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 Ian Browne’s ranking of the top five catchers in Red Sox history. Next week: First basemen.
1) Carlton Fisk, 1969, '71-80
Key fact: Second all-time in games caught (2,226), trailing another player with the same nickname – Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez.
The author of one of the most iconic moments in baseball history, perhaps Fisk’s greatness as a player is overshadowed by that home run he clocked off the foul pole to end Game 6 of the 1975 World Series against the “Big Red Machine” Reds. Aside from Johnny Bench, it’s hard to find a catcher who could match Fisk’s all-around excellence on offense and defense. He could even run the bases, as evidenced by his nine triples in '72. It’s also hard to find another catcher who combined such a hulking presence (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) with superior athleticism.
“He was so unique for a catcher,” said Jerry Remy, Fisk’s teammate with the Red Sox from 1978-80. “He was a big, huge catcher. Most catchers aren’t as tall as he was, and it was very difficult for him to get into a crouch and provide a good strike zone for the pitcher, which he was able to do.”
Fisk’s frequent mound visits wouldn’t be popular in today’s culture of constantly finding ways to speed up the game.
“He was very, very smart at motivating pitchers. He was very strong-minded,” Remy said. “If he felt like they weren’t on the same page, he would not hesitate to go out there and air them out a little bit about how we’re going to do things.”
Born in Vermont and raised in New Hampshire, Fisk lived the dream of playing for the team he rooted for as a kid. His time in Boston came to a sour end when the front office didn’t mail out his contract offer in time, allowing him to become a free agent. Fisk played for the White Sox from 1981 through his retirement in ’93. Thanks to his New England roots and that magical World Series homer, Fisk is most reminiscent about his years in Boston. He was one of 10 Red Sox players to have his number retired at Fenway. In 1,078 games for Boston, Fisk was a seven-time All-Star, slashing .284/.356/.481 with 162 homers.
“Had a tremendous throwing arm and had great, great glove work behind the plate. He’s a Hall of Famer. He’s by far the best the Red Sox have ever had at that position for a lot of different reasons,” said Remy.
2) Jason Varitek, 1997-2011
Key fact: Varitek and Carlos Ruiz are the only catchers in history to catch four no-hitters.
That key fact above demonstrates what Varitek’s top quality was: His masterful work with pitchers. From Pedro Martinez to Curt Schilling to Josh Beckett to Jon Lester and many more, nearly every Red Sox starter who played with Varitek loved throwing to him. More nurturing with his pitchers than Fisk but no less of a leader, Varitek was the master of preparation. On nearly every game day, he would be going through his binder spotting every tendency he could find from the hitters his pitching staff would be facing that night.
“Without you, we would have never made it [to the World Series],” Martinez said to Varitek the night he was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2016. “The biggest reason, not only for the Boston Red Sox, but to me personally, that I had so much success -- I would have to say you are the biggest part, partner.”
So that pretty much covers the defense. Varitek, a switch-hitter, was also a top offensive player at his position before wearing down at the tail end of his career. In the championship-winning season of 2004, he had a .390 on-base percentage and an .872 OPS. For his career, all of which was spent with the Red Sox, Varitek had a sturdy .776 OPS with 193 homers. Varitek had many things that didn’t show up on the stat sheet, including his physical and mental toughness.
He was Boston’s captain from 2005 until his retirement. The Red Sox haven’t had a captain since, nor have they given Varitek’s No. 33 to another player. The 1,488 games that Varitek caught for the Red Sox are easily the most in team history.
3) Rich Gedman, 1980-90
Key fact: Gedman is scheduled to be inducted into the next class of Red Sox Hall of Famers later this year.
The man known as “Geddy” grew up in Worcester, Mass., dreaming he would one day play for the Red Sox. He wound up living that dream for over a decade and was a two-time All-Star (1985-86) for Boston. Gedman was behind the plate on April 29, 1986, when Roger Clemens set a Major League record with 20 strikeouts against the Mariners. In fact, Clemens -- who won 192 games in a Sox uniform -- often credits Gedman for much of his success.
A left-handed hitter, Gedman accumulated 58 homers for the Sox over a three-year span (1984-86). Behind the plate, he possessed a strong arm. In the pennant-winning season of ’86, Gedman threw out 50 percent of the runners who attempted to steal against him. Though Game 5 of the ’86 American League Championship Series is best remembered for the go-ahead homer by Dave Henderson with two outs and two strikes in the top of the ninth, Gedman kept Boston in that game in Anaheim by going 4-for-4, including a two-run homer. Gedman was also hit by a pitch from lefty Gary Lucas in the ninth, setting the stage for Henderson.
4) Rick Ferrell, 1933-37
Key fact: Had a .394 on-base percentage in five seasons with Red Sox.
While the mid-1930s represent a non-descript point of Red Sox history, Ferrell was a definite bright spot. Inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in '95, Ferrell was a strong two-way catcher. He was an All-Star in three consecutive seasons for the Sox ('34-36), hitting .297 or above in each of those seasons. He led the league in caught-stealing percentage (60 percent) in ’35.
Ferrell played 522 of his 1,884 career games for the Red Sox and was elected to the Hall of Fame via the Veteran’s Committee in 1984. During his time with the Red Sox, Ferrell had the thrill of catching his younger brother Wes, a righty starter who won 62 games for Boston.
5) Sammy White, 1951-59
Key fact: White caught 968 games for the Red Sox, trailing only Varitek and Fisk.
In his nine seasons for the Red Sox, White was a workhorse who earned the trust of solid pitchers like Mel Parnell, Ellis Kinder and Bill Monbouquette. He was steady if unspectacular at the plate, hitting double-digit homers in four straight seasons. A career highlight for White was hitting a home run off the legendary Satchel Paige on June 11, 1952. White was an All-Star in '53.
Wally Schang, considered the best hitting catcher in the dead-ball era, played for Boston’s 1918 World Series championship squad, going 4-for-9 in that Fall Classic. … Lou Criger, with the Red Sox from 1901-08, was a sub-par hitter but earned recognition as Cy Young’s most trusted catcher. … Bill Carrigan was a catcher and manager for back-to-back Red Sox championship teams in '15-16.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.