Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Catcher Project: Left out

That's the 14 players in the pool. Assorted comments about a few guys who I didn't do the full takeout on:

Rick Ferrell is in the Hall of Fame, for reasons understood only by the people on the Veterans Committee that inducted him. He didn't make the pool because he wasn't that good. He did play until he was 41, but he had just two seasons of 100-plus games caught after age 31.

Ray Schalk is also in the Hall of Fame. His credentials: He was a "Clean Sox" — one of the 1919 Chicago White Sox not involved in throwing the World Series — and he held the career record for games caught for 14 years or so. Slightly better qualified than Ferrell, but still a weak selection. Mainly a dead ball era guy, he was washed up after his age 32 season.

If Schalk and Ferrell belong in the Hall, so do — oh, Bob Boone and Jim Sundberg and Del Crandall and Tony Pena and ... well, these guys too:

Joe Torre (photo above) will be in Cooperstown someday for his managerial exploits with the Yankees and Dodgers. He was, or should have been, a strong borderline candidate as a player, probably hurt by splitting his time between three positions (903 games at catcher, 787 games at first base, 515 at third base).

He won the Gold Glove at catcher in 1964, which seems preposterous (especially in a league with John Roseboro and Johnny Edwards) — he was never really an outstanding defensive player, and his last game caught in the majors came at age 29. He never caught more than 114 games in a season.

Leaving Torre out troubled me a bit because he DID change positions. My sense of it — and this is more than four decades ago — is that he was phased out of catching (1967-1970) because he wasn't that good at it. He was valuable there because he could hit. And then Ted Simmons came along, and suddenly Torre was a full-time third baseman.

This is a different situation that Mauer. Mauer is regarded as a standout defensive catcher. Moving him to third base would be done to preserve his health. Torre was moved to improve the team.

Elston Howard was better than, or at least as good as, some of the guys in the pool. He didn't reach the majors until he was 26 — the Yankees were slow to get in on this integration fad — and then he had to play just about anyplace other than catcher because the Yankees had Berra. He didn't get to catch 100 games in a season until 1961, when he was 32 — about the age much of the pool started to break down — and had a very strong four-year run as a regular, including winning the MVP Award in 1963.

Thurman Munson, like Carlton Fisk and Johnny Bench, was born in 1947. He died, as noted in the Roy Campanella comment, in a plane crash as age 32. While his batting average still looked good, his power had pretty much dried up and he was having the back and knee problems that shorten many catchers' careers. Which figures; he caught 130-plus games a year pretty regularly in his 20s.

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