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I am not sure if any team in the MLB has as rich a history at the catcher position than the Yankees. From Yogi Berra and his 10 World Series rings, to Elston Howard breaking the Yankee color barrier, and Thurman Munson’s tragic death, the Yankees have sent some of the best catchers to home plate. To pick the best catcher of all-time, in my opinion, is impossible, but I shall try my best. I will, in chronological order, present each players case and, in conclusion, deliver my verdict.
Bill Dickey played catcher for the Yankees from 1928-1946 and sported a .988 fielding percentage, but it wasn’t his defense which set him apart. His career .313 BA fit well with Gehrig and Ruth. So did his 1209 career RBIs. Gehrig’s best friend on the Yankees was considered the unofficial captain after his death and carried the team to a championship in 1943 when DiMaggio was fighting the war. He won seven champions total and eight pennants, only losing in ’42. His number is retired and has been enshrined in Yankees Monument Park.
Lawrence “Yogi” Berra played for the Yankees from 1946-1963 and in that time won 14 American League pennants, and 10 World Series. Only Bill Russell and Henri Richards have more titles in their respective sports each winning 11. He is a Hall of Famer, has a plague in Monument Park, and his number is retired. All for good reason too. He won three league MVP’s (‘51, ‘54, ’55), and touted a career .285 BA. His 1430 RBIs and 358 HRs are no joking matter either. He was known for his offense but his defense was no joke either. He played not only catcher, but the corner outfield positions as well as the corner infield positions, and in that versatility did not lose any skill. His career fielding percentage was at .988. While Berra was definitely lucky in the sense he got to play with some of the games all time greats, he was no pushover himself and contributed to each and every World Series team.
Elston Howard played for the Yankees from 1955-1967 but was forced to left field by Yogi until 1959 when his took the catcher spot by storm. He threw out 44% of stealing attempts over his career, and was also utilized in the outfield and first base. He finished his career with a robust .992 fielding percentage. Howard is most notably known as being the first African American to win the AL MVP in 1963. That year he carried the team in the absence of Mantle and Maris and led Whitey Ford to 24 wins that season. Unfortunately Howard has not made it into baseball’s Hall of Fame, but his number is retired and is forever remembered in Monument Park.
The first Yankee captain since Lou Gehrig, Thurman Munson was an offensive power who had injury problems. He played for the Yankees from 1969-1979 and while Reggie Jackson was infamously the “straw that stirred the drink,” Munson was the glue that kept everything together. His 11 years as a Yankee won him a Rookie of the Year honors in 1970 as well as a MVP in 1976 and is the only Yankee to ever win both awards. He won back-to-back championships with the team. His career was tragically cut short when his plane crashed in August of the ’79 season. He too was a defensive gem playing corner infield and outfield positions and rocking a .982 fielding percentage. Due to his unfortunate situation he was the quickest Yankee enshrined in Monument Park, and his number will forever be retied.
Finally we get to Jorge Posada, who played for the Yankees from 1995-2011, and who is at an immediate disadvantage because he hasn’t had the opportunity for his name to get old yet. This is his first year of retirement and he hasn’t been available for voting into the Hall of Fame yet. He was less versatile when it came to fielding, but offensively he switch hit and did it well. 275 HRs and 1065 RBIs anchored a very potent Yankee offense during their latest World Series runs. His .992 fielding percentage is quite remarkable too! Although his numbers began to slip towards the end of his career I still feel he is a Hall of Fame catcher, but only time will tell.
Now that each of the top five catcher’s cases has been made I must decide who I feel is the best. Simply due to the amount of time he spent behind the plate, and the shear amount of rings he has Yogi has to be chosen. He doesn’t have offensive numbers like Dickey, who I think is second, and his defense wasn’t the best, but he defined being a Yankee for so long and was so successful in pinstripes it’s difficult to give it to anyone else.