As the curtain finally comes down on a miserable 2021 season, it’s time to start wallowing in Chicago Cubs nostalgia. Here we’ll look at the five best Cubs catchers of all-time. This “five best” series is based on last year’s all-time Cubs top 25.
I’ll be focusing more on the down-ballot players since the top 25 have already been well covered. Stats are for each player’s career as a Cub except as noted. I also confined the list to players that played at least 50 percent of their time at catcher. Sorry, King Kelly.
5. Randy Hundley 1966-77, .240/.296.359, 78 wRC+, 12.8 WAR
On Sunday, September 29, 1946, the Cubs defeated the Cardinals at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, finishing the season with a record of 82-71. The Cubs would not finish over .500 for the next 20 years. The catcher on the next good Cubs roster would be Randy Hundley. A defensive stalwart, Hundley leads all Cubs catchers in Fangraphs defense rating, and he caught base stealers at an impressive 42 percent career rate. His overall offensive record is, um, not very offensive, but he did produce at least 93 wRC+ during three of Leo Durocher’s six-and-half seasons at the helm.
4. Willson Contreras 2016-21, .258/.358/.457, 114 wRC+, 11.9 WAR
The organization’s best hitting catcher this side of Hartnett, Willson Contreras became a regular in June of the magical 2016 season, splitting his time between catcher and left field. Contreras has a howitzer for a bat and the same for an arm. He has power to all fields and the best pop time in all the land. His ability to backpick runners at first helped Jon Lester overcome his baserunner management problems, and, let’s face it, it’s just exciting as hell to watch.
3. Jody Davis 1981-88, .251./.313/.416, 94 wRC+, 18.5 WAR
Like Hundley, Jody Davis was a rugged, durable defender who anchored an improved Cubs team, in this case the 1984 squad, which made the first Cubs postseason appearance since 1945. Davis is second all time in homers for a Cubs catcher (122), though Contreras (95) will likely pass Davis if he signs an extension. Davis is (probably) the only Cubs catcher with his own song.
2. Johnny Kling 1900-11, .272/.317/.358, 103 wRC+, 20.0 WAR
Johnny Kling was the catcher for the Tinkers-Evers-Chance Cubs, and was the last catcher to appear in a World Series-clinching game before Contreras. Given the era in which he played, it isn’t surprising to learn that Kling leads all Cubs catchers in career stolen bases by a yawning margin (118 for Kling, 28 for Hartnett in second). As owner of the Double-A Kansas City Blues in 1933, Kling abolished segregated stadium seating. When Kling sold the club to Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert in 1937, Ruppert reimposed it.
1. Gabby Hartnett 1922-40, .297/.370./.490, 127 wRC+, 52.7 WAR
I’m naming my new digital currency the “Hartnett,” because this man was pure money. Hartnett became the anchor of a Cubs franchise that would not fall below .500 from 1926 through 1940 while going to (and yes, losing) four World Series. He leads all Cubs catchers in the Triple Crown and triple slash numbers.
Chicago Cubs: Looking at some of the honorable mention candidates
Bob O’Farrell (1915-25, 1934) was the principal catcher between Kling and Hartnett. In 1923 he ripped 12 home runs, a record for Cubs catchers to that point.
Through his age 27 season Geovany Soto (2005-12) had a 113 OPS+. In 2012 his production plummeted and the former National League Rookie of the Year was dealt to Texas.
In 1993 Rick Wilkins (1991-95) had the best single season bWAR ever (6.6) for a Cubs catcher. He would never come close to that achievement again, but went on to have a solid backup career after being traded for Luis Gonzalez in 1995.
Whichever type of WAR you take in your coffee, Silver Flint (1879-89) ranks in the Cubs catching top ten. Any day you get to say “Silver Flint” is a good day.