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Today, legendary Cinicinnati Red backstop Johnny Lee Bench is 64 years old. In celebration of this day, here is a challenge I put down to all Bauxites ...

Johnny Bench is the greatest catcher in major league history. In fact, he is the only player at any position where there is no question this is true. For instance, at short you might promote a Wagner, a Ripken, a Banks -- all these and others are defensible nominees. This is true at every position -- except behind the plate. Sure, there are greats -- Berra, Campanella, Piazza, Rodriguez, Hartnett and more. But for the perfect combination of defense (one of the top five defensive catchers of all time), arm strength (perhaps the very best) and bat (a cleanup-type power threat for a team that won five division titles and two World Series in a seven-year span), not to mention intangibles like leadership and charisma ... Bench is, without question, the greatest catcher ever to play the game. (Sorry, Yogi! Especially sorry, Josh Gibson!)

The gauntlet is thrown. Magpie, others? Whatchagot?

The catching Bench-mark | 27 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Paul D - Wednesday, December 07 2011 @ 05:36 PM EST (#248083) #


Second Base and closer.

Paul D - Wednesday, December 07 2011 @ 06:28 PM EST (#248092) #
And I'm talking about Hornsby and Rivera, if that wasn't clear.
Mike Green - Wednesday, December 07 2011 @ 07:42 PM EST (#248101) #
There is certainly no reasonable argument that someone other than Rivera is the best ever closer/relief ace.

As for Bench,  his 1972 season was probably the best season by a catcher but because he was an inconsistent hitter, the argument that he was better than Berra (or Josh Gibson) over his career is one that can be debated.  My hunch is that it was Gibson. I say that Bench's 1972 seasone was probably the best season by a catcher because I really do not know how to compare Campanella's best with Bench's best.  Bench had a helluva arm, but so did Campy.  They hit about the same.  Bench played at a time when the running game was more important, but I really don't know how much one ought to weight that.

katman - Wednesday, December 07 2011 @ 07:52 PM EST (#248104) #
Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer of all time. Period. It hurts to say it, but it's true. And I think there is, if anything, even less of an argument then there might be re: Bench.

2nd base, you'll get a lot of people saying Joe Morgan, etc., so that isn't close to uncontested.

AWeb - Wednesday, December 07 2011 @ 07:56 PM EST (#248105) #
Wagner is clearly ahead of all other SS's - Rodriguez will end up splitting SS and 3B, and he was the only one in the same stratosphere. I think his case is by far the strongest at a single position, plus you don't have to throw out the "major league only" qualifier to eliminate the best player (Gibson at C, from a lot of reports).

DH - Edgar Martinez is way ahead of the pack, if you limit it to just DH playing time.
whiterasta80 - Wednesday, December 07 2011 @ 09:44 PM EST (#248114) #
Nap Lajoie says hi at second base.
lexomatic - Wednesday, December 07 2011 @ 09:45 PM EST (#248115) #
Actually Hornsby isn't clearly the best 2b the way others listed in this thread are.
Not to be taken as anything conclusive, but just to illustrate that it's not cut & dried.,549,1002451,1006030,1007259,1011411

Mick Doherty - Wednesday, December 07 2011 @ 10:26 PM EST (#248117) #

Yes, the Box's own DYF (Designated Yankee Fan) actually thought of Rivera, but decided, debatably, to conflate all pitchers into one category. Mo is clearly the greatest closer, of course, butt was he better than Koufax or Walter Johnson, for example?

I like the nuance of also clarifying career vs. single-season peak. I think Bench is still at the top of both lists, but as noted, his '72 was just stupid-silly great, standing out in his own career.

As for 2B, it probably is pretty clear for Hornsby over Morgan, but not as clear (in my view) as for Bench, and there are other 2B, as noted, including Lajoie and maybe even Sandberg in the conversation. What would be the odds of one team having two players who were the greatest ever at their position at the same time? The 1970s Reds can nake a case.

Does ANYBODY in the active-player role enter the discussion at any position? A-Rod will split his time too evenly, as noted. Piazza is retired and so are Maddux and Randy Johnson, and they all would have deserved only passing mention at best. Anyone else?


whiterasta80 - Wednesday, December 07 2011 @ 10:55 PM EST (#248120) #

Not that I'm saying he's #1 but Pujols deserves a mention at 1B, between his defense and his hitting.  Or are we ruling him out because of time at 3B and LF?

Magpie - Thursday, December 08 2011 @ 12:28 AM EST (#248122) #
the only player at any position where there is no question this is true.

