New England Born HOF Catchers

by Charlie Bevis

(Member, Society for American Baseball Research {SABR})
(Author of Mickey Cochrane, published by McFarland)

Paper presented to the Southern New England Regional Chapter of SABR, November 27, 1999.

To contact the author, send email to Charlie Bevis

Catchers are a rare commodity at the Baseball Hall of Fame. There are just 12 catchers enshrined in Cooperstown, with only the six catchers listed on this chart having been elected there by the Baseball Writers Association of America:

Mickey Cochrane **
Bill Dickey
Gabby Hartnett **
Roy Campanella
Yogi Berra
Johnny Bench


What’s interesting for us SABR members from Southern New England is that two of these six catchers, 33% of this elite list, hail from within 30 miles of today’s meeting here in Greenville, Rhode Island.

Mickey Cochrane, the first catcher elected by the Baseball Writers into the Hall of Fame 52 years ago, was born and grew up 30 miles east of here in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.

Gabby Hartnett, the third catcher elected to the Hall of Fame in 1955, was born 10 miles north of here in Woonsocket, Rhode Island and grew up over the border in Millville, Massachusetts.

Cochrane’s name resurfaced a few days ago when Texas Ranger catcher Ivan Rodriguez won the American League MVP, in the controversial, at least in these parts, selection over Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez. Cochrane had been a two-time MVP as a catcher, back in 1928 and 1934.

I suspect Hartnett’s name will be bandied about a little more in about six weeks time, when Carlton Fisk, a 1980 teammate of our guest speaker today Rich Gedman, is likely to receive the 75% vote margin from the Baseball Writers to become a Hall of Fame inductee in the year 2000. Hartnett, you see, was the last New Englander at any playing position to be elected by the Baseball Writers into the Hall of Fame.

Fisk, born in Vermont and raised in Charlestown, New Hampshire 100 miles northwest of today’s meeting, would thus be the first New Englander in 45 years to be elected by the Baseball Writers into the Hall of Fame. Fisk, as we all know, was also a catcher by trade.

What is it about the preponderance of New Englanders among baseball’s catching elite?

A writer for Sports Illustrated penned the following words back in 1973 about the relationship between being a catcher and being a New Englander:

“The two identities may be related. New England – hardly nature’s spawning ground for major league baseball players – has an old habit of producing catchers. It is as if only a race bred to endure the pillory and the stocks and Cotton Mather’s sermons could gird up the loins (and a lot else) and squat in the dirt on 90 degree afternoons to stop all those fire-and-brimstone pitches while mean-looking sinners swing devil’s clubs in one’s face.”

The title of this 1973 Sports Illustrated article? “The New England Grit of Mr. Fisk.”

I suspect the Puritanical reference to New England-bred catchers to be a bit overwrought. But is there something about the Yankee work ethic (that’s New Englander, not New York) or the short baseball season in these parts that encourages an extra degree of toughness in catchers growing up here that spurs them to greater heights?

Possibly. I do know that Fisk’s election would push the ratio of New England-born catchers on this list to 43% (three of seven) and the ratio of catchers among the New England-born electees to 50%.

And I think that says at least a little something about the New England character.

Thank you.

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