Hot take: 5 best catchers in Cardinals history

March 24th, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- 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 Anne Rogers’ ranking of the top 5 catchers in Cardinals history. Next week: First basemen.

1. Yadier Molina, 2004-present
Key fact: Two-time World Series champion, nine-time All-Star, nine-time Gold Glove winner and four-time Platinum Glove winner.

A big surprise here, right? Let’s try to put some context to Molina’s illustrious career that’s still ongoing.

The 2020 season will mark Molina’s 17th in the Cardinals' organization (2004-20), tying Bob Gibson (17 seasons, 1959-75) for third-most in franchise history. Molina and Gibson trail Jesse Haines (18, 1920-37) and Stan Musial (22, 1941-44, 1946-63). Drafted by the Cardinals in the fourth round of the 2000 MLB Draft, Molina became the steady backstop during one of the most successful eras in team history; he was the first Cardinals player in baseball’s expansion era to play in four World Series -- and the first since Musial and the Cardinals beat Boston in 1946.

Molina has the fourth-most team shutouts as starting catcher (155) in the Modern Era, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, behind Yogi Berra (184), Gary Carter (168) and Carlton Fisk (157). Among Cardinals all-time leaders, he ranks fourth in games played (1,983), seventh in hits (1,963), fourth in doubles (379), ninth in RBIs (916) and first in sacrifice flies (70).

The 37-year-old’s 1,947 games as catcher ranks seventh all-time, and his 13,434 putouts as a catcher are second all-time behind Iván Rodríguez. Molina’s 40.2 caught-stealing percentage is first among active catchers, and he led Major League catchers in caught-stealing percentage in four years: 2005, ’07, ’10 and ’14.

“For me, when he’s done and retired, he’s probably going to be the best catcher who ever played this game,” Albert Pujols said last summer when he returned to Busch Stadium. “He’s a leader, man, because he wanted to learn. He didn’t have to be so vocal. Just the way of his preparation, the way he went at it every day, day in and day out.

“I think the best thing about Yadi is, he wants to go 5-for-5 or 4-for-4 every night, but it didn’t matter about his offense. It was about his defense and how he can take a pitching staff, whether it was a guy like [Chris Carpenter]or [Adam] Wainwright, and just make them better. … As soon as he’s done playing, he’s a future Hall of Famer.”

2. Ted Simmons, 1968-80
Key fact: 45.0 bWAR leads all catchers in club history

The newest Cardinal elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Simmons spent 13 years in a Cardinals uniform before being traded to Milwaukee. Six of his eight All-Star years came in St. Louis, and he’s now considered one of the top-hitting catchers and switch-hitters of all time.

The major force of the Cardinals in the 1970s, Simmons -- nicknamed “Simba” because of his long hair -- debuted as an 18-year-old in '68, and when he finally broke through as the Cardinals’ primary catcher, he earned MVP votes in his first five full seasons. He slashed .298/.366/.459 with an .824 OPS over 13 years in St. Louis, and he caught two no-hitters -- one by Bob Gibson in '71 and the other by Bob Forsch in '78 -- and finished with a .300 average seven times. He was elected into the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2015 as the fan selection, and the Modern Era Committee elected him to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in December.

Simmons’ 1,389 RBIs rank second all time among catchers, to Yogi Berra’s 1,430. He was also second among catchers in doubles (483) and hits (2,472); only Rodríguez (572 doubles and 2,844 hits) had more. He also ranks seventh among Cardinals hitters with 929 RBIs.

3. Tim McCarver, 1959-74
Key fact: Ranks second in hits (23), third in RBIs (11) and fifth in batting average (.311) in franchise World Series play

Now part of the Cardinals' broadcast team, McCarver made his Major League debut with St. Louis as a 17-year-old catcher in 1959. He began to establish himself as a big leaguer in '63, one year before he helped the Cardinals capture their first of two World Series championships that decade. In Game 5 of the '64 World Series, McCarver hit a three-run, 10th inning home run off New York’s Pete Mikkelsen at Yankee Stadium.

McCarver, a two-time All-Star during his 12 seasons with the Cardinals, hit .272/.329/.388 in St. Louis before playing for Philadelphia for nine years, Boston for two years and Montreal for one year.

4. Tom Pagnozzi, 1987-98
Key fact: Spent his entire 12-year career with the Cardinals

Pagnozzi’s rookie season in 1987 was unforgettable, starting with his first big league hit on April 18, 1987 -- otherwise known as Seat Cushion Night. After the Cardinals erased the Mets’ early 5-0 lead, Pagnozzi’s RBI single tied the game in the 10th inning, setting up Tommy Herr’s first career grand slam to give the Cardinals a 12-8 victory. Fans sent seat cushions sailing onto the field, and drivers honked horns in the street as though this was an October win rather than the Cardinals’ sixth win of the season.

As a rookie, Pagnozzi played a part in the Cardinals’ 1987 World Series run, which the Twins won 4-3. By '91, he was the everyday catcher and known for his defense. He won three Gold Gloves and made the All-Star team in '92. Pagnozzi rank fifth in games played (927) among Cardinals catchers, and his 320 RBIs with St. Louis ranks sixth among franchise catchers.

5. Mike Matheny, 2000-04
Key fact: Three of his four Gold Glove awards came with the Cardinals

When Matheny was hired as the Cardinals' manager in 2012, the club placed a premium on the leadership that Matheny showed when he was St. Louis’ backstop for five years. While Matheny wasn’t known for his production at the plate, he was highly regarded for his defense. At one point, he went 252 games -- from Aug. 8, 2002, to Aug. 1, 2004, without making an error. After signing him as a free agent in 2000, the Cardinals made the playoffs in four of his five seasons in St. Louis.

Matheny caught 469 complete games with the club, a run that included a World Series appearance and planted a seed for a managerial career. He appeared in 1,305 Major League games for four teams across a 13-year career. Plus, Matheny helped sharpen the tools that Molina showed in his early years.

Honorable mentions
Darrell Porter
is fourth among franchise catchers with 11.7 bWAR. The Cardinals' catcher from 1981-85, he won the NLCS MVP and World Series MVP in 1982. … Roger Bresnahan is right below Porter with 10.0 WAR in his four years (1909-12) with St. Louis. … Walker Cooper ranks sixth among franchise catchers with 8.9 bWAR. In eight seasons with St. Louis, from 1940-45 and then at the end of his career from 1956-57, Cooper was a three-time All-Star and finished in the top 11 of NL MVP balloting three times, including a runner-up finish in 1943.