Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

Bay Area Catchers, They Won't Miss the Ball by A.J. Hayes

By A.J. Hayes

It’s ironic that one of the most repeated clichés about catchers is that they wear the “tools of ignorance.” Because as any serious baseball fans knows – while catchers play the most physically demanding position on the field, catcher is also the game’s most cerebral.

There is a reason catchers become managers more often than any other position players after their playing days conclude – because throughout their careers they have been the brains of their respective organizations. Catchers do more than squat and catch what the pitcher hurls. The top and most respected catchers in MLB have the power to dictate the pace of a game. They call pitches, provide on-field leadership and intelligence.

Note: Anthony Hayes is one of the most knowledgeable baseball writers in the Bay Area. For the past few seasons you have read his work in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Game Day Special Baseball Section. We are fortunate to have Anthony joining us this year on our site.

Click below for more!
Thanks, Marty LurieAnd this season Bay Area baseball fans will get the rare opportunity to watch two of the very best – if not the best – in the business: Jason Kendall and Mike Matheny, new to the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants respectively.

Not only are Kendall – an on-base percentage superhero and one of the most mobile back-stops in the game – and the 3-time Gold Glove award winning Matheny among the elite No. 2s in the game – their track records provides a very valid argument that the duo could be the best catchers to ever strap on shin guards for both Bay Area big league franchises in their west coast histories.

First let’s take a look at Kendall. Acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates by A’s general manager Billy Beane this past November in a steal of a deal in exchange for under achieving pitchers Mark Redman and Arthur Rhodes, Kendall has been a big league workhorse behind the plate since breaking into the Pirates lineup in 1996. The only season Kendall has caught in fewer than 130 games was 1999 when he suffered a gruesome compound fracture of his right ankle. The next season Kendall bounced back to play in 152 games.

Now 30 years old, Kendall – who has an unworldly .387 lifetime on-base percentage – has showed no signs of slowing down. Last season Kendall hit over .300 (.319) for the sixth time in his career. If Kendall continues his trend this season he will become the first starting catcher in the history of the Oakland A’s to hit .300.

In 2004 Kendall also led big league catchers in on-base percentage (.399), runs (86), hits (183). Kendall also led catchers in starts (145) and games played (147) for the third straight season.

The son of former big league catcher Fred Kendall, Jason takes great pride in playing his position correctly. One of his trademarks is blocking balls in the dirt. Not one to simply reach for errant pitches, Kendall will throw his body in front of bad pitches all day. While not blessed with a powerhouse throwing arm, Kendall has one of the quickest releases in the game.

Kendall brings a .988 fielding percentage into this season having made 96 errors as a catcher in his career, with 58 passed balls,

Personality wise Kendall could provide a real charge to the Oakland clubhouse. Kendall’s desire to win is notorious. He’s a take charge guy who’s not afraid to get in people’s faces to get his opinion across on how the game should be played.

Through Matheny, a key Brian Sabean free agent acquisition by the Giants last December, has never hit .300 – he’s a lifetime .239 hitter – he has been arguably the best defensive catcher in baseball since breaking in with the Milwaukee Brewers 1994.

At 6’3, 220, the Reynoldsburg, OH native is big for a catcher. But Matheny’s lack of low center of gravity has not hampered his play behind the three cornered dish. Like Kendall, Matheny doesn’t have any problem making like Dave Cowens diving for loose basketballs on the old parquet floor of the Boson Garden. Matheny is also very agile behind the dish with footwork comparable to a cat – not an easy task when you’ve playing half your games in the stifling humidity of St. Louis.

In 1,126 games behind the plate, Matheny, has a stellar career .994 fielding percentage and has won back to back gold gloves the past two seasons. He has been charged with just 42 errors and 54 passed balls in his career. He owns big league fielding records at his position for consecutive errorless games (252) and consecutive chances (1,565) without being tagged with an E2.

In 2003, Matheny played in 138 games without committing an error to become just the third receiver in history to catch in at least 100 games without making a defensive miscue – joining Buddy Rosar of the 1946 Athletics and Florida’s Charles Johnson (1997). Last season, Matheny slipped up just once and was charged with a single error in 122 games.

A year after former San Francisco catcher A.J. Pierzynski kicked up a nasty fuss in the Giants clubhouse for his lack of communication skills with the pitching staff, Matheny comes to the orange and black with the reputation of having the people person skills of a senator running for office. His m.o. is one of a catcher that spends so much time with pitchers before, during and after games going over strategy and scouting reports that teammates have joked that he wears a toe plate on his spikes just for fun.

Though Matheny’s track record with the bat doesn’t compare to his East Bay counterpart, the new Giants catcher is not all leather and no stick. Last season Matheny hit a decent .247 with 5 home runs and 50 RBI. In a less demanding temperature of Bay Area, don’t be surprised if Matheny has the increased energy to hit at a better clip.

Now let’s look at where, where both catchers fit into their new team’s histories.
During Oakland’s three glory days of the 1970s the team’s three starting catcher’s Dave Duncan, Gene Tenace and Ray Fosse were prominent players in the team’s success. Later Terry Steinbach was a major contributor in the Tony LaRussa-era A’s. But how do these fine backstops stack up when compared to Kendall?

