Before the holidays I talked a bit about the two Yankee catching greats in the Hal of Fame: Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey. They each were great all-around players who left a lasting impact on baseball, but there are at least two others that deserve a little more conversation, despite falling short of the Hall of Fame (so far). Elston Howard and Thurman Munson both had shortened MLB careers for different reasons.
For context, there are only 19 catchers in the Hall of Fame at this point, which is the least of any field position other than the 17 third basemen. I found this fascinating on a couple of fronts. First, I feel like catchers are vastly under-represented given the importance of the position. They have one of the most physically punishing jobs on the field, they are a part of every single pitch, and they play a crucial role in the strategy of the game. With 83 pitchers in the Hall of Fame, I can’t help but think that there are some overlooked backstops who played a role in getting them there.
My other thought, after seeing how few catchers are in Cooperstown, was that I feel a little greedy making a case for the Yankees to have more catchers in the HoF, but here we go. While this argument is widely just for fun, I think that both Elston Howard and Thurman Munson have interesting cases, somewhat heightened by their history with the Yankees, but also hindered thus far by their shortened seasons.
I must admit, I always thought Elston Howard was already in the Hall of Fame. Howard, of course, was the Yankees’ first player of color after they definitely took too long to integrate. He started his career at 19 with the Negro League’s Kansas City Monarchs in 1948. Howard joined the Yankees minor league system, but was his rise to the league was stalled as the Yankees had Yogi Berra still behind the plate.
Once Howard broke through, he made a statement. He hit .290/.336/.477 and had ten homers and seven triples in his first season with the Yankees. The 12 time All-Star, 2 time Gold Glove Winner, and 1963 MVP also won four World Series. Despite an elbow injury when he turned 36, Howard owns a lifetime 27.1 WAR with .274/.322/.427 slashline. He is eligible for the HoF in the upcoming Golden Days Era Committee in 2022, and it will be interesting to see if the new shift to give the Negro Leagues MLB status will have an impact.
I didn’t witness Thurman Munson’s career firsthand, but I always heard about the Yankee catcher whose life was cut short by a plane crash. His story is engrained in Yankees history, perhaps to the point where I dont’ know that I really knew how good of a player he actually was. Munson hit .292/.346/.410 over his career and has a 46 WAR. In the Postseason he hit .357/.378/.496.
On top of his strong bat, Munson was a strong defensive catcher. He picked up three Gold Gloves and lead the league twice in throwing out wannabe basestealers. Munson’s WAR is the 12th highest of any catcher and the only one above him who is also not in the HoF is the not-yet-eligible Joe Mauer.
That being said, Munson’s career was infamously cut short and who knows what else he may have accomplished. He seemed to be on the decline, with his best baseball behind him, but he never seemed to garner much support for the Hall.
Anyway, I had fun looking more into these two players. What are your thoughts? Any other catchers you think deserve to be in the Hall?