Next up? Yanks’ catching legacy long, storied

Next up? Yanks’ catching legacy long, storied

5:25 PM UTC

While the Yankees wait for pitchers and catchers the way we all do, stories are written about when New York’s next great young catcher might come along. At this point, the Yankees still seek the next player to join a line as proud as any they’ve ever had, one that began with Bill Dickey in 1928 and continued through Jorge Posada until his retirement after the 2011 season.

We obviously think of home runs with the Yankees, mostly because Babe Ruth seemed to have invented them. And we think of center fielders because of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, and because Bernie Williams was such a sweet member of the great Yankee teams of the 1990s. Their star shortstops have been Phil Rizzuto and Derek Jeter. But no team in history has had catchers quite the way the Yankees have:

Bill Dickey

Yogi Berra

Elston Howard

Thurman Munson

Jorge Posada

Dickey, the original No. 8, played 17 seasons and was still around in 1946 when Berra (who didn’t wear No. 8 until ’48) returned from World War II and played a handful of games at the end of that season. Berra played 18 seasons in pinstripes, and it wasn’t until near the end of his career that Howard — who had moved from catcher to first base to the outfield in the 1950s after beginning his career in the Negro Leagues — took over most of the catching duties at Yankee Stadium. Howard won an MVP as New York backstop to go with the three Berra won in the 50s.

Thirteen years later, Munson, whose life ended in a private plane crash on Aug. 2, 1979, also won an MVP award, making three MVP Yankees catchers in just 25 seasons. Dickey even came close in 1938, finishing second to Jimmie Foxx after hitting .313 with 27 homers and 115 RBIs.

Then along came Posada, whose career looks better and better the more baseball fans examine it. Posada should have gotten a lot more love from Hall of Fame votes during his brief time on the ballot. He played briefly in 1996 — 50 years after Berra debuted — and was the primary catcher by 1998 on a New York team that won 114 regular-season games and 125 in all, and might have been the best Yankee team of them all. Posada spent 17 seasons with the club.

Posada was also a member of five World Series-winning Yankees squads, though he didn’t play in the 1996 postseason. He was sure there in ’98 and ’99 and 2000, though, and was still around when New York won for the final time in ’09. When Posada returned as a Spring Training instructor in ’13, he talked about passing on his experiences the way Berra had with him when he returned to New York as an instructor in 2000:

“Yogi was always with the catchers, going through the drills, blocking balls, watching us, laughing with us,” Posada said. “It was amazing — you could tell how much he was enjoying it. I mean, we’re thinking, ‘This is Yogi Berra. We should be honored to be in his presence.’ But the way he acted, it was almost like it was the other way around.”

Berra and the guy known to his teammates as Georgie are part of the line of Yankees royalty behind the dish. Berra used to talk all the time about how Dickey came back after his retirement following the ’46 season to pass on his knowledge about the position, and about playing that position on the Yankees, to Berra.

“Bill learned me his experience,” is the way Berra put it, as only Berra could.

Berra won 10 World Series as a Yankee, and Dickey won seven before him. Howard collected four rings in his career, and Munson was behind the plate for back-to-back titles in 1977 and ’78, when the Yankees got back on top after having not won a World Series since ’62.

While the perception remains that center field has long been the true star position at Yankee Stadium, there were more stars behind the plate. The lowest lifetime batting average for any of the men in this line is Posada, and he hit .273 across 17 seasons. Dickey retired with a .313 average, Yogi at .285, Thurman at .292. Howard, who began his professional career with the storied Kansas City Monarchs, had a lifetime MLB average of .274.

Twenty-seven World Series titles for these men. Five MVP Awards. Too many All-Star combined appearances to count (53, in case you’re curious). They’ve been waiting a long time since Posada for another to come along. It might take a while. Catchers ought to have their own section in Monument Park.

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