Note: This is part of a series for Baseball Digest in which I pick each Major League team’s best player/coach at every position. The complete Yankees list is up on the website. The complete Dodgers list will go up early next week. Some of it can be viewed early at SoapBoxSportsByte.

Roy Campanella

Of anyone on this list, Campy might get the strongest challenge from a fellow Dodger. Mike Piazza was only with the team for five years, but his Dodgers WAR is just 8.6 wins short of Campanella’s career mark.

In those first handful of years of his career in Chavez Ravine, Piazza put up some of the greatest offensive seasons in the history of the catcher position. He clubbed at least 30 home runs in four of the five years, never batted under .318, and had four seasons over 6.0 WAR (including an insane 9.4 win 1997 season when he put up 40 HR, 121 RBI and a .362/.431/.638 line).

In all five seasons, Piazza finished in the top-10 of the MVP voting, including two second-place finishes.

Over those five seasons, Piazza was by far the most valuable catcher in the Majors, with WAR that topped second place Pudge Rodriguez by 33 percent. He was the fifth most valuable player in the entire major leagues, just a half of a win behind third-place Jeff Bagwell and about ten wins short of Barry Bonds.

His .331/.394/.572 line speaks a few thousand words that aren’t worth taking the time to write.

Moreover, his skills as a receiver had yet to deteriorate. Fangraphs has him at around defensive replacement level for four of his five years in Dodger blue. He was actually well above average in his rookie campaign.

By contrast, Campanella was the second ranked Major League catcher over his career. He was also the 12th-ranked batter. His defense was likely not as good as everyone perceived it to be; he only had one season that ranked well above replacement level in this regard.

So why does the Majors’ first black catcher get the nod over it’s first catcher to marry the Playmate of the Millennium amid rumors of homosexuality?

Let’s take a look at the names that were ahead of Campanella. The one catcher who finished ahead of Campy in WAR was Yogi Berra, who (according to messianic statistician Bill James) is the most valuable player in the history of the position.

Of the 11 batters who finished ahead of him, only teammate Gil Hodges was not a Hall of Famer.

The catching position has generally been one where any substantial hitting ability is viewed as a godsend. Hodges played first base, a position where offensive production is an expectation rather than a bonus.

Campanella, along with his contemporary, Berra, was a revolutionary of the position. For the first time, teams were began to try to extend their futile pursuit away from primarily defensive receivers and towards backstops who could provide some pop.

Realizing that an offensively capable catcher would give their prospective team a massive advantage over other teams and their anemic backstops, front offices began to place emphasis on coaxing production out of the second half of their batteries.

From the beginning of professional baseball to when Campanella retired in 1957, just five catchers had a higher WAR than Roy’s career mark of 43.1. All five are Hall of Famers.

From 1958 to the present day, 14 different backstops have reached that mark.

Only Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk and Gary Carter are Hall of Famers. Thanks to his disastrously non-commital response to questions about testing positive (“Only God knows”), Pudge may or may not join that club.

Thanks to his mind-blowing statistics, Piazza would have likely gotten the nod had he stayed with LA for his entire career.. But even such, he played in an era where those stats were far from aberrational.

It’s simply hard to be that wowed by his achievements, given the fact that he played in the era of bloated biceps, cap sizes and statistics, an era when even Brady Anderson could be confused for Babe Ruth.

If that’s not enough, to lend a grain of salt to Piazza’s achievements, consider the fact that Jason Kendall finished his career just half of a win shy of Roy Campanella’s career mark.

Yes, that Jason Kendall.

Jesse Golomb researches and writes for He is also the creator and writer of SoapBoxSportsByte, a blog that incorporates statistical analysis as well as fan perspective into daily pieces on the MLB, NFL and NBA.   He can be followed on Twitter @SoapBxSprtsByte, or contacted by email at

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