Sorry. I think that statement is true for shortstop (Wagner) and right field (you have to ask?) I don't see the possible argument for anyone else. But while I think Bench has a very good (but not automatic!) case for best catcher ever in terms of Peak Value, I still like Berra's career for consistent value. He was always, year after year, one of the best players in the league. You never did find Yogi randomly giving you a .230 season...

And I think Hornsby is the fourth best second baseman ever. Behind Collins, Morgan, and Robinson for sure. Unless I think of someone else I like better as well.
rpriske - Thursday, December 08 2011 @ 08:40 AM EST (#248141) #

You made two statements:

Bench is the greatest Major League Catcher


Bench is the greatest catcher to ever play the game.


The first is true. The second is false. (IMO, of course)

Magpie - Thursday, December 08 2011 @ 11:37 AM EST (#248166) #
Upon additional reflection... does anybody seriously have a candidate for third base not named Mike Schmidt?
Anders - Thursday, December 08 2011 @ 11:56 AM EST (#248170) #
Upon additional reflection... does anybody seriously have a candidate for third base not named Mike Schmidt?

I can't believe you'd slam Home Run Baker like that.

Also as many have mentioned, I have to strongly disagree with your premise Mick! I think that there are fairly clear leaders in RF, at SS, and at 3B. If you count closers that's a slam dunk too. I don't know how many would argue about Lou Gehrig either, though it's less cut and dried.

I think catcher is one of the positions most open for debate - Bench, Berra, Gibson, Fisk, Pudge, Piazza - you can make reasonable arguments for all of them.
Mick Doherty - Thursday, December 08 2011 @ 12:13 PM EST (#248175) #

No rules here, folks, just a discussion-starter. I am pleased that virtually every possible exception or counter-argument made so far is someone I mentioned in the lede, with two exceptions ... Schmidt (an embarrassing oversight) and Ruth (who is without a doubt the greatest player ever, but while we think of him as a RF, spent nearly as many games in LF in his career, as well as several hundred combined in CF (!?!), 1B and of course, on  the mound.

Wagner is obviously the greatest SS offensively, but I don't know enough about his defensive skills to make a definitive call at shortstop. So -- clearly best ever at his position? Bench (with some noted objections), Wagner (at least offensively), Schmidt (with apologies to Eddie Mathews) and Rivera (if we specifiy relief pitcher).

That sound right so far?

Anders - Thursday, December 08 2011 @ 02:10 PM EST (#248202) #
Wagner is obviously the greatest SS offensively, but I don't know enough about his defensive skills to make a definitive call at shortstop.

If we're just counting time at one specific position, the disparity between Wagner and the second best shortstop is undoubtedly the greatest of any single position. WAR isn't a be all and end all answer, but Wagner has 50% more WAR than Cal Ripken, who would be second if just counting time at SS (they both played a decent chunk elsewhere.) Alex Rodriguez fares slightly better than Cal, but he's been a third baseman for half his career.

John Northey - Thursday, December 08 2011 @ 02:20 PM EST (#248204) #
I think Bench is that extremely rare combo of top 5 all time defense mixed with top 5 all time offense for his position.

Basically, imagine I-Rod's arm on Mike Piazza's body mixed with Molina's ball-catching skills.
FernandezFan - Thursday, December 08 2011 @ 06:08 PM EST (#248248) #
Isn't Left Field pretty much a no-brainer?

More than twice as many MVPs as anyone else ought to do it.
Magpie - Thursday, December 08 2011 @ 08:39 PM EST (#248259) #
Isn't Left Field pretty much a no-brainer?

Certainly not in my house. The MVPs don't persuade me - if they'd actually been in the habit of giving the MVP to the best player in the league every year, Willie Mays might have won 10 of them. Mantle would have almost as many, and so would the left fielder I'd choose above any other if I actually wanted to field a team. (The man whose place in history as the greatest Cardinal ever has just endured, and survived, his greatest challenge.)
Magpie - Thursday, December 08 2011 @ 08:44 PM EST (#248260) #
I don't know enough about [Wagner's] defensive skills to make a definitive call at shortstop.

