Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Look Back At Top Catchers In Red Sox History

by Larry Shiman, FN Board Member

With the hot stove league yet to get warm, and no games to agonize over, it’s a good time to look back. Bob Ryan wrote a column a few days ago listing his top 25 Red Sox of all time. It’s a fun list, although I’ll certainly take issue with a few selections.

Sometimes it’s fun to dig a little deeper. And with no further ado, I present the top ten catchers in Red Sox history, based solely on what they did while representing our fair city.

10.  Bob Tillman, 1962 to 1967. The primary catcher during the darkest of days before the impossible dream, Tillman generally wasn’t a particularly good player for most of his stay in Boston – he’s one of the reasons they were dark days. He did have one good year, though, which earns him a spot in the top 10. In 1964, Tillman hit .278 with 17 home runs, while catching 131 games for the Sox. There was a league-wide offensive drought in the middle ‘60s, making this a particularly impressive season. Besides which, there just haven’t been that many guys who have caught 500 games for the Sox.

9. Tony Pena, 1990-1993. I remember Pena as being close to the end of his career when he joined the team, but it was more the middle of a long, successful career. Pena was a workhorse for four years, catching well over 500 games in the four years he was here. Like Tillman, he really only had one good offensive year, 1990, but he could play defense, won a gold glove, and helped the Sox to one more division title under the other Joe Morgan.

8. Jared Saltalamacchia, 2011-2013. Well that didn’t take long. He didn’t hit in the post season, but he sure did between April and September this year. And he wasn’t that bad in 2011 or 2012 either. Salty can’t hit lefties, and probably shouldn’t play against them, but he mashes righties pretty good.

7. Birdie Tebbets, 1947-1950. Tebbets was an important part of Joe McCarthy’s crew, the team that continually just missed making the Series. He was getting on in years when he joined the team – he was 34 in 1947 – but that didn’t stop him from having some good years in Boston. He hit .287 during his time here, with an excellent on base percentage. He was an all-star in both 1948 and 1949, and even finished in the top 20 in the MVP voting both years. A local boy – Tebbetts was born in Vermont and raised in Nashua, New Hampshire, Tebbets was a pretty successful manager for a while after he retired.

6. Sammy White, 1951-1959. White was the regular catcher for nearly the entire decade. In the early 50’s he was quite good, hitting around .270 with some power. Those teams weren’t particularly memorable, so White isn’t remembered much, but he was a pretty good player for a few years.

5. Rick Ferrell, 1933-1937. A hall of famer in one of Cooperstown’s more confused votes, Ferrell was pretty good for a few years. During his time here, he hit around .300 every year, and was named to the all-star team every year, although I can’t imagine anyone thought he was better than Mickey Cochrane or Bill Dickey, his contemporaries. Hitting .300 in the mid 30’s wasn’t that impressive an accomplishment, but it beat the alternative.

4. Bill Carrigan, 1906-1916. Carrigan caught here for quite a while, including three World Series teams. He was a fairly good hitter for the time, hitting nearly .300 in his best year (1909), and had a reputation for excellent defense, particularly plate blocking. He generally caught between 80 and 100 games a year, which was fairly common in those days – there wasn’t a whole lot of padding or armor in those days, and catchers took a beating.  Another local boy – Carrigan was born in Lewiston, Maine and attended Holy Cross. Oh yeah, he managed the Red Sox to two World Series titles while catching. Not bad.

3. Rich Gedman, 1980-1990. The Worcester native was a heckuva player for a few years, Gedman’s best years were a bit before the Sox won the pennant in ’86. In 1984, Gedman hit 24 homers and batted .269. He followed this with 18 homers and a .295 average, excellent numbers for a catcher in the mid ‘80’s. After ’86, Gedman was done as a productive player, but he made his mark.

2. Jason Varitek, 1999-2011. Obviously, you know about this guy. Tek holds most of the Sox catching records. A three time all-star and an ultimate Red Sock.

1. Carlton Fisk, 1969-1980. Fisk had some real trouble staying injury free while wearing red rather than white, so it’s amazing he was able to catch 2226 games in his entire career. That said, Fisk had some amazing years here. Not sure which was his best – 1972 (a truly great rookie season), 1977 or 1978. A seven time all-star. Great rivalry with Thurman Munson, though when healthy, I’d take our guy.