posted on Jan, 24 2006 @ 10:31 PM
A "complement to Mike Lieberthal?"
That's the kind of thing I hate to read. Mike Piazza is almost certainly one of the five greatest catchers in MLB history. He is CERTAINLY the
greatest hitting catcher in MLB history, and great hitting with average fielding is more important than great fielding with average hitting--although
I'll grant you that if there were one position where that wouldn't be true, catcher would be it, provided the catcher calls the game and positions the
If Piazza plays long enough for his batting, slugging and on-base averages to fall to the levels of Johnny Bench or Carlton Fisk, he'll be 50, have
600 HR's, 2000 RBI's, etc., that's how far he is ahead of them. The ONLY catcher who can be compared to Piazza for the best offensively ever--and
it's an apples and oranges comparison--is Mickey Cochrane, the great catcher of the Lefty Grove-Jimmie Foxx Philadelphia A's teams from 1929-1931 and
the first-ever Tigers championship team of 1935.
Cochrane had lifetime batting and on-base averages of .320 and .419, which are just flat awesome for a catcher, and he had outstanding foot speed.
But he only played 11 complete seasons, was injured for a part of his 12th, then was hit in the head early on in his 13th, put in a coma with a
fractured skull, lay near death for a week, and was told in no uncertain terms by the Tigers that they would never let him play again. So he never
had to play the years where a player's career average figures plummet, as they do most of all to a catcher. Under those circumstances, and given the
fact Cochrane had but a tiny fraction of Piazza's power (despite playing in MUCH better hitters' parks), I think Piazza must be considered MLB's
greatest hitting catcher ever, not Cochrane (and certainly not Bill Dickey, who bloated his stats on Yankee Stadium).
Yeah, I know about Ernie Lombardi. And I know what a ridiculous percentage of the time Lombardi, the slowest-footed player ever, hit into double
plays. Plus, he had nowhere near Piazza's HR power, couldn't get as many doubles or triples, and suffered far more passed balls because a ball only
needed to get 10 feet away from him and it would take him, oh, 15 seconds to get to it.
I've been asked by acquaintances from other places to pick my Top 5 MLB catchers of all time. My answer: (1) Roy Campanella (add 2 seasons,
1946-1947, due to segregation, plus he was arguably Bench's equal as a defensive catcher, plus he won 3 MVP's in an era of racist sportswriters); (2)
Yogi Berra; (3) Johnny Bench; (4) Mike Piazza; and (5) Mickey Cochrane.
Now, to address the inevitable:
Yes, I know, Piazza has a terrible success rate at throwing out baserunners. That is only part of a catcher's defensive skills. His others skills
behind the plate have been good throughout his career. His career fielding percentage in games he's played behind the plate is .990, which is the
same as that of the average catcher for those seasons. His "range factor" is over 10% BETTER than that of the average catcher from his time.
In other words, he's not been nearly as bad a catcher as he's been made out to be. And there's no ignoring his stats. He plays in a huge,
pro-pitcher ballpark, and played in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium before that, yet he has 397 HR's, 976 runs, 1223 RBI's, a .311 average, a .382
on-base average and a whopping .555 slugging average for his career.
No other catcher in MLB history can touch those numbers.
I'm not saying it's absurd to talk about his complementing Lieberthal in the year 2006. I'm just saying it's sad if it's come to that point in
Piazza's great, historic career. If it has, he should get his 400th HR, then bag it. He's had a spectacular career, will be on any expert's list of
Top 10 catchers (at a minimum), and doesn't need to put on a sad display of a player in decline.