Second Inning

2nd Inning: A Benchmark for Excellence Shared by Only Two Men

In the middle of Ivan Rodriguez’ Hall of Fame career is a seemingly routine sequence of statistics that runs between 1996
and 1999. His hit totals in those years show at least 180 hits for each season, which, at first doesn’t seem so impressive, but which, upon further inspection opens the door to one of the most interesting, and under-appreciated stories within the rich history of baseball. In fact, there are only two other Hall of Fame Catchers who have delivered seasons which included 180 hits, with Yogi Berra being the first to accomplish the feat in 1950 and Mike Piazza doing so 3 times in the late 1990s.
It may surprise fans of baseball to know that there are only 21 examples in baseball history of seasons in which a Catcher has delivered 180 hits while catching at least 120 games. And when Ivan Rodriguez accomplished the feat 4 consecutive years in a row his hit totals were overshadowed by his MVP award in 1999 and no one took notice of the unusual but impressive nature of his achievement. And no one even wondered if it had ever been done before.
In fact, the only other man to deliver 4 straight seasons with at least 180 hits while catching 120 games was from an entirely different generation; a time well before the hint of performance enhancing cocktails began casting aspersions on the new higher than ever offensive output of the 1990s. The man to do this first, and to date the only other Catcher in history to do so, was none other than Thurman Munson, who did it, just like Rodriguez, in his 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th full seasons.
Further still, if we look even deeper into the unique achievements of Rodriguez and Munson in these seasons and take into account their defensive Caught Stealing (CS) success, we find that there are exactly 12 examples in baseball history in which a Catcher delivered 180 hits and caught 120 games while being above their league average in CS percentage for the season.

Considering that there have been 1,780 examples since 1871 of players at any position delivering at least 180 hits in a season, these 12 examples by Catchers deserve further appreciation and examination. To add further dimension to the unusual nature of this feat, let’s consider that in baseball history there have been exactly 15 examples of players of any position getting at least 240 hits in a season. The fact that there are only 12 examples of a Catcher playing 120 games at the position while delivering 180 hits and being above league average in Caught Stealing is perhaps the greatest possible way to demonstrate the unique physical demands on those men taking their place on the field directly behind the plate!

Think about it this way: to endure the additional challenges of the Catcher position for 120 games and hit for a high enough average to deliver at least 180 hits, while at the same time be able to excel on the defensive side of the ball is one of the most difficult trifectas in the game! To balance durability with endurance and hit with consistent excellence is a rare talent.

 

Seasons in Which A Catcher Has Caught 120 Games and Delivered 180 Hits

While Being Above League Average in Caught Stealing %

Year

Hits

League Rank in Hits

Games

Caught

Caught

Stealing %

VS. League

CS %

Yogi Berra

1950

192

4th

148

58

9

Ted Simmons

1973

192

4th

153

44

8

Thurman Munson

1975

190

3rd

130

50

12

Thurman Munson

1976

186

4th

121

35

1

Thurman Munson

1977

183

11th

136

40

1

Thurman Munson

1978

183

4th

125

45

7

Ivan Rodriguez

1996

192

7th

146

51

21

Ivan Rodriguez

1997

187

5th

143

57

24

Ivan Rodriguez

1998

186

9th

139

56

25

Ivan Rodriguez

1999

199

5th

141

55

22

Jason Kendall

2004

183

10th

146

36

8

Joe Mauer

2006

181

11th

120

38

8

Analytical Note 1: Yogi Berra won a World Series Title in 1950 and Thurman Munson won in 1977 and 1978.

Analytical Note 2: Thurman Munson won the MVP Award in 1976 and Ivan Rodriguez won in 1999.

Analytical Note 3: Munson’s 190 hits and 3rd place finish in 1975 is the closest a Catcher has come to leading his league in hits: 5 behind the leader (Brett / 195).

So together, Thurman Munson and Ivan Rodriguez share 8 of those 12 seasons in the history of baseball in which a Catcher has caught at least 120 games and delivered 180 hits while being above their league average in the defensive CS metric. And, when combining both regular season and postseason productivity Ivan Rodriquez put up a total of 772 hits between
1996 and 1999, and throughout the history of the game, Thurman Munson is the only Catcher to surpass this 4 year total with the 788 total hits that he delivered between 1975 and 1978. Delivering this level of astounding offensive output at the Catcher position while at the same time being above league average in CS% every year, is truly a special and noteworthy contribution to the game joining only these two men in baseball history.
The fact that Thurman shares these feats with a first ballot Hall of Famer renews the questions of how high Thurman would have been on the list of all-time great catchers had his career not come to a tragic end, but it is also gives us pause to take a renewed look at what he did accomplish in his 10 years in baseball.

Batting practice before his first major league game on August 8, 1969 during which he caught a complete game 9 inning shutout victory by Al Downing and collected his first hit off Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter – his future friend and teammate.