Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Quite A String of Stars

Has any franchise had a string of stars at one position the likes of the Yankees at catcher?

I have racked my brain trying to put together even a string of three stars and have come up empty. Even two stars at the same position on the same team is rare.The Yankees had Joe Dimaggio and Mickey Mantle in center. The Red Sox had Williams and then Yaz in left. The White Sox had Eddie Collins and much later Nellie Fox at second. I'm sure readers can come up with other pairs, I'm not sure about three though.

The Yanks have had five terrific catchers! Dickey, Berra, Howard, Munson, Posada, and potentially now Martin.

And it could be argued that their amazing number of pennants is closely tied to their excellence behind the plate, with the exception of 1921 to ’23 and 1926 to ’28 when they had no gifted catchers – but a little bit of talent in other spots.

Bill Dickey was the first great Yankee catcher and his emergence coincided with the Yankee comeback in the mid-30s after the Athletics had dominated. He and Ivan Rodriguez are the only two catchers to hit .300 in ten seasons. Dickey was a clutch hitter, had a strong throw to second, an amazing memory for opposing hitters weaknesses, and he handled his pitching staff expertly. He hit .313 lifetime, with 72 triples and 100 homers in a four year span (’36 to ’39).

After retiring, Dickey tutored an ugly, awkward kid named Yogi Berra. "Bill Dickey learned me all this experience," Yogi said. Berra would go on to be arguably the most valuable player in baseball in the 1950s, winning the award three times and coming close a few other years. "Why is our pitching so good?" Casey Stengel was asked. "Because of our catcher," he replied.

Elston Howard picked up the glove in the tail end of the long string of pennants, the early 60s – though he faded quickly along with the team in the late 60s and was never a superstar.

Then the famine – and no strong catcher. Do you remember Jake Gibbs (1966 to ’69)?

But after Thurman Munson arrived in 1970 – hitting almost 100 points better than Gibbs had – the Yanks finished second in the AL East. Then pennants in ’76 through ’78.

They hung on with Rick Cerone and Butch Wynegar after Munson's death, and then bottomed out with Don Slaught, Bob Geren and Matt Nokes. (Yecch.)

Mike Stanley finally got the Yankees back on track in the mid ’90s, hitting over .300 twice. Joe Girardi followed and they finished on top of the East.

And then came Jorge Posada and another string of pennants.

Now there is Russell Martin (.328, 6, 16) after two homers Saturday and a clutch hit on Sunday.

Can any team ever match such a remarkable string of good fortune at one position?

1 comment:

Rick Blechta said...

Excellent post, Will. Munson is probably my all-time favorite ball player.