There are 16 catchers in baseball’s Hall of Fame, including three from the Negro Leagues, two Yankees, and two who don’t belong. Which brings us to Jorge Posada — or not.
Posada recently retired after 15 full major league seasons with a deserved reputation for power, winning, patience at the plate and impatience on the bases. Defensively, he competed, like a middle-aged man who tries all the diets and keeps gaining weight, valiantly but not often successfully.
Which begets the question of whether Posada — a .273 average, 275 career high home runs, 1,065 RBIs, 936 walks, 1,664 hits and four World Series titles (sorry, Bleacher Report: Posada doesn’t get credit for 1996 when his contributions were a hit and a walk in 15 regular-season plate appearances) — is a Hall of Famer.
By the weakest links he is. But compared to Veterans Committee selections Ray Schalk and Rick Ferrell, Yadier Molina is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. If Schalk and Ferrell were the standard, Mickey Tettleton would have been inducted long ago.
(No amount of defense could justify Schalk or Ferrell in the Hall. Schalk was the catcher for the Black Sox untainted by the 1919 scandal; he must have been selected for his virtue, because it certainly couldn’t have been for his career .253 average, 11 homers or .656 OPS, even in the Dead Ball Era. Sympathy may have helped Ferrell, who was a better hitter than Schalk (who wasn’t, this side of Brad Ausmus?) with a career .281 average, 28 homers and 931 walks vs. 277 strikeouts in 18 seasons. The unfortunate Ferrell spent 15 of his 18 seasons with either the Washington Senators or St. Louis Browns).
Versus the 13 Hall of Fame catchers we can compare traditional stats to (Negro Leagues are incomplete), Posada is in the middle: fifth in on-base percentage, OPS and homers; seventh in slugging percentage and RBIs, eighth in runs scored. When Mike Piazza goes in, Posada will rank a little lower.
You can bolster Posada’s case, and no doubt his backers will, by pointing out his career .848 OPS is higher than Johnny Bench’s (.817), Yogi Berra’s (.830) and Carlton Fisk’s (.797) and far higher than Gary Carter’s (.773).
Not impressed? Consider this: Posada’s career OPS is higher than first-ballot Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson (.846), Eddie Murray (.836) and Carl Yastrzemski (.841) and better than Robert Clemente (.834), who was elected in a special election the year after his death.
What does it mean? Not what you think. The OPS argument is one for the context of advanced stats, not Posada’s induction. Because Posada’s .848 in today’s era isn’t equal to Bench’s .817 in his.
Maybe someday sabermetricians will come up with an exchange rate or adjusted for offensive inflation numbers. Until then we have WAR (wins above replacement) and OPS+ (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage adjusted for home park; 100 is league average). And Posada doesn’t fare any better there than he did in throwing out opposing base stealers (just 28% for his career).
Posada is 11th of 14th in OPS+ compared to the 13 Hall of Fame catchers — he’s ahead of only Carter 121-115, and of course, Schalk (83) and Ferrell (95). Posada is a little better in WAR: he’s ninth, beating only Roger Bresnahan (44.7-41.6), Roy Campanella (35.1, though Campy played only 10 seasons), and of course, Schalk (22.6) and Ferrell (22.9).
Posada might not even be the best Yankee catcher not in the Hall. Thurman Munson was a MVP and Rookie of the Year, and while his career OPS is 92 points less than Posada’s, he’s only 1.3 points behind in WAR (44.7-43.4) despite playing only 11 seasons (the stat is cumulative).
And let’s not suggest the Yankees’ titles as reason for Posada’s induction. That Posada played on great teams and with great players doesn’t make him greater or deserving of induction. If it did, Scott Brosius would be in the Hall.
Like Bernie Williams, the best that can be said about Posada is he’s close. But even if you believe in a big Hall, it’s not that big.
The 16 catchers in the Hall of Fame:
Johnny Bench: Won 10 straight Gold Gloves, from his rookie year in 1968-1977. Was succeeded by Phillies’ Bob Boone in 1978. Bench’s career 71.3 WAR is best among Hall of Fame catchers.
Yogi Berra: Lost two seven-game World Series as manager: with ’64 Yankees to Cards, and ’73 Mets to A’s. Finished in the top five in MVP voting for seven straight seasons from 1950-56, winning three.
Roger Bresnahan: One of five Veterans Committee picks (Ray Schalk, Ernie Lombardi, Rick Ferrell and Buck Ewing to follow). Stole 212 bases, including 34 for 1903 New York Giants. Season-high in RBIs, despite .764 career OPS, was 56 in 1902.
Roy Campanella: Threw out 57% of opposing base stealers, including 69% in 1948 and 1951. Like Berra, a three-time MVP, including 1955 when both MVPs were catchers.
Gary Carter: Runner-up for 1975 Rookie of the Year award behind John Montefusco. Expos had two of the top four in Carter and third baseman Larry Parrish.
Mickey Cochrane: Caught and managed Tigers AL champs in 1934 and World Series champs in 1935 in his first two years as manager; safe to say he’s Boston University’s best-ever baseball player (also played football there).
Bill Dickey: Hit .362 and slugged .617 in 1936, and finished fifth in MVP voting. Deservedly so — winner Lou Gehrig hit .354 with 49 homers and 152 RBIs.
Buck Ewing: Began career with the Troy (N.Y.) Trojans in 1880, before playing most of it for the New York Giants. Hit 178 career triples, including NL-best 20 in 1884.
Rick Ferrell: Seven times an All Star, had .378 career on-base percentage. Brother Wes Ferrell was a teammate on the ’35 Red Sox, when Wes won 25 games (193 in his career), and he pitched 322.1 innings.
Carlton Fisk: New Hampshire native, played basketball and baseball for the University of New Hampshire. Caught 2,226 games in his career; retired at age 45.
Josh Gibson: According to baseballhall.org, batted .426 in recorded at-bats vs. major-league pitching. Hall of Fame plaque says he hit almost 800 home runs and was four-time Negro League batting champion. Was 35 when he died in January the year Jackie Robinson integrated MLB.
Gabby Hartnett: Was 37 when he hit the famous “Homer in the Gloaming” to put the Cubs in first place on their way to the 1938 pennant. Hartnett hit it with two outs and on an 0-2 pitch. Was one of only 10 he hit in 1938; hit only 18 of his career 236 in the next three years. 1935 MVP after hitting .344 and slugging .544.
Ernie Lombardi: Two-time batting champ (.342 for 1938 Reds, .330 for 1942 Braves); career high in strikeouts was 25 for 1944 Giants.
Biz Mackey: Baseballhall.org says Mackey was teacher to Campanella, and Mackey’s career stretched from 1918-47, which would have made Mackey 50 when he retired. Hall plaque said he hit .300 “most seasons.”
Louis Santop: Played in the Negro Leagues in the early part of the 20th century. Renowned for prodigious home runs. According to sabr.org, he was nicknamed “Big Bertha,” and like Babe Ruth, liked to call his home runs.
Ray Schalk: Hit .304 in 1919 Series; in 49 Series at-bats, he did not have an extra-base hit. Had only 259 of them in 6,217 career regular season plate appearances.