Duncan who played with the A’s from 1964-72 posted a .984 fielding percentage in 885 career games. He was charged with 79 errors, 72 passed balls. Duncan was a career .214 career hitter with 109 home runs and 342 RBI.

Fosse who was with Oakland from 1973-75 caught 889 big league games with a .985 career fielding percentage. He made 78 errors, had 70 passed balls. Fosse was a career .256 hitter with 61 homers and 323 RBI.

Tenace who played with the A’s from 1969-76 caught 892 games and posted a .986 fielding percentage. As a catcher he made 63 errors with 73 passed balls. Tenace was a career .241 hitter with 201 homers and 674 RBI.

Without a doubt Steinbach who played for Oakland from 1986-96 is the catcher who has done the most in an A’s uniform. A very good hitter, Steinbach (including three seasons to close out his career with Minnesota) was a career .271 hitter, he slugged 162 home runs and knocked in 745 runs. His career on base percentage was .326.

Interestingly, Steinbach’s best single season with Oakland came in his final season in green and gold in 1996 when he batted .272 with career highs in home runs (35) and RBI (100). His top batting average in a full season came in 1994 when he hit .285. In 1,380 games as a backstop Steinbach posted a career .989 fielding percentage. He committed 92 errors; 79 passed balls and threw out 436 of 765 base stealers.

Since the team arrived in San Francisco in 1958, the late Tom Haller has provided the bench mark for Giants catchers. The Giants starting catcher from 1962-67 Haller was an offensive threat (.257 lifetime average and 134 career homers) and an excellent receiver. In 1,192 career games as a catcher Haller posted a .992 fielding percentage. He was charged with 64 errors and 121 passed balls.

When talking pure defense you have to look to Kirt Manwaring. The only San Francisco catcher to ever win the gold glove (1993) Manwaring played 993 games at catcher and posted a .991 fielding percentage. He was charged with 50 errors, 48 passed balls in his 10 season career. In his gold glove season Manwaring played in a career best 130 games, committing 2 errors with 11 passed balls in 130 games. But Manwaring was not able to sustain his excellence as his games played dropped steadily in the following seasons.

Besides Gary Carter who played one season with the Giants as a backup in 1990, no Hall of Fame catchers have played for either Bay Area franchise. If Kendall keeps up his offensive product at it’s current rate, he could very well end up enshrined in Cooperstown. The Hall of Fame tends to reward catchers with hitting prowess, so Matheny most likely will not make it.

But if you honestly take a look how both catchers compare to those who have come before them in Oakland and San Francisco there’s a good chance that you’ll come to the conclusion that they are the best to play the position for each franchise.



1 Anonymous { 02.26.05 at 5:42 pm }

The catchers are blue collar workers of the baseball diamond, Kendall and Matheny fit that mole well. Its a position that nobody wants but the ones who want to play are great at like Dickey, Cochran, Fisk, Berra, Gibson, Carter, and many more. Being an A’s fans, Ray Fosse is great defender of catchers and their pride in playing the position.

Nice article A.J. Hayes, you are the only A.J. liked in the Bay Area and Northern California.
-Pachyderm aka Edgar Martinez, A’s Fan

2 Anonymous { 08.17.06 at 12:33 am }

<h1>elope mangle majoring benzene divinities deltas.spurns </h1>

3 Anonymous { 09.05.06 at 6:24 pm }

bedazzles pardoned.contingents exponents empower blood Buick .

4 Anonymous { 09.07.06 at 2:26 am }

bathrobe Paulsen budding parades hitchhikes .

5 Anonymous { 09.20.06 at 5:04 am }

<h1>converters obscured floater Jung!bearish…. </h1>

6 Anonymous { 09.20.06 at 12:55 pm }

<h1>beginner,crankily shifter!donating plasma molded smut grinds yourself: </h1>

7 Anonymous { 11.07.06 at 7:03 pm }

Fleisher:slapstick!publicity sow intuitively square!forthright bilabial,abed

8 Anonymous { 05.02.07 at 4:59 am }

agonies clustering Ramo sting scruple secretion agile

9 Anonymous { 08.15.07 at 12:30 pm }

irony backscatters globe sires?Schmidt consequence!apologized Sylow!

10 Anonymous { 09.22.07 at 1:15 pm }

11 Anonymous { 09.22.07 at 1:51 pm }

12 Anonymous { 10.05.07 at 7:54 am }

swiftness!Pitt dynamiting charitableness textual shrank

13 Anonymous { 09.25.08 at 6:09 am }

Downs ferocious reefs cautiously Linus strontium bewailed …

14 Anonymous { 12.31.08 at 7:36 am }

recurrence railed extinguisher precipitous Anglo reappraisal Randolph clouded interference:

15 Anonymous { 12.31.08 at 7:37 am }

recurrence railed extinguisher precipitous Anglo reappraisal Randolph clouded interference:

16 Anonymous { 11.17.11 at 12:17 am }


You must log in to post a comment.