Guardians' Top 5 catchers: Bell's take

November 23rd, 2021

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Mandy Bell’s ranking of the top 5 catchers in Guardians history. Next week: First basemen.

1. Victor Martinez, 2002-09

Key fact: First and only Guardians catcher to reach 100 homers and holds team’s highest batting average for catchers with at least 500 at-bats.

Choosing between Martinez and Sandy Alomar Jr. was not easy, but Martinez trumped Alomar in home runs (103), RBIs (518) and offensive Wins Above Replacement (22.8), according to Baseball-Reference. His .832 OPS and 120 OPS+ during his eight-year tenure with Cleveland made him one of the most valuable backstops in the game and earned him three All-Star selections and a Silver Slugger Award. He was traded to the Red Sox in 2009, where he played for Guardians’ current manager, Terry Francona.

"He's one of the nicest guys in the game and one of the most professional hitters, great teammate," Francona said when Martinez made his final stop at Progressive Field while playing with the Tigers in 2018. "You can pretty much write anything good and put my name next to it. That's how I feel."

Martinez was hitting .284 with an .832 OPS for Cleveland when he was moved at the 2009 Trade Deadline in exchange for starter Justin Masterson and relievers Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price. The right-hander remained with Cleveland until 2014 and was its Opening Day starter from '12-14.

2. Sandy Alomar Jr., 1990-2000
Key fact: Alomar ranks second all-time among Guardians catchers in home runs and doubles, and he became the first player to win the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award in his home ballpark.

Prior to the 1990 season, Alomar and Carlos Baerga were part of a franchise-defining trade. The duo and outfielder Chris James were sent to Cleveland by the Padres in exchange for Joe Carter. Once there, Alomar and Baerga helped establish a foundation for some of Cleveland's incredible teams in the 1990s.

“What a difference that one move could change my life forever,” Alomar said last year after winning a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards. “That one transaction that gave me an opportunity of a lifetime and was able to open a door for us to bring younger people and also to get a new stadium.”

Alomar spent 11 seasons catching for Cleveland and was a six-time All-Star. He was the hometown hero in ’97 when he became the All-Star Game MVP for his go-ahead two-run homer in the seventh inning at Jacobs Field. Alomar hit .277 with 92 homers and 453 RBIs in 985 games for Cleveland, and his 950 games behind the plate are the third most in club history.

He later became the 33rd player to be inducted into the Cleveland Guardians Hall of Fame in 2009 and has been a part of the club's coaching staff since 2010.

"People are very genuine here. Humble, genuine. They embrace you,” Alomar said. “Like I said before, I thought with that big trade when Carlos Baerga and myself came here for Joe Carter, I thought that was going to create some discomfort coming here, but people embraced me with open arms, gave me an opportunity and I just want to make a difference and was able to stay in Cleveland. I’m very humble about it.”

3. Steve O’Neill, 1911-23
Key fact: He is the all-time franchise leader in hits and doubles among catchers.

More than 100 years has gone by since O’Neill first took the field for the Guardians, but no other backstop in club history has recorded more hits (1,109) or doubles (220) than O'Neill. He was a member of the club’s first World Series-winning team in 1920, hitting .321 with a career-high .848 OPS and 39 doubles that season. For someone who was not known to hit for average, logging a career .265 batting average in his 13 seasons with the team, he ranks second in offensive WAR among Guardians backstops and 33rd overall in club history (21.9).

4. Jim Hegan, 1941-57
Key fact: He is the longest-tenured position player in Guardians history.

Edging O’Neill out by one season, Hegan's 14 seasons with the Guardians is the longest stint by a position player in franchise history. Though he was listed to be with the club for 17 years, Hegan, like many others, did not play from 1943-45 while serving in the military during World War II. After returning for the '46 season, Hegan was selected to five All-Star Games in his final 12 seasons with the club. He trails just Martinez among Guardians catchers with 499 RBIs as a backstop, and he launched 90 homers and holds the club record for triples by a catcher with 45.

5. John Romano, 1960-64
Key fact: He is tied for the second-most homers by a Guardians catcher in a single season.

Until Carlos Santana hit 27 home runs in 2011 while playing more than half of his games behind the plate, Martinez and Romano were tied for the most long balls hit in a single season (25) by someone who played more than 50 percent of his games as a catcher. Romano's time in Cleveland may have been shorter than most on this list, but he was able to make his way toward the top of the club's power charts. In just five seasons, he hit 91 homers, which is the third most by a Guardians backstop (33rd among all Guardians players), and logged an .816 OPS.

Honorable mentions: Ray Fosse, Yan Gomes
Fosse put up impressive numbers in his first full season as Cleveland's backstop in 1970. He hit .307 with an .830 OPS and 18 home runs while winning a Gold Glove Award and earning his first of back-to-back All-Star Game selections. During the Midsummer Classic in '70, he infamously separated his shoulder in a collision at the plate with Pete Rose. His offensive numbers in the coming years never matched that year's production. He ranks fifth all-time among Guardians catchers with a 12.3 offensive WAR.

Gomes' production at the plate was strong at the beginning and end of his Cleveland career, as he registered an .801 OPS between his first two seasons in 2013-14, and then in his final season, he had 16 home runs and a .762 OPS. Gomes' most noteworthy contributions came through his work with Cleveland's pitching staff, highlighted by a pair of American League Cy Young Awards for Corey Kluber. He earned a Silver Slugger Award for his production in '14 and was an All-Star in '18.