White Sox Top 5 catchers: Merkin'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 Scott Merkin’s ranking of the top five catchers in White Sox history. Next week: First basemen.

1) Carlton Fisk, 1981-93
Key fact: Tops all White Sox catchers in homers, doubles, runs scored, RBIs and slugging percentage

Fisk could also rank near or at the top of the catching list for the Boston Red Sox, where he had a highly successful run from 1969-80. But when Fisk joined the White Sox prior to the 1981 season on a five-year deal worth $2.9 million, he immediately changed the culture of a franchise that hadn't made a playoff appearance since 1959. Fisk’s deal came months after Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn purchased the team, eventually helping the White Sox win their first American League West title in 1983.

The 1983 starting rotation threw 35 complete games, and the trio of LaMarr Hoyt, Richard Dotson and Floyd Bannister finished 62-27 with Fisk’s assistance. Fisk posted a .289 average, 26 homers and 86 RBIs in ’83 and knocked out 37 homers and drove home 107 in 1985. While on the White Sox he made four All-Star Game appearances.

Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000, Fisk’s White Sox jersey No. 72 was retired by the White Sox in 1997 and his statue, unveiled in 2005, lives along the Guaranteed Rate Field concourse. He also caught Tom Seaver’s 300th career victory as part of his resume.

2) Ray Schalk, 1912-28
Key fact: Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1955

The Illinois native served as the starting catcher on the 1917 World Series championship team, and as Paul Konerko once said, every championship-caliber team has to have a good catcher. The right-handed-hitting Schalk played all but five of his 1,762 Major League games and made all but two of his 6,240 career plate appearances with the White Sox. He was an athletic backstop, finishing his career with 177 stolen bases, ranking him first all-time among White Sox catchers and ninth overall in franchise history.

Schalk amassed 22.4 fWAR, which put him third behind Sherm Lollar (32.1) and Fisk (30.1) among White Sox catchers, and finished with 33.0 bWAR, tops among White Sox catchers. He had four seasons where he caught at least 134 games, catching 151 in 1920 and 142 in 1922. Schalk also finished his career with a 52 percent caught-stealing rate, throwing out 1,009 and allowing 947 stolen bases. He earned a third-place finish in the AL Most Valuable Player voting in 1922.

3) A.J. Pierzynski, 2005-12
Key fact: Major component in 2005 World Series championship

Pierzynski is the only catcher on this list (and probably any list) to serve as a pro wrestling manager while he was an active player. But here are two facts that define Pierzynski: he loved to play and he hated to lose.

During his White Sox tenure, Pierzynski never caught fewer than 120 games per season and caught over 130 games four separate seasons. He also caught at least 1,000 innings during each season he spent on the South Side. Pierzynski is well known for his bottom-of-the-ninth inning dropped-third-strike dash to first with two outs in Game 2 of the 2005 American League Championship Series, which eventually led to Joe Crede’s walk-off double to even the series with the Angels at one game apiece. Pierzynski hit 118 home runs over his White Sox career, with a high of 27 in 2012, and finished with a career .279 average as part of the White Sox.

4) Sherm Lollar, 1952-63
Key fact: One of three catchers to hit more than 100 home runs in team history.

Lollar was traded by the St. Louis Browns to the White Sox as part of an eight-player deal on Nov. 27, 1951, and he played his final 12 seasons in Chicago, during which he logged his best overall results. Among White Sox catchers, Lollar owns the third-highest bWAR and the highest fWAR at 32.1.

With the White Sox he hit 124 home runs, placing him second on the club's all-time list among catchers, behind Fisk’s 214. Lollar represented the White Sox in eight out of his nine total All-Star Game appearances. He won three consecutive Gold Gloves from 1957-1959 and had four seasons with the White Sox where he led MLB catchers in fielding percentage; in 1961, he produced a .998 fielding percentage.

5) Ron Karkovice, 1986-97
Key fact: Had a 41% caught-stealing rate

Nicknamed “Officer Karkovice” by legendary White Sox broadcaster Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, baserunners moved at their own risk against the strong-armed catcher. He ranked in the Top 5 among American League catchers in caught-stealing percentage in five separate seasons, leading backstops at No. 1 in 1989 (48 percent), 1990 (50 percent) and 1993 (53.8 percent). Although he never won a Gold Glove, over the course of his career he had a 11.6 defensive bWAR and threw out 281 of 682 total baserunners attempting to steal.

In 1993, when the White Sox won their division, Karkovice allowed 48 stolen bases and threw out 56. He guided a pitching staff that posted the lowest ERA in the American League that year, while also showing off a little power by hitting 20 home runs and 54 RBIs in the same season.