Braves All-Time Team: Catcher

I’ve put the poll behind the fold to minimize popups, but they will show up sometimes. Essentially, this is everybody who was a regular catcher for the Braves for more than about three years. It’s a little harder to meet the 2000 PA standard for catchers, especially if you go back before the war, and a couple of them might be a little short. The candidates are:

Javy Lopez
Bruce Benedict
Joe Torre
Del Crandall
Phil Masi
Al Spohrer
Hank Gowdy

Realistically, it’s between Javy, Joe, and Del.


33 thoughts on “Braves All-Time Team: Catcher”

  1. I voted for Javy, but I have fond memories of Torre. But I really used to like Biff Pocoroba… the name, if nothing else. And don’t forget that Dale Murphy caught 85 games… 85 very special games.

  2. I’m not advertising anyone, and I voted for Javy, and I’m not surprised he’s winning early, but I just wanted to put in a word for Del Crandall. He came up too early, and played too long, but in his twenties he was an awfully good player, an eight-time All-Star and a four-time Gold Glove winner.

  3. I vote for Javy, without looking up any numbers yet. Bruce Benedict was always one of my favorite players, though. I think he ref’s ACC basketball games now.

  4. Joe was a great player when he was with the Braves, but Javy has nearly 4000 more PA as a Brave. Del Crandall was a good player, but he was a signifigantly worse hitter than pre-suspicion Javy. Depending on how much you discredit Lopez for his defense, it’s either Javy by a signifigant margin or Javy by a Skip Bayless vs. Chris Fowler margin.

  5. Bruce Benedict is a ref and a scout for the NEW YORK METS!

    I hate Javy. I caused his big contract year. Short story:
    I was sitting in a bar eating a fajita and Javy came up to bat, this was in mid-May. Javy was hitting roughly his weight and looked horrible at bat. My buddy says, “I think Javy is going to have a good season.” I said, “Nah, he is over rated and I wouldn’t care if he leaves after the season.” my buddy Scott, “Oh, I bet he hits 40 dinger this year. In fact, I bet you $50 he does.” I say “For every home run under 40 you owe me $5 dollars and vice versa.” Hand to God we shake hands on it and at the same time Javy hits a 415 foot shot in the left field stands. Long end of the short I was out some cash. I think Javy owes me some money. So I had to vote for Torre.

  6. That’s a pretty good story, Smitty. It must have been early in the year, because as I recall he started hitting lots of homers fairly early in the year.

  7. It was a few weeks in. He wasn’t hitting at all at this point, if I remember correctly. I thought it was going to be the usuall Javy .265 27 88 or so. I thought that was going to be a quick $50. For Chirstmas I got one of those tee-shirt Jersies with Lopez on the back. Kinda funny

  8. David Wells is the only player for whom the phase “hitting your weight” yields a pretty decent average.

    I voted for Javy. I’m nowhere near old enough to remember anybody else.

  9. Biff’s hanging out with Charlie O’Brien somewhere where the “one-pitcher catchers” have their secret society.

  10. I’m voting for Bruce. I met him once, and he told some of the most hilarious stories I’ve ever heard. Great guy.

    I ‘ve also met Biff Pocoroba through his business: he owns a restaurant supply company dealing in meat. It’s called Sausage World. Seriously. Biff’s also a class act.

  11. I have a real soft spot for all the 80s Braves. When I was a kid following them I (naively) believed everyone one of them was the greatest player at their position, and it took me a while to shake the notion that baseball teams were just gangs of friends happily traveling the country for the love of the game. I balled my eyes out when they traded Butler (does anyone else remember TBS playing a montage of his highlights over “Every Breath You Take” after he was traded?) That’s when I started losing it and Len Baker became a grinch-like figure that I quietly wished bad things upon.

    At any rate, I voted for Torre, but the kid in me is screaming Brrruuuuccceeeee!!

  12. For a moment there, I wondered about Earl Williams, but then he never wanted to catch, did he?

  13. “I balled my eyes out when they traded Butler (does anyone else remember TBS playing a montage of his highlights over “Every Breath You Take” after he was traded?)”

    No, but I remember whenever Butler would get a big hit, the giant scoreboard would say “the BUTLER did it!”

    I also grew up on the ’80s Braves. Somewhere, I have an Chief Nok-a-homa autographed baseball.

  14. Although Torre had some tremendous years after he left the Braves, his years with the Braves still win this category. An annual choice at all star catcher from approx 64-68, Torre is one of those players close to HOF numbers, and with his record as a mgr. will some day be in Cooperstown. I too remember the TBS montage to Brett Butler in the good old days when TBS actually WANTED to broadcast Braves games. Speaking of which,I remember when the silhouette of Murphy batting was used as the TBS logo.

  15. 2000 PA. 2000 PA. 2000 PA. Etc.

    Pocoroba: 1674 career PA.
    Olson: 1431 PA with the Braves.
    Berryhill: 692 PA with the Braves.
    O’Brien 405 PA with the Braves.
    Nobody asked, but Eddie Perez: 1112 career PA with the Braves entering this season.

    Williams had 1843 PA with the Braves, and was primarily a catcher for only two seasons and part of a third.

  16. Murph was a catcher for a short time. He had that same problem that “Rube” from “Major League II” did, where he couldn’t throw the ball back to the pitcher. I guess with the Murph being a good Mormon, couldn’t read Penhouse articles to help him.

  17. Enjoying, as I do, the occasional walk down history lane at Baseball Reference, I was surprised to see Crandall’s 8 All-Star selections (53-56, 57-60, 62). By the way, not only did he win 4 Gold Gloves, but he was the first catcher to do so (it’s a cheat — the award wasn’t handed out before 1957 — still…).

