Decade of dominance
Pudge's first decade stacks up with game's best catchers
By Jacob Luft, CNNSI.com
Ivan Rodriguez joined an elite group of backstops before suffering a season-ending thumb injury.
Pudge's 27 home runs this season gave him a career total of 171, making him one of 11 catchers to catch 1,000 games and hit at least 150 home runs in his first 10 full seasons.
That type of all-around production is rare so early in a career.
Consider that of the 11 catchers in this club, four are in the Hall of Fame (Johnny Bench, Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra and Roy Campanella). The latest Hall of Fame catcher to be inducted, Carlton Fisk, didn't make the cut with 862 games caught in his first 10 seasons.
Fisk notwithstanding, what all of these catchers have most in common is durability. Pudge has led the AL in games caught five times already in his career, and this is only his second career visit to the DL.
Gary Carter led the NL in games caught in six of his first 10 years. Yogi Berra did it seven times over in the AL. Wes Crandall (5), Bill Freehan (4), Roy Campanella (4), Ted Simmons (3), Johnny Bench (2) and Mike Piazza (2) were the iron men of their leagues at one time or another during their first 10 seasons.
As impressive as Pudge's career numbers are already, they might be paltry in comparison to his future totals.
Before his 35-homer, MVP season of 1999, Pudge had never hit more than 21 longballs in a season. He was on pace for a 44-homer season in 2000, which would have broken Todd Hundley's single-season record of 41 home runs as a catcher. That gives Piazza, with his 28 home runs, a clear path to the record.
Entering Tuesday's games, Pudge was second in the AL in slugging (.667), sixth in batting average (.347) and home runs (27), third in hits (126), eighth in RBI (83) and doubles (27).
The other league's best offensive catcher, Piazza, has posted similarly impressive stats early in his career. Piazza joined the 1,000-150 club in only eight seasons. After Tuesday night, he has 267 home runs and 1,000 games caught since his first full season in 1993.
Falling short of this list but deserving of honorable mention are players like Terry Steinbach, who hit 130 home runs and caught 1,035 games in his first 10 seasons. Fisk belted 167 longballs in his first 10 years, but injuries kept him from reaching 1,000 games until later in his career. Fisk ended up with 367 home runs and a record 2,226 games caught.
Hall of Famer Gabby Hartnett compiled 138 home runs and 945 games caught in his first decade and compiled 236 career homers, 1,793 games caught in a 20-year career.