UPDATED WITH CATCHER INDUCTEES
Elston Howard, Thurman Munson, Jorge Posada
Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra (automatics)
Catcher is the most demanding position in baseball, as catchers year in and year out undergo a seemingly endless string of injuries, all while needing to maintain an excellent knowledge of their respective pitching staffs. The Yankees have had 133 different players put on the catching gear over the years, but only three have been nominated by Pinstripe Alley to join the #8s (Dickey & Berra) in our Hall of Fame: Elston Howard, Thurman Munson, and Jorge Posada .
Here is the how the voting process is going to work:
- Anyone who is a member of Pinstripe Alley can vote! Vote in the comment section!
- There will be a separate post and ballot for each position, though we will likely (unless there's an objection) split the starting pitchers into two ballots each since so many were nominated. The SP ballots would likely be split by era.
- There are no limits as to how many players you can put on your commented ballot. You could also submit an empty ballot if you feel none of the candidates are deserving and you want the voting to recognize your opinion. Remember, we're looking to recognize players for what they did during their Yankees career, not anywhere else.
- We will adapt the Baseball Hall of Fame's required percentage and say a player needs to appear on 75% of the commented ballots to make it to the PSA Hall of Fame. I will close commenting about two and a half days after the post goes up.
- Don't assume that a player you think is definitely deserving will make it in! Vote for him, we could see some surprises.
- Finally, we really need a good amount of comments for this series to make sense and give a good representation of who Pinstripe Alley thinks are truly the best Yankees, so please participate! There's not going to be much of a point to getting the community's input on this series if we're only getting ten ballots per position post.
(NYY: 1955-67) Most people remember Elston Howard for being the Yankees' first African-American player, but he would have been remembered for his excellent play regardless. The team was unfortunately one of the last in baseball to integrate, as general manager George Weiss had previously stated that no black player would ever put on the pinstripes. However, by the middle of the 1950s, it became evident to even Weiss that he had to change his policies; not only were teams all around the league reaping the benefits of good African-American players, but the Yankees had a player in their organization whose talent was impossible to ignore. Howard had been signed by the Yankees from the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs in 1950, and he had won the International League MVP in '54. Howard broke camp with the Yankees in '55, but it was hard to get many at-bats for him as a catcher backing up '54 AL MVP Yogi Berra (fortunately, there was no animosity between the two, and they became great friends). Howard found time in the outfield, and he had a .290/.336/.477 triple slash to go with a 116 wRC+ in his rookie year.
Though the Yankees won five AL Pennants and two World Series titles, Howard continued to play mostly in the outfield through 1960 as manager Casey Stengel still preferred the elder Berra, even when he was 35. By '61 though, Stengel was gone, and new manager Ralph Houk decided to go with the already 4-time All-Star Howard as his regular catcher. Howard responded with a terrific season in '61 playing in the shadow of stars Roger Maris & Mickey Mantle, as played 111 games behind the plate, through out 50% of baserunners trying to steal, and hit .348/.387/.549 with a career-best 149 wRC+. Catchers Howard, Berra, and third-string Johnny Blanchard combined to hit 64 homers as the Yankees won 109 games and the '61 World Series. After another good season and a World Series ring in '62, Howard had his career year in '63, winning the AL MVP with a career-high 28 homers and his first Gold Glove award. Like most other players on the team, Howard had his last good year in '64 before he began to decline at age 36. No longer the player he once was, the Yankees traded him to Boston in '67, where Howard helped the Red Sox win the AL Pennant (imagine that happening today- the Yankees trading one of their stars to Boston to help them win a pennant).
Howard's career ended in '68, and he immediately became the Yankees first-base coach, becoming a mentor to future catching star Thurman Munson. Howard added two more World Series rings as a respected coach on the '77 & '78 Yankees teams before suddenly contracting myocarditis in '79, a heart disease that would kill him in late 1980 at age 51. Elston's former teammates revered him, and his death was yet another stab to the heart of the Yankees organization, which had lost Munson just a year earlier. Though he was never elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, he stayed on the ballot all 15 years and had his number 32 retired by the Yankees in 1984. His widow, Arlene Howard, is still a constant presence at every Old Timer's Day event, and SABR wrote a very nice piece on his life as part of its Baseball Biography Project. His 38.9 fWAR is 5th among Yankees catchers, behind only Berra, Dickey, Posada, and Munson. (B-Ref) (FG)
(NYY: 1969-79) In 1976, Thurman Munson was named the Yankees' first captain in 37 years, following in the footsteps of the legendary Lou Gehrig. Although Gehrig's manager, Joe McCarthy, intended for the position to be retired with Gehrig, owner George Steinbrenner decided that if McCarthy and Gehrig saw the way Munson played, they would agree that Munson deserved the honor, though he did not desire it. A terrific catching prospect out of Kent State University, Munson was the #4 overall pick of the 1968 MLB draft, proving that something of worth came out of the crappy late-1960s baseball played by the Yankees. He went straight to AA Binghamton as a 21-year old, and after dominating AAA with the Syracuse Chiefs (.363/435/.529), he was called up to the big leagues for good in late 1969. Munson made an immediate impact with the team, as he helped the Yankees make a thirteen-game improvement in 1970 by putting up a wRC+ of 125 with a .386 OBP and superb defense, winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award. Though both he and the team regressed somewhat the next year, the Yankees finally had a worthy player to succeed Dickey, Berra, and Howard in their catching tradition. The Yankees couldn't quite reach the top of division, but Munson had arguably his career year in '73, putting up career-highs in homers (20), double (29), slugging (.487), wRC+ (139), and WAR (6.8) while winning the first of three Gold Gloves.
