Rangers' Top 5 catchers: Sullivan'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 T.R. Sullivan’s ranking of the top 5 catchers in Rangers history. Next week: First basemen.

1. Ivan Rodriguez 1991-2002, 2009
Key facts: 11 full seasons with the Rangers, 10 All-Star Games, 10 Gold Gloves, 1999 American League Most Valuable Player Award winner

Was there any doubt? Is there anything left to say about a catcher who is one of the best ever and went into the Hall of Fame as a Ranger?


Rodriguez played for the Rangers from 1991-2002 and then was allowed to leave as a free agent after three injury-marred seasons. There was a feeling in the organization that Rodriguez, 30, was done as a full-time catcher. Except over the next five seasons, 2003-07, with the Marlins and Tigers, he went to four more All-Star Games, won three Gold Glove Awards and played in two World Series, earning a championship ring with the Marlins in '03.

From there, Rodriguez bounced from the Tigers to the Yankees to the Astros then back to the Rangers for the final six weeks of the 2009 season. After that brief stint, he became a free agent and wasn’t ready to retire. He wanted to keep playing and wanted to stay with the Rangers.

The Rangers weren’t interested. They had Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden ready to be their catchers. Rodriguez signed with the Nationals, played in 111 games, hit .266/.294/.347 and threw out 34 percent of attempted basestealers, which was fourth best in the big leagues.

Rangers catchers that year combined for .212/.288/.317 and threw out 19.4 percent of attempted basestealers. Saltalamacchia and Teagarden gave way that year to Matt Treanor and Bengie Molina, who was acquired on July 1. Molina and Treanor caught in postseason and the Rangers went to the World Series.

Should the Rangers have kept Rodriguez?

“Hadn’t really considered that,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “Bengie Molina did such a great job for us that year. Behind the scenes, he was a huge part of the club, leading the pitching staff. As one of the few guys with postseason experience on the team, he gave a great speech before the start of the [American League] Division Series against Tampa Bay. It’s hard to think of the 2010 run without Bengie behind the plate."

Rangers' All-Time Around the Horn Team: 1B | 2B

2. Jim Sundberg, 1974-83, '88-89
Key fact: Six Gold Gloves, two All-Star appearances.

According to Baseball-Reference.com's Catchers JAWS Leaders, Sundberg ranks 23rd all-time. He is right behind Roy Campanella and just ahead of Yadier Molina. There are three Hall of Famers behind him: Ernie Lombardi, Ray Schalk and Rick Ferrell. Schalk and Ferrell were the pre-World War II versions of Sundberg, who won six straight AL Gold Glove Awards from 1976-81. He was named an All-Star in '78.

The Rangers have had two great catchers in club history: Pudge and Sundberg. Those two also represent the two categories that all Rangers players can be divided into: There were those who played most of their games with the Rangers in Arlington Stadium, and there were those who played most of their games in the Ballpark in Arlington.

Arlington Stadium was perceived as being more favorable for pitchers, while the Ballpark in Arlington -- later known as Globe Life Park -- clearly was better for hitters. As a result, when all-time Rangers teams are put together, the Ballpark in Arlington stars are the ones who have a huge advantage. That will be a common theme in this series going forward.

3. Mike Napoli, 2010-11, '15, '17
Key fact: Napoli had 10 RBIs in the 2011 World Series against the Cardinals. He is one of six players with at least 10 RBIs in a single World Series.

Napoli only caught 133 games for the Rangers from 2011-12. Yorvit Torrealba caught the most games for the Rangers in '11, but Napoli would have been the MVP of the World Series if David Freese made the final out instead of ... well, you know. In '12, Napoli became only the second Rangers catcher to start an All-Star Game.

Napoli hit 54 home runs in his two years as a Rangers catcher. He returned to the club for stints in 2015 and '17, but he did not catch a game in either of those two seasons, as he played at first base or served as the designated hitter.

4. Robinson Chirinos
Key fact: His 34 home runs as a catcher in 2017-18 were the sixth most in MLB among catchers.

Chirinos was the Rangers' Opening Day catcher in 2016 and then lost his job to Jonathan Lucroy at the Trade Deadline that year. Chirinos entered '17 as the backup catcher but eventually won the starting gig. After that, the Rangers signed Chirinos to a one-year deal for '18 and an option for '19, which was surprisingly not exercised after he was the club's primary backstop for two straight seasons. Chirinos returned to the club ahead of the '20 campaign after one year with the Astros.

5. Don Slaught, 1985-87
Key fact: His .744 OPS as a catcher with the Rangers is the third highest in club history, minimum 200 games.

Slaught was having an All-Star year for the Rangers in 1986 before getting beaned by Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd on May 17, causing him to miss six weeks with a broken nose and cheekbone. The Rangers traded him after the '87 season, and after two years with the Yankees, Slaught shared catching duties with Mike LaValliere on three outstanding Pirates clubs that won division championships from '90-92.

Honorable mentions
Rod Barajas had three solid years for the Rangers in 2004-06 after being signed as a Minor League free agent.

Geno Petralli has caught the third-most games in Rangers history.

• There was a time when Gerald Laird was going to be the Rangers' long-term catcher.