paddy O’Connor
3
1
1
2
1
0
2
 
Mike Simon
9
3
3
6
3
0
6
 
All
162
154
145
8
110
42
10

In 1954 Berra set the American League record for wins caught in a season. Unsurprisingly, Berra was voted American League MVP.

Berra caught 13 doubleheaders, including 2 on consecutive days (June 5-6).

Catchers Berra and Charlie Silvera were on the New York roster all year. Two other receivers, Lou Berberet and Gus Triandos, were called up in September and saw brief action.

1954 Yankees
GC
GS
CG
GR
W
L
ND
 
 
Lou Berberet
3
1
1
2
0
1
2
 
Yogi Berra
149
148
133
1
101
46
2
 
Charlie Silvera
18
6
5
12
2
4
12
 
Gus Triandos
1
0
0
1
0
0
1
 
All
171
155
139
16
103
51
17

Berra might have had another win in 1954, but for some unfathomable reason manager Casey Stengel started him at third base on the final day of the season. This was Berra's only career appearance at the hot corner. Berberet caught what turned out to be an 8-6 loss to the Philadelphia Athletics.

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CATCHING 90 LOSSES IN A SEASON

Thankfully, this is a very short list.

 
Cy Perkins, 1920 Philadelphia Athletics
97
 
 
Frank Hayes, 1936 Philadelphia Athletics
90
 
 
Randy Hundley, 1966 Chicago Cubs
92
 
 
Rick Cerone, 1979 Toronto Blue Jays
90
 
 
Tony Pena, 1985 Pittsburgh Pirates
90
 

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CATCHERS' WINNING PERCENTAGES

What catcher achieved the highest lifetime winning percentage in 1000 or more games caught? I have confirmed that it was Mickey Cochrane. Cochrane’s lifetime percentage was an other-worldly .643. 5 of the 13 teams for which he caught won the pennant, 6 finished second, and 2 finished third.

A .643 winning percentage is what your team would have if it amassed a 104-58 won-lost record in a 162-game season. Cochrane achieved this in a career of 1451 games caught (1925-1937).

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CAREER WINS OVER .500

At least eleven catchers who caught at least 1000 games have recorded 200 or more wins above the .500 mark. (Records for pre-1920 catchers are incomplete at this writing.) The eleven are:

 
Bill Dickey
1021-581 (+440)
 
 
Yogi Berra
1034-602 (+432)
 
 
Mickey Cochrane
892-495 (+397)
 
 
Jorge Posada
904-571 (+333)
 
 
Roy Campanella
715-405 (+310)
 
 
Jason Varitek
833-549 (+284)
 
 
Johnny Bench
957-688 (+269)
 
 
Johnny Bench
957-688 (+269)
 
 
Jim Hegan
832-596 (+236)
 
 
Gabby Harnett
950-722 (+228)
 
 
Javy Lopez
732-506 (+226)
 
 
Gary Carter
1075-870 (+205)
 

Among catchers who caught at least 1000 games, the all-time leader in losses below .500 is probably Frank Hayes at 509-705 (-196), followed by Cy Perkins at -193 with 387-580. Both men caught most of their games for ageless former catcher Connie Mack in Philadelphia… as did Cochrane.

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YOUTH AND AGE

Little is known about Frank Blank, who was long believed to be the youngest player ever to catch in the major leagues. Blank, a St Louis native whose birthdate was listed as October 18, 1892, caught a few innings of a Cardinals blowout loss to Brooklyn on August 15, 1909. Researchers subsequently learned that Tom Hess (born August 15, 1875) caught part of Baltimore’s 23-1 conquest of the Chicago Colts in the Charm City on June 6, 1892. Hess was 16 years and 296 days old when he caught for the Orioles, five days younger than Blank when the latter made his debut. Neither player would appear in another big league box score.

17-year olds who caught in the major leagues:

 
Jack O'Connor, 1887
5 games
 
 
Bill Farmer, 1888
4 games
 
 
Owen Shannon, 1903
8 games
 
 
Mike Loan, 1912
1 game
 
 
Harry Hanson, 1913
1 game
 
 
Jimmie Foxx, 1925
1 game
 
 
Roy Jarvis, 1944
1 game
 
 
Harry Chiti, 1950
1 game
 
 
Jim Pagliaroni, 1955
1 game
 
 
Frank Zupo, 1957
8 games
 
 
Tim McCarver, 1959
6 games
 
 
Ed Kirkpatrick, 1962
1 game
 

Ivan Rodriguez (born November 27, 1971) ranks second on the all-time list of games caught by a teenager (88 for Texas in 1991). Rodriguez’s won-lost record in these games was 36-42, with 10 no-decisions. Lew Brown (born February 1, 1858) caught 100 games for Boston in 1876-1877.

The oldest player to catch a major league game was Hall of Famer Jim O'Rourke (born September 1, 1850). At the nontender age of 54 “The Orator” caught all 9 innings of the New York Giants’ 7-5 victory over Cincinnati by Iron Man McGinnity on September 22, 1904.

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ZUVERINK AND ZUPO

When the Baltimore Orioles signed catcher Frank Zupo out of high school in 1957 for a substantial bonus, they were obliged, under the rules of the day, to carry him on the major league roster. This bonus baby's debut was a memorable one. In a tie game with the Yankees at Baltimore on July 1, manager Paul Richards elected to pinch hit for his catcher, Joe Ginsberg, in the bottom of the ninth. The pinch hitter struck out, and the game went into extra innings.

Richards had already used his other catcher, Gus Triandos, as a pinch hitter in the eighth, so Zupo was pressed into emergency service behind the plate. Oddly, the 17-year-old Zupo found himself receiving the tosses of righthander George Zuverink, forming an end-of-the-alphabet battery tandem whose like may never again be seen in the major leagues. The first Yankee to bat in the 10th was Mickey Mantle. Whatever pitches Zupo called did not bewilder the Commerce Comet, who slammed a home run high into the right field bleachers. Zupo did not come to bat in Baltimore's half of the 10th, and the Orioles, who failed to score in this stanza, lost by a run.

1957 Baltimore
GC
GS
CG
GR
W
L
ND
 
Joe Ginsberg
66
47
30
19
23
23
20
Tom Patton
1
0
0
1
0
0
1
Jim Pyburn
1
0
0
1
0
0
1
Gus Triandos
120
106
81
14
53
51
16
Frank Zupo
8
1
1
7
0
2
6
All
196
154
112
42
76
76
44

When in Punta Arenas, stay at the Hotel Cabo de Hornos.

December 2011

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