In 2021, we unknowingly saw the final season of a catcher that's probably headed for the Hall of Fame. 2022 is likely to bring the conclusion of another illustrious catching career as well.
After opting out of the 2020 season, Buster Posey returned with one of his finest seasons of his career in 2021, slashing .304/.390/.499 with a 4.9 fWAR. While he could have remained with the Giants in 2022, the former National League MVP opted to retire after a magical season that saw the only team he ever played for win a franchise-record 107 regular season games.
Posey only played 12 seasons, but his 36.6 WAR 7 -- a combination of a player's seven-highest single-season bWAR totals -- is tied for ninth in MLB history among catchers, giving you an idea of how much of a force he was at the height of his powers. From here, Posey should be a slam-dunk Hall of Famer when he first appears on the ballot in 2027.
Meanwhile, 10-time All-Star Yadier Molina has said that 2022 will be his final campaign. Molina may not have the same peak offensive stats as some other Hall of Fame catchers, but his combination of elite defense and tremendous longevity figure to make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2028.
Heck, if Posey doesn't go in on the first ballot -- and predicting how Hall of Fame voters will view a candidate appears to be a lost cause at this stage -- it's possible that he and Molina could go into Cooperstown as part of the same class, a fitting end for two players that have been compared and contrasted for years.
While we expect both Posey and Molina to eventually be enshrined in baseball's most prestigious museum, they both fall a bit short of being among the very best catchers in MLB history. Here are the nine greatest catchers in MLB history:
9. Bill Dickey - New York Yankees (1928-1943; 1946)
Best Season: 1937 - .332/.417/.570 with 29 home runs, 133 RBIs, 73 walks, .987 OPS, 5.9 offensive WAR, 1.3 defensive WAR and a 6.7 fWAR
Career Summary: .313/.382/.486 with 202 home runs, 1,209 RBIs, 678 walks, 1,969 hits, .868 OPS, 127 OPS+, 53.0 offensive WAR, 10.2 defensive WAR and 56.1 fWAR
Dickey was a teammate of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and his successor had an even better career than he did, which is partially why he's underappreciated in history. Still, Dickey made 11 All-Star teams in his own right, and helped the Yankees to win seven World Series titles. He finished the season with a batting average north of .320 seven times, and may have done so more times if he didn't lose the 1944 and 1945 season due to military service.
8. Thurman Munson - New York Yankees (1969-1979)
Best Season: 1973 - .301/.362/.487 with 20 home runs, 74 RBIs, 48 walks, .849 OPS, 6.2 offensive WAR, 2.1 defensive WAR and a 6.6 fWAR
Career Summary: .292/.346/.410 with 113 home runs, 701 RBIs, 438 walks, 1,558 hits, .756 OPS, 116 OPS+, 43.2 offensive WAR, 11.9 defensive WAR and 40.9 fWAR
Because of his tragic death in a plane crash at age 32, Munson only played in parts of 11 seasons. It's difficult to know how many more peak seasons he would have had given the short shelf life of catchers, but it's fair to assume he would have been higher on this list if he got to play a full career. Still, Munson has the eighth-highest WAR 7 of any catcher in MLB history, won a Rookie of the Year, three Gold Glove Awards and made seven All-Star teams. His peak was strong enough to override the fact that he doesn't have a full career's worth of counting numbers.
7. Joe Mauer - Minnesota Twins (2004-2018)
Best Season: 2009 - .365/.444/.587 with 28 home runs, 96 RBIs, 76 walks, 1.031 OPS, 7.7 offensive WAR, 0.7 defensive WAR and an 8.4 fWAR
Career Summary: .306/.388/.439 with 143 home runs, 923 RBIs, 939 walks, 2,123 hits, .827 OPS, 124 OPS+, 53.0 offensive WAR, 3.1 defensive WAR and 52.5 fWAR
Mauer perhaps didn't have the same longevity as players like Yadier Molina, Brian McCann and Russell Martin, but he has a 39.0 WAR 7, the fifth-highest among all catchers in MLB history. Mauer won the American League MVP in 2009 by putting together one of the most complete seasons in MLB history, and was one of the five most valuable offensive players in baseball between 2006 and 2013, per FanGraphs. There will likely be quite the debate about Mauer when he becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot in 2024, but from here, there's no debate - Mauer is a Hall of Famer.
6. Carlton Fisk - Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox (1969; 1971-1993)
Best Season: 1977 - .315/.402/.521 with 26 home runs, 102 RBIs, 75 walks, .922 OPS, 5.7 offensive WAR, 2.4 defensive WAR and a 7.6 fWAR
Career Summary: .269/.341/.457 with 376 home runs, 1,330 RBIs, 849 walks, 2,356 hits, .797 OPS, 117 OPS+, 66.3 offensive WAR, 17.0 defensive WAR and 68.3 fWAR
Fisk had unfathomable longevity for a catcher, splitting 24 seasons with the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox. Said longevity allowed him to rack up a 68.4 bWAR over his career, the fourth highest mark among all catchers in MLB history. To view Fisk as someone that simply compiled numbers would be incorrect, though. Fisk won the 1972 American League Rookie of the Year, won three Silver Sluggers and made 11 All-Star teams. Between 1970 and 2000, FanGraphs says he was the second most valuable offensive catcher.
