Throughout baseball history, catcher has been an offensively challenged position.
It’s not hard to understand why. First, catcher defense is so important that backstops are selected in large part based on their ability to block, receive, throw and work with pitchers. Second, the physical demands of the position are such that it’s hard for catchers not to wear down over the course of a long season.
Because of all that, when a catcher does swing the bat at a superstar level, it’s truly special. And that’s what the Royals’ Salvador Perez is doing in 2021, holding the MLB lead in home runs while passing Hall of Famer Johnny Bench for the single-season American and National League record for a catcher.
Here is a look at the catchers with the most home runs in a season, and in a career, in AL/NL history. (Note: To qualify for these lists, a player must have spent at least half his time behind the plate. Each player's number of homers hit while actually in the lineup at catcher is also noted).
Most home runs in a season
1) 48 -- Salvador Perez, 2021 Royals
33 hit as a catcher
Perez has done a significant portion of his damage at DH, as the Royals have sought to keep his bat in the lineup while giving his 31-year-old knees a break. Perez caught more games (761) than all but one player (Yadier Molina) from 2013-18, but missing the ‘19 campaign with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery might have been a blessing in disguise. Perez’s bat returned refreshed in 2020, and he carried that into ‘21, smashing his previous career high of 27 long balls.
2) 45 -- Johnny Bench, 1970 Reds
38 hit as a catcher
Bench has a strong case as the greatest catcher of all time, and his 1970 campaign shows why. At just 22 years old, Bench set a home run record that has stood for a half-century and did the same with RBIs (148). He also remains the only catcher to lead the AL or NL in big flies, a feat he accomplished again two seasons later.
3) 43 -- Javy Lopez, 2003 Braves
42 hit as a catcher
Nobody has gone deep more times in a season while actually playing catcher. (Lopez also hit one homer that season as a pinch-hitter). But while Lopez was a power threat throughout his career, this season came a little out of nowhere after he averaged just 16 homers from 1999-2002.
4-T) 41 -- Todd Hundley, 1996 Mets
41 hit as a catcher
Most would assume that the 1990s Mets catcher with the most home runs in a season would be Mike Piazza. Most would be wrong. It was Hundley who set that mark in his breakout 1996 campaign after hitting a total of 50 homers in 491 games over his first six seasons. Two years later, the Mets would acquire Piazza and then trade Hundley.
4-T) 41 -- Roy Campanella, 1953 Dodgers
40 hit as a catcher
Campanella starred in the Negro Leagues before signing with the Dodgers and becoming a three-time NL MVP Award winner. The second of those came in 1953, when Campy finished third in the NL in homers and first in RBIs (142) while starting 131 games behind the plate.
6-T) 40 -- Mike Piazza, 1997 Dodgers and ‘99 Mets
40 hit as a catcher in both seasons
The Hall of Famer was never better than in 1997, his last full season in L.A., when he hit .362/.431/.638 and led the Majors with a 185 OPS+, which also is far and away the best figure ever produced by a qualifying AL/NL catcher. Despite that, Piazza was dealt to the Marlins and then the Mets in May 1998, moves that did nothing to slow down his mashing.
6-T) 40 -- Bench, 1972 Reds
34 hit as a catcher
Once again, Bench led the Majors in homers and RBIs -- also in intentional walks (23) -- while setting a career high in OPS+ (166). He won his second NL MVP Award and the fifth of 10 Gold Glove Awards.
8) 38 -- Piazza, 2000 Mets
35 hit as a catcher
This was another sensational season for Piazza, who hit .312/.398/.614, notched his third career top-three MVP finish and led the Mets to the World Series. Piazza added four postseason homers in 2000, including two in a huge NLCS performance against St. Louis.
10-T) 37 -- Carlton Fisk, 1985 White Sox
33 hit as a catcher
This season is truly difficult to fathom. By this point, Fisk was 37 years old, had caught nearly 1,500 MLB games and had never exceeded 26 homers. He far surpassed that total in 1985 and is one of only 14 players -- at any position -- to go deep that many times at such an advanced age.
10-T) 37 -- Gabby Hartnett, 1930 Cubs
36 hit as a catcher
A Hall of Famer who spent 19 of his 20 seasons (1922-41) with the Cubs, Hartnett produced arguably his best year in 1930, when he slashed .339/.404/.630.
Most home runs in a career
Only seven players who have spent the majority of their careers behind the plate have finished with 300-plus homers. Here they are:
1) 427 -- Piazza
396 hit as a catcher
Both of those numbers are records. Piazza notched nine seasons with 30-plus dingers along the way, more than double what any other catcher has produced.
2) 389 -- Bench
327 hit as a catcher
Bench matched his power at the plate with his skill behind it to such an extent that he sailed into the Hall of Fame with 96.4% of the vote on his first ballot in 1989.
3) 376 -- Fisk
351 hit as a catcher
While he had the big 1985 season, Fisk’s placement here is more than anything a testament to his incredible endurance and longevity. Fisk appeared in 24 MLB seasons and caught more games (2,226) than any player besides Ivan Rodriguez.
4) 358 -- Yogi Berra
305 hit as a catcher
Berra never had a huge power season, topping out at 30 (1952, ‘56). But he was extremely consistent, reaching the 20-homer mark in 10 straight seasons from 1949-58.
5-T) 324 -- Gary Carter
298 hit as a catcher
Similar to Berra, Carter cracked 300 homers through years of methodical production. The 11-time All-Star averaged 24 big flies per year between 1977-87.
5-T) 324 -- Lance Parrish
299 hit as a catcher
When it comes to great catchers, Parrish flies a bit under the radar, having received only 1.7% of the vote in his only appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot (2001). But the six-time Silver Slugger Award winner popped over 200 homers for the Tigers from 1977-86 before bouncing around over the following nine seasons.
7) 311 -- Ivan Rodriguez
304 hit as a catcher
Nobody has caught more games than Pudge, and only four have gone deep more times while playing the position. Rodriguez only topped 27 homers in a season once (35 in his AL MVP-winning 1999 campaign) but reached double digits 15 times.