Orioles' Top 5 catchers: Trezza's take

March 23rd, 2020

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 Joe Trezza’s ranking of the top five catchers in Orioles history. Next week: First basemen.

1. Rick Dempsey, 1976-86, '92
Key fact: Franchise-most 1,230 games caught for Orioles; 1983 World Series MVP

There are Orioles catchers with better numbers and more accolades, but Dempsey is the choice here for the full scope of his work, a four-plus decade connection with the O's over which he’s become one of their most beloved and revered figures. Originally arriving in Baltimore as part of a 10-player trade with the Yankees in 1976, Dempsey went on to log more games behind the plate than any catcher in Orioles history, star in two Fall Classics and earn World Series MVP honors in one. But from the series of Babe Ruth pantomine rain delay skits to his contributions to the Invisible Orioles Magic Band, Dempsey’s appeal always extended beyond the playing field. It still does.

“Baseball has a lot of characters and there are some intangible values to those personalities on a team. Demper was definitely that and a winner as well, “Cal Ripken Jr., who roomed with Dempsey as a younger player, wrote in 2017. “Rick was social; he was an extrovert. He could walk up and sing with a band and have a good time. He was a personality that Baltimore could love but also a blue-collar, hard worker. Although everyone knew he could joke around, people took him seriously because when he was on the baseball field he wanted to win.”

One of three catchers to play in four decades (Carlton Fisk and Tim McCarver are the others), Dempsey was known as one of the most colorful and defensively gifted backstops of his era. He played parts of 24 seasons in the big leagues (the eighth most ever) for the Twins, Yankees, Orioles, Indians, Dodgers and Brewers. The decade-long heart of that career came in Baltimore, where he anchored pitching staffs that led the O's to World Series appearances in 1979 and 1983, and where Dempsey remains a favorite son.

Dempsey solidified that status in 1983, when he went 5-for-13 with four doubles and a homer to earn World Series MVP honors. The Orioles topped the Phillies in five games to capture their third and last title, four years after squandering a 3-1 lead in the 1979 Series vs. the Pirates.

Though several catchers throughout O's history sport better regular-season numbers than Dempsey, few can match his postseason resume. A career .233 hitter with .666 OPS in regular-season play, Dempsey hit .303/.370/.515 with 12 extra-base hits and seven RBIs across 25 career postseason games.

“I came through at the best time to come through,” Dempsey told MASN in 2013, on the 30th anniversary of the 1983 title. “Whenever we played big games, I put the stats behind me and only thought, ‘What can I do to help this team win?'”

2. Chris Hoiles, 1989-98
Key fact: Franchise catcher leader in WAR and home runs

The franchise leader in homers as a catcher, Hoiles hit 151 (141 at the position) after arriving from Detroit in the Fred Lynn trade of 1988. He also ranks first among Orioles catchers in runs (415), OPS (.833), weighted on-base average (.368) and fWAR (24.8) with the club, with whom he spent his entire career. Hoiles' best season came in '93, when he hit .310 with 29 homers and a 1.001 OPS and received down-ballot American League MVP Award votes.

3. Gus Triandos, 1955-62
Key fact: Earned MVP votes in 4 of first five seasons in Baltimore (1955-59)

The franchise’s first slugger and mainstay behind the plate, Triandos earned three All-Star nods in the late ‘50s (1957, '58 and '59). He compiled the only 30-homer season for a catcher in O’s history (when he hit 30 in '58), and still ranks as the franchise’s leader at the position in RBIs (517). He threw out 47 percent of attempted basestealers in his career, including a whopping 67 percent in '57, one of the highest single-season marks ever.

4. Matt Wieters, 2009-16
Key fact: Four-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove winner

The No. 5 overall pick of the 2007 Draft, Wieters never developed into the superstar he was projected to be. But he did grow into a four-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner, and the defensive anchor for playoff teams in '12 and '16. He ultimately hit .256 with 117 homers and a .739 OPS and accumulated 18 fWAR across eight seasons in Baltimore.

5. Andy Etchebarren, 1962, '65-75
Key fact: Played in four Fall Classics

Etchebarren won World Series titles with the Orioles in 1966 and '70, after becoming the first (and first until John Means in 2019) O’s rookie to make the All-Star team when he did so in 1966. He was also a fixture on AL champion Orioles teams in '69 and '71, and squads that reached the AL Championship Series in '73 and '74. Etchebarren caught 730 games total across 12 seasons in Baltimore, earning two All-Star nods.

Honorable mentions
Mickey Tettleton was a huge part of the 1989 “Why Not?” Orioles, earning Silver Slugger and All-Star nods that year. … Ramón Hernández spent just three years with the O's, but set the single-season franchise mark for a catcher with 91 RBIs in 2006. … Elrod Hendricks was a fixture with the franchise for nearly four decades as a player and coach.