Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Carlton Fisk, Roy Campanella, and Gary Carter can breath a sigh of relief. They will be able to retain the title as some of the best catchers in history with little to no competition from current and future players. Their statues can be roped off at Cooperstown and the position of catcher can be left off the ballot for future Hall of Fame votes.
Catcher is one of the most demanding positions on the diamond. And those who play it well for their entire career are a dying breed. Injuries are inevitable. So when a team strikes gold in a talented catcher, they need to protect him. Unfortunately, money rules all. Not many teams are going to invest hundreds of millions on a player susceptible to injury who plays 140 games a year or less.
Teams are more willing to pay less and implement a platoon at catcher. This limits the wear and tear on each catcher and generally gets the job done. But what are we missing out on?
Joe Maur could have been one of the greatest catchers of all-time. But we will never know. Because of the investment the Twins made in him, Maur will soon be scooping out short-hops at a first base bag near you. He’s not your prototypical first baseman. He doesn’t hit for power. He averages one home run every 39 at bats. That’s about one every ten games. But he’s tall, and first base seems to be a easier transition for a catcher than outfield.
It hasn’t yet happened with Buster Posey, but the whispers started almost as soon as his leg bent backward under the force of Scott Cousin’s collision. Obviously Posey will need time to heal before talks of a position change heat up, but injuries usually ignite these conversations.
The catch-22 of it all is the fact that I agree with moving a valued player away from catcher. It’s sad to say, and all things being equal, I’d rather see Joe Maur and Buster Posey gunning down runners deep into their thirties. But circumstance won’t allow it.
If Joe Maur is going to live up to his contract, he can’t be on the bench. No one wants to see a $184 million cheerleader. If Buster Posey is going to be the face that washes away Barry Bonds’ stain, he needs to be on the field.
My romanticized view of baseball, its history, and greatness tells me to leave the catchers where they are. But my desire to be a fan and see great players have long career tells me that the abuse catchers take in this “non-contact” sport has finally caught up with them.