    But all those All-Star selections….I took a look at the NL All-Star rosters for the years Crandall was selected, just to see who else was highly thought of at the time (besides Campanella, of course). Found something very interesting:

    NL All-Star Catchers, 1953-60

    1953 — Crandall, Campanella, Wes Westrum, Del Rice
    1954 — Crandall, Campanella, Smoky Burgess
    1955 — Crandall, Campanella, Burgess, Stan Lopata
    1956 — Crandall, Campanella, Lopata, Ed Bailey
    1957 — Bailey, Hank Foiles, Hal Smith
    1958 — Crandall, Johnny Roseboro, Bob Schmidt
    1959 — Crandall, Burgess, Smith
    1960 — Crandall, Burgess, Bailey

    That’s right, in an 8-team league there were at least 3 All-Star catchers every year, and in ’53, ’55, and ’56 fully half the starting catchers in the league made the All-Star team! Burgess gained greater renown as a pinch-hitter, but he was younger in these days, and was still his team’s primary catcher in each year. Only in 1962 was Crandall one of two All-Star catchers. I had been prepared to make a case for Crandall as the all-time Braves catcher, but we have to downgrade the All-Star evidence. Obviously he must have been a far superior defensive catcher to Torre and Javy, but I don’t think that his league-average hitting can put him above either.

    I’ll go with Javy. Torre hit better and more consistently, but was already beginning to play at other positions before going to the Cardinals. Javy played about 300 more catcher games with the Braves, was usually the second-best offensive catcher in the league (trailing only the best offensive catcher ever), and his 2003 may trail only Piazza’s 1997 as the best-ever NL single season at the position.

  18. Mackey Sasser was the worst that I saw. It was sad to watch him falling into the umpire just trying to release the ball. I remember someone tried to steal right after a walk one time… he just ran straight from home, around first and toward second while Sasser octuple-pumped, as usual. He never got the throw off to the pitcher before he realized what was up and then just nailed the guy at second with a great throw and no hesitation. A strange thing to see.

  19. Postscript to above: At least in ’59 and ’60 it made some sense to have three catchers, as they played two All-Star games each year from ’59-’62. Oddly, in 1962 the NL had only Crandall and Roseboro at catcher, despite playing the two games.

  20. I think that’s fair, Sansho. Crandall may have been the best catcher in the league from 1958-60, but it was a weak crop. And Haney and then Dressen never took him out of the lineup and he wore down fast after that…

    I’m having fun with putting together the other lists. I have (reluctantly) had to cut Andres Thomas from the shortstop list of ten, and two CF. Did you know that Dusty Baker played more CF for the Braves than anything else? He moved to right when Hank was traded, but then they traded him after a couple of years.

  21. FWIW, prior to Javy’s monster ’03, Neyer gave the #1 slot to Crandall, citing the All-Star selections, and giving him some nebulous extra credit for missing two years due to service in Korea. Though in many cases I think it’s acceptable to make a war-service exception in player rankings, in Crandall’s case I disagree with doing so. As you said, Crandall wore down after years of full-time catcher duty. If you believe that a body can only handle so many games at catcher, it’s obvious that Crandall played in the number of games his body would allow. He probably would have worn down that much quicker had he spent those two years playing ball.

    It’s an odd point to make, I suppose — that catching is harder on a body than fighting in a war. But hey, if the bullets all miss you….

  22. Anybody know why Del Crandall only appeared in like 15 games in 1951? I am guessing it probably wasn’t for tommy john surgery?

    I have to vote for him, obviously…

  23. Well, Crandall played a lot in the late fifties, but in the early fifties he was getting about 400 AB a year, which seems reasonable. The Braves’ other catcher at the time was Walker Cooper, who was old but could still hit. Their other catchers in the 1958-60 period were first Del Rice (an all-Del combo!) then Stan Lopata and Charley Lau, and they were all pretty lousy. Hence keeping Crandall in the lineup. Torre would have pushed him out of town anyway even if his bat hadn’t died.

    I assume he was hurt in ’61, unless they just wanted to see what happened if they played Torre the same way they’d played Crandall. In case you didn’t know, the people running the Braves in their last years in Milwaukee had little idea what they were doing. It’s ridiculous that that team won only one World Series.

  24. I had to go with Torre, he just seemed more consistant to me than Javy. His OBP was consistantly higher and other than Javy’s steroid year the power numbers aren’t all that different.

  25. I voted for Crandall. Lopez had some good years with the bat, but was a questionable fielder and his batting was both inconsistent and driven by the era in which he played.

  26. “I balled my eyes out when they traded Butler (does anyone else remember TBS playing a montage of his highlights over “Every Breath You Take” after he was traded?)”

    That was from a post-season TBS special called “A Tale of Two Seasons.” I think I watched a tape of it everyday for about two years. Excellent post-season recap of a team that fell apart late.

    Butler, Jacoby and Behenna for Len Barker. We could have traded Kominsk and Behenna and gotten Sutcliffe and Blyleven.

    In 1984, we should have moved Washington to left, Murph to right, Butler to center. Traded Horns for a second-starter in the rotation. Brought up Jacoby and left Perry move into first. Released Chambliss.

    Unfortunately, we still would have had to deal with the fact that our shortstop of the future was Andres Thomas.

    I don’t think there was a decent catcher in the organization behind Benedict. Matt Sinatro is the only one whoever got a decent look. They moved Bedrock and Milt Thompson for Ozzie Virgil. Great. Trade a Cy Young reliever and a .290 speedy leadoff man for an over-the-hill .230 catcher.

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