The New York Yankees have more talent in their rich history than some multiple franchises, combined. This statement holds special significance in specific positions. In center field, it’s hard to find a better group than Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Bobby Murcer, Bernie Williams, and Earle Combs. Frankly, it’s impossible; this is a unicorn in comparison with other positions.
Other positions, such as corner outfield and first base, also show a tremendous track record with great performers. Perhaps the one position in which this aspect is overlooked is at catcher.* Most franchises are lucky to have one great all-time catcher, but the Yankees have multiple Hall of Famers in Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra, and that’s not even counting a couple of MVP winners in Elston Howard and Thurman Munson (who aren’t present in Cooperstown).
*To put it into statistical perspective, the Yankees have had 10 different catchers record an OPS+ above 100 while appearing in at least 400 total games (no fewer than half behind the plate). The Red Sox have had just two.
Because of so many talented players, our selection behind the dish for this Supernova Team can get lost in the shuffle and not receive the celebration he deserved, but if you look at OPS+ rankings for catchers with at least 400 games in Yankees history, he is number one.
C - Mike Stanley (NYY 1992-95, ‘97)
Career NYY stats: .285/.377/.504, 426 Games, 72 HR, 263 RBI, 134 OPS+
Born on June 25, 1963 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Stanley attended college at the University of Florida in Gainesville on an athletic scholarship. There, he broke records in career runs scored and RBI, and he received All-Tournament honors in three seasons and NCAA All-Regional Tournament team once (1985).
Stanley had a fine baseball career, but the back of his baseball card won’t jump out at you. The two-time SEC champ with the Florida Gators only made one All-Star Game and won a single Silver Slugger. In 15 seasons, he compiled 20.9 bWAR and never won a World Series.
Don’t get me wrong — finishing a 15-year career as an above-average hitter while playing over half of your games behind the plate, is a great achievement. However, being part of a franchise that has had the likes of Berra, Dickey, Munson, and Howard, one can easily become a bit forgotten. It didn’t help Stanley that the Yankees were rebuilding during his tenure and only just reached the playoffs by the end of his initial run.
What makes the career that Stanley had so special is that for his five seasons with the Yankees he was the best hitting catcher, the Yankees have ever had. That may be a stretch considering the discrepancy in sample sizes, but the fact remains: his 134 OPS+ remains tops among all catchers in Yankees history with at least 400 games played.
Stanley only played in 68 games during his first season with the Yankees, but between 1993 and 1994 he had the following slash line:
.303/.387.539, 146 OPS+
How many catchers can you name who are capable of putting up that kind of production with the bat? Granted that was over 824 plate appearances, but it was impressive nonetheless. Stanley finished 13th in the MVP voting for the 1993 campaign and took home his sole Silver Slugger that year as well, clubbing 26 homers with a 150 OPS+.
In 1995, Stanley’s bat faltered a bit, but he still earned All-Star honors while batting .268/.360/.481 with 18 homers in 118 games. After finishing a few games behind the World Series champion Blue Jays in ‘93 and seeing their season cut short by the strike in ‘94, Stanley and captain Don Mattingly finally got to see postseason play.
Stanley hit .313/.389/.500 in the hard-fought five-game ALDS against the Mariners, but Seattle came back to beat them. In the offseason, the Yankees make the controversial decision to trade for Joe Girardi and shore up their defense behind the plate rather than keeping Stanley. Since Girardi wasn’t much of a hitter, fans weren’t particularly pleased with the move, and they’d grown fond of Stanley’s bat, shaky glove notwithstanding.
So Stanley instead joined the rival Red Sox for 1996. While he played well, it was unfortunate timing, as his old teammates won the World Series that year while Boston finished three games out of a playoff spot. He continued his slugging ways in Boston and actually rejoined the Yankees as an August trade addition in 1997 — the last trade that the two teams would make with each other until the infamous Stephen Drew deal of 2014.
Since the ascendant Jorge Posada was now backing up Girardi, Stanley primarily filled in at DH and had a 127 OPS+ in 28 games. Once again though, the Yankees fell short in the ALDS, and once again, Stanley narrowly missed contributing to a championship team. The Yankees won the next three titles in a row while Stanley departed to finish out his career with Boston and Oakland.
None of that is to diminish Stanley’s production in the years leading up to that phenomenal run, though. He reminded fans of what it was like to have a power bat at catcher after a decade of overall middling work in the wake of Munson’s passing. They were quick to fall in love with Posada’s power potential, and while the legend himself deserves full credit, it was a nice reflection of the kind of bat that Stanley once brought to the lineup for the up-and-coming early-’90s teams.
Mike Stanley was a good ballplayer with a fine career, and for almost five years with the Yankees, he hit at a level that few catchers typically approach.