5. Yogi Berra - New York Yankees; New York Mets (1946-1963; 1965)
Best Season: 1956 - .298/.378/.534 with 30 home runs, 105 RBIs, 65 walks, .911 OPS, 5.6 offensive WAR, 1.2 defensive WAR and a 6.4 fWAR
Career Summary: .285/.348/.482 with 358 home runs, 1,430 RBIs, 704 walks, 2,150 hits, .830 OPS, 125 OPS+, 56.2 offensive WAR, 9.2 defensive WAR and 63.7 fWAR
They don't name cartoon bears after you if you aren't an icon. Between 1945 and 1965, FanGraphs says that Berra was the seventh-most valuable offensive player in baseball, trailing only Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Eddie Matthews and Hank Aaron. Not bad. An 18-time All-Star, Berra is the only player in MLB history to win 10 World Series titles.
4. Mike Piazza - Los Angeles Dodgers, Florida Marlins, New York Mets, San Diego Padres and Oakland Athletics (1992-2007)
Best Season: 1997 - .362/.431/.638 with 40 home runs, 124 RBIs, 69 walks, 1.070 OPS, 66.4 offensive WAR, 1.5 defensive WAR and a 9.1 fWAR
Career Summary: .308/.377/.545 with 427 home runs, 1,335 RBIs, 759 walks, 2,127 hits, .922 OPS, 143 OPS+, 66.4 offensive WAR, 1.5 defensive WAR and 63.7 fWAR
His work behind the plate wasn't nearly impressive as the top three on this list, but Piazza is the greatest offensive catcher in MLB history, touting a position-high 66.4 offensive WAR. Many great catchers -- even ones on this list -- have strong offensive numbers for this position. Piazza's numbers would have played at any position, that's how much of an offensive force he was. Piazza's 427 career home runs are by far the most of anyone whose primary position was catcher, and he's also the all-time leader at the position for slugging percentage and OPS.
3. Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez - Texas Rangers, Florida Marlins, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees, Houston Astros and Washington Nationals (1991-2011)
Best Season: 1999 - .332/.356/.558 with 35 home runs, 113 RBIs, 24 walks, .914 OPS, 4.6 offensive WAR, 2.7 defensive WAR and a 6.8 fWAR
Career Summary: .296/.334/.464 with 311 home runs, 513 walks, 2,844 hits, 1,332 RBIs, .798 OPS, 106 OPS+, 54.5 offensive WAR, 29.6 defensive WAR and 69.2 fWAR
Many of the defensive metrics used today weren't around during Pudge's peak, which is a shame because he's probably the greatest defensive catcher in baseball history. Rodriguez's 29.6 defensive WAR is the highest mark for any catcher in MLB history. Though not always the most dominant hitter with the last name Rodriguez on his own team, Pudge was an elite hitter at his peak and has the sixth-highest offensive WAR of all catchers in MLB history.
2. Gary Carter - Montreal Expos, New York Mets, San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers (1974-1992)
Best Season: 1982 - .293/.381/.510 with 29 home runs, 97 RBIs, 78 walks, .890 OPS, 6.9 offensive WAR, 2.8 defensive WAR and an 8.4 fWAR
Career Summary: .262/.335/.439 with 324 home runs, 1,225 RBIs, 848 walks, 2,092 hits, .773 OPS, 115 OPS+, 56.3 offensive WAR, 26.1 defensive WAR and 69.4 fWAR
An 11-time All-Star, Carter is part of a rare group of players that made four plus All-Star appearances with two different teams, as he made seven with the Montreal Expos and four with the New York Mets. Though he's perhaps most synonymous with the 1986 Mets, Carter is one of just three players to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a member of the Expos, the team he spent 12 of his 19 seasons with. Carter is second among all catchers in history with a 26.1 defensive WAR, and is fourth with a 56.3 offensive WAR.
1. Johnny Bench - Cincinnati Reds (1967-1983)
Best Season: 1970 - .293/.345/.587 with 45 home runs, 148 RBIs, 54 walks, .932 OPS, 6.3 offensive WAR, 1.8 defensive WAR and a 7.9 fWAR
Career Summary: .267/.342/.476 with 389 home runs, 1,376 RBIs, 2,048 hits, .817 OPS, 126 OPS+, 65.7 offensive WAR, 19.7 defensive WAR and 74.8 fWAR
Bench is fairly universally viewed as the greatest catcher in MLB history. A key cog in Sparky Anderson's "Big Red Machine," Bench won a National League Rookie of the Year Award, 10 Gold Glove Awards and two National League MVPs. A 14-time All-Star, Bench is the all-time leader in bWAR and JAWS at the catcher position.