After a couple seasons in Shea Stadium while Yankee Stadium was renovated, the team returned in '76 with its newly-named captain and broke their twelve-year playoff drought with a 97-win season and the AL East division title as Munson won the league MVP (though there were probably better candidates on his team). Munson was definitely not intimidated by playoff pressure, as he first hit .435 in the five-game ALCS win against the Kansas City Royals, and then hit .529 against the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. Unfortunately, he was the only hitter to do well against the Reds and the Yankees lost the series in a four-game sweep. Munson and the Yankees returned to the World Series the next year and won their first World Series in fifteen years with six-game win over the Los Angeles Dodgers, a feat they would repeat in '78. Munson was the clear leader of a team that was nicknamed "the Bronx Zoo" due to the tense atmosphere of the clubhouse, despite his personal decline in performance after years of catching.
His career came to a stunning end on August 2, 1979, as his fascination with flying planes cost him his life when the plane he was practicing in burst into flames on a crash landing. At only 32 years old, Thurman Munson was gone. His family, teammates, and fans wept, and his close friend and eulogist Bobby Murcer paid the ultimate tribute to him by driving in all five runs and walking off the eventual AL-champion Baltimore Orioles in the team's first game since the funeral. Though they've won 27 World Series and experience many dramatic moments, the Yankees have probably never played a more emotional game. The Yankees retired his number 15 that day as well, and his locker stood unused for the rest of the old Yankee Stadium's existence. (B-Ref) (FG) (SABR Bio)
(NYY: 1995-2011) Few people would have guessed that a poorly-fielding Puerto Rican second baseman drafted in the 24th round of the 1990 MLB draft would have become a star, but switch-hitting Jorge Posada defied his doubters and turned in a terrific 17-year career with the Yankees. The team thought that his potent bat would be enhanced by a career behind the plate, and after the '92 baseball season, Posada would only see three games not behind the plate for the remainder of his minor league career. Though his defense left plenty to be desired, he was likely major-league ready after his 1995 season at AAA Columbus (.255/.350/.435 with 32 doubles, plus a cup of coffee on the Yankees and his first playoff appearance), but the Yankees decided to acquire defensive-minded veteran Joe Girardi to catch prior to the '96 season. Posada spent the '96 season riding the third-string catcher train, splitting time with Columbus and New York when needed, but appeared in just eight games as the Yankees won their first World Series title in eighteen years, when their last great catcher left. Posada broke Spring Training with the team in '97 as Girardi's backup, and gave the Yankees an idea of what he could do with the bat with a .410 slugging percentage.
Posada became the primary catcher in '98, and though he still wasn't starting as much as most of the league's catchers (Posada appeared in 99 games behind the plate), he had a .351 wOBA and 17 homers while the Yankees won a then-AL record 114 games. He struggled in the first two rounds, but he hit .333 and slugged .667 in the team's four-game sweep over the San Diego Padres, including the first of 11 career playoff home runs. Posada slumped in '99, frustrated that he still wasn't starting as much as his contemporaries, but in 2000, the Yankees chose not to re-sign Joe Girardi and fully entrust Posada with the catching job. Motivated to prove his worth, Posada had a career-best 6.2 fWAR season with 28 homers and .417 OBP in 142 games at catcher, winning the league's Silver Slugger Award at catcher and his fourth World Series ring. From 2000-07, Posada proved himself to be clearly superior to his backups with an .881 OPS, and he averaged 136 games behind the plate. Posada's best seasons in this span were 2003, when he had a career-high 30 homers and finished third in the AL MVP voting, and 2007, when he flew under the radar behind Alex Rodriguez's monster season to hit .338 with 42 doubles and a 157 wRC+. He was injured for most of the season in '08, and it's not a coincidence that the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time in fifteen years with Jose Molina and an over-the-hill Ivan Rodriguez doing most of the catching.
Posada returned in '09 with a 125 wRC+ and a .522 slugging percentage as the Yankees broke their string of playoff collapses with a World Series win over the Philadelphia Phillies, Posada's fifth World Series ring. The years of catching and concussions had taken its toll though, and Posada's defense became unbearable in 2010 with his offense following suit in 2011, when he was supposed to be the full-time DH. Posada's career shouldn't be remembered by his downfall though; Posada ranks among the Yankees' all-time top ten in games (1829), total bases (2888), doubles (379), home runs (275), walks (936), and offensive rWAR (47.6). If you're interested in learning more about Posada, his foundation has his Yankeeography on YouTube free of charge! He was the best catcher in baseball for the 2000s decade, and it is unlikely that his number 20 will ever be worn again. (B-Ref) (FG) (MLB Retrospective)
There are your catching candidates for the PSA Hall of Fame! Are they all PSA Hall of Famers? None? Sound off below. The comments will close on Tuesday at 6:00 PM. Next up are the first basemen!