The great Joe Posnanski recently pointed out, in writing about the presence of Jorge Posada for the first time on the writers' ballot, something I was vaguely aware of but had not really put together in my brain:
Six catchers -- only six -- whose careers began after World War II have been elected to the Hall of Fame by the writers. They are, more or less chronologically, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter and Mike Piazza. Only one of those six (Bench) went in on the first ballot.
The writers have been stricter on catchers, Pos postulates, than on other players of other positions. I think he's right. I think the writers have, for generations, applied the offensive standards they use for outfielders in weighing the candidacies of catchers, while still demanding the higher level of defense from catchers that they do for middle infielders.
Heck, Ted Simmons was a better hitter in his prime years than Jim Rice or Tony Perez. But Simba caught, while Rice pretended to be a left fielder and Perez butchered third base before moving to first, and the position beat the brilliance out of Simmons. He was essentially done -- as is the case with almost all outstanding hitting catchers -- by age 30.
Catchers don't rack up the numbers that outfielders and first basemen do. They can't. It's not physically possible.
Posada played 17 years with the Yankees, but two of them at the start
were cuppa coffee and another seven were two-thirds time at best. That
cuts him down to nine seasons as the clear primary catcher. He was the
best hitting catcher in the league for a few years, until Joe Mauer
arrived, and then he was the second best hitting catcher in the league for a few years. He was never a stellar defensive backstop, but his teams sure
as hell won a lot anyway. His highest finish in the MVP voting was 2003
(third behind Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Delgado); I remember thinking at
the time that I would have voted for Posada.
Had I a Hall of Fame vote, Posada would get one. Simmons would have too, easily, and Bill Freehan. Posnanski says Posada falls outside the established parameters for Cooperstown catchers, that he's closer to Simmons than to Piazza, and I agree on that. If Simmons doesn't belong, Posada doesn't either. But I think those standards are overly strict.