Who does? And it's pretty doubtful that there's anyone still alive who saw the man play. In the context of discussing Hornsby and Wagner, Bill James wrote "Hornsby was a great hitter, but a marginal defensive player. Wagner was one of the greatest defensive players in the history of baseball." Which does pretty much catch what Wagner's defensive reputation has always been.
Mike Green - Thursday, December 08 2011 @ 09:26 PM EST (#248263) #
Oh, that one's really hard, Magpie.  Conflating performance with the bat and some athleticism at shortstop as being indicative of tremendous defensive skill has been known to happen.  Granted that Wagner did not play in New York and the 1900s and 1910s were not particularly known as times of great hype.  Still, Wagner was the greatest hitter in the game for a decade, he was much loved (for good reason) and played shortstop, and so it is easy to imagine that all of those qualities might lead to some exaggeration of his defensive capabilities.

My best guess is that Bill Dahlen was a little better with the glove, and that Wagner was above-average but not great defensively.   With all that, Wagner does not have any competition at shortstop (now that Rodriguez is a third baseman).  It's weird.  If Rodriguez had been a third baseman when he came up, he would challenge and probably surpass Schmidt.  If he had stuck at shortstop, he might have been competition for Wagner (although probably not because of his fading defensive abilities). 

FernandezFan - Thursday, December 08 2011 @ 10:47 PM EST (#248266) #
I realize MVPs aren't necessarily a sign of the greatest player in the season - Bonds career WAR and offensive dominance back up those MVPs though (9 times led the league in WAR for position players, 4 times he was second (bb-ref) - for top 2s, I think Williams is second in LF with 8). There is one player in baseball who topped Bonds for career WAR (both in fangraphs and baseball-reference) and that guy didn't play left field nearly as much.

I mostly put the MVPs down for Bonds as a quick and easy way for everyone to reference him and hint at how dominant he was, not as though that was the full case. The full case for Bonds, to cover all his records at left field, takes a lot more than a line or two and, in my opinion, is probably not necessary given how far ahead of the other left fielders he is.

And May's 10 years of leading the league in WAR would be pretty convincing to put him as the best centerfielder except there is also Cobb at that position. No left fielder did what Bonds did.

He may not be popular. His actions may not warrant the hall of fame. But as far as accomplishments on the field, he's head and shoulders above all left fielders.
Magpie - Friday, December 09 2011 @ 02:25 AM EST (#248277) #
Yeah. We haven't quite figured out what to make of Bonds' career. Through 1998, I'd say he'd established himself as one of the three greatest left fielders in baseball history. I'd still have him behind Musial and Williams, but I'd have him ahead of Henderson and Yastrzemski and the all the rest.

The problem is what to make of his career from 1999 forward. What do we make of it? On the one hand, it certainly happened. On the other hand, it really shouldn't have happened. It turns out that it was more than merely highly, highly unnatural, and there's a good chance that the man will actually be doing prison time as a pretty direct consequence. You can't say it didn't happen, but I'm not enthusiastic about giving the man a whole lot of credit for it.

I've long made a habit of dismissing - with some vehemence! - the idea that Mark McGwire was a better player than Fred McGriff. McGwire's claim to be better than McGriff rests entirely on a a similar late career burst of extremely unusual and unexpected production. So I'm not going to make an exception for Bonds.

It's possible that fifty years from now we'll regard Bonds and McGwire and the rest as pioneers, blazing a trail to new levels of athletic performance and being unfairly persecuted for it. But until then... there's a big asterisk in my head regarding Bonds' post 1999 achievements.
Magpie - Friday, December 09 2011 @ 02:37 AM EST (#248278) #
And when I say I don't know what to make of it.... I don't know! Ask me who the 1919 champs were? It was the Cincinnati Reds, of course. Got an asterisk in my head about that one, too.

They might have done it anyway. But we'll never know.
actionjackson - Sunday, December 11 2011 @ 02:19 PM EST (#248423) #
Edward Trowbridge "Cocky" Collins Sr. stirs in his grave some 60 years after his death wondering: "Why u no like me at 2B?" Hornsby is better, but Collins is definitely #2 for my money, and he's much closer than anyone I've seen brought up there so far.
Magpie - Sunday, December 11 2011 @ 03:21 PM EST (#248430) #
If you'll scroll up a little, you'll notice I place Collins (and Morgan and Robinson) ahead of Hornsby! I think the greatest second baseman ever was Collins or Morgan, I just have trouble deciding which. But definitely not Hornsby.
actionjackson - Sunday, December 11 2011 @ 03:42 PM EST (#248431) #
Ah so you did Lord Magpie. Apologies.
Magpie - Sunday, December 11 2011 @ 09:55 PM EST (#248455) #
I'm just happy to know there's another Eddie Collins fan out there.
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