I have always been partial to catchers. It's probably due to the fact that a catcher's job is markedly different and much more difficult than perhaps any other position. A catcher is in charge of calling the pitches and keeping an eye on the baserunners. He is also the last obstacle between a baserunner and scoring a run. It could also be the cool equipment.
Anyway, as a Red Sox fan and a fan of catchers in general, I always keep a close eye on the player behind the plate. I have been paying close attention since 1991. In that time, Boston has had a number of different starting catchers and backups. Out of pure boredom, I wanted to look at them.
Tony Pena was the Red Sox starting catcher when I first started paying attention to baseball. Pena was not much with the bat, but he was a tremendous defensive catcher with a strong throwing arm. Beyond that, he had such an interesting catching stance that it was hard not to be intrigued by him. Pena won the Gold Glove in 1991 as the best fielding catcher in the league that year.
Dave Valle was brought to the Red Sox for the 1994 season. Pena was allowed to leave as a free agent the prior year and Valle was supposed to be his replacement. Valle had a reputation as having a decent bat, but not being a real great defensive catcher. But in Boston, he was not able to contribute on either side of the plate. He was ultimately traded to Milwaukee after 30 games for Tom Brunansky.
Damon Berryhill, like Dave Valle, was acquired for the 1994 season. Unlike Valle, Berryhill was able to stick through the year. He was also not a great hitter, although he did bat .263/.312/.416/.727 with six home runs. Adequate numbers for a more defensive position. Berryhill was not a terribly effective defensive catcher though and did not hit well enough to make up for it. He was gone after the year.
Longtime Royal Mike Macfarlane was the next player brought in to be the starting catcher. Macfarlane also lasted only one year with Boston, but he brought significantly more home run power. His 15 home runs in 1995 were the most by a Red Sox catcher since Rich Gedman hit 16 in 1986. Unfortunately that was about the only part of his offensive game that was an improvement. He did catch 35% of runners attempting to steal, the best mark by a Red Sox catcher since Pena.
Next up was Mike Stanley who was one of the best players the Red Sox took from the Yankees in decades. Stanley had been an All Star with New York when he hit 26 home runs in 1993. He almost matched his power numbers in his first year with Boston, hitting 24 home runs with a slash line of .270/.383/.506/.889. Unfortunately, he was not nearly as impressive behind the plate and the next year became a first-baseman/designated hitter.
Scott Hatteberg was the first starting catcher developed by the Boston Red Sox since Gedman. Hatteberg came up at the end of 2006 and became the starting catcher in 2007. Hatteberg had the rare ability in catchers to draw a lot of walks. With Boston, his OBP was an impressive .357. Hatteberg's problem though was his inability to throw out baserunners, his caught-stealing percentage was a low 21%.
When it was determined that Hatteberg simply could not throw out runners attempting to steal, Jason Varitek became the starting catcher. Varitek was acquired in a terrific trade with the Seattle Mariners in 1997 and quickly became a rising star. Varitek could draw a walk, hit with power, and was a strong defensive catcher. Injuries curtailed his promising career somewhat in 2001 and it took until 2003 before he started to really impress again. He was a 3-time All Star, Boston's first All Star catcher since Gedman, won a Silver Slugger, and a Gold Glove. He has caught a record four no-hitters, and is considered a great game-caller. He gracefully moved to a backup role in 2009. Varitek will one day be in the Red Sox Hall of Fame.
Victor Martinez was acquired in a blockbust deadline deal from Cleveland in 2009. Boston wanted a better hitter behind the plate as Varitek's best days were behind him. Martinez certainly qualified. Though he had a little trouble with throwing out runners early in 2010, Martinez's bat carried him. He batted .313/.368/.497/.865 with 28 home runs and 120 RBIs in his short season and a half with Boston. He was not brought back after 2010 due to his expense and the unlikelihood that he would be able to continue at catcher.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia was long coveted by the Red Sox front office. Theo Epstein saw an opportunity to acquire him at the deadline in 2010 and swooped in, giving up three minor leaguers with little chance of developing into stars to the Texas Rangers in one of the quieter moves of the deadline. Saltalamacchia did not play much in 2010 and started off very slowly in 2011. Since then, he has started to come into his own. He currently has 13 home runs and has become a much better defender as the season has worn on. One of the great questions is whether Saltalamacchia will continue to have a chance in Boston due to the development of Ryan Lavarnway.
THE BACK UPS:
Hard to imagine but at one point John Marzano was a first round draft pick. I am not sure he really fulfilled the expectations of the front office. Marzano was a serviceable backup for several years with the Red Sox, though it was not until 1990 that he really stuck with the big league club. He did not have a lot of power outside of hitting five home runs in 1987, his first chance with the team. He was an adequate defensive catcher and that is the only thing that kept him with the team. After being released by Boston in 1993, he did not make it back to the Major Leagues until 1995.
Bob Melvin became the backup to Tony Pena in 1993 after Marzano was released. Melvin was a journeyman catcher with the Tigers, Giants, Orioles, and Royals before joining Boston. Melvin really did not provide much more than a warm body behind the plate in his short time with Boston. He was not particularly good at any aspect of the game. He and Pena provided pathetic offense at the position in 1993.
Rich Rowland was acquired in a challenge trade of young catchers from Detroit. Boston gave up John Flaherty who had some promise but had yet to harness it. Rowland was already 30 and a career minor leaguer to that point, but he had some power. Rowland hit nine home runs as the backup catcher in 1994 with a .483 slugging percentage. His defense was decent as he caught 36% of attempted base stealers. Unfortunately he did not hit at all in 1995 and was quickly forgotten.
Bill Haselman, the longtime Rangers backup and Nolan Ryan's personal catcher, came to Boston after the 1994 season and cemented the backup catcher position. Haselman was decent with the stick and adequate behind the plate. He hit .252/.313/.409/.722 in parts of four seasons. He once hit a broken-bat home run over the Green Monster in left. He started the 1997 season as the starting catcher before injuries caught up with him. At the time, he was among the league leaders in doubles, but did not play much the rest of the year. After the year he was traded to Texas. He returned briefly in 2003.
Doug Mirabelli is perhaps the most famous backup catcher in Red Sox history. Acquired in 2001 when Jason Varitek went down with an injury and Scott Hatteberg's throwing problems became too glaring, Mirabelli settled into a decent role. He had a good year in 2001, hitting .270/.360/.518/.877 with nine home runs down the stretch. He became Tim Wakefield's personal catcher with his ability to catch the knuckleball and was one of the best-hitting backup catchers for several years. He and Varitek made quite the pair. Mirabelli put up am .893 OPS in 2004. His bat slowed after that, but he was still highly-regarded. He was traded after the 2006 season, but was re-acquired after Josh Bard could not catch a knuckleball and was famously police-escorted to the ballpark to catch Wakefield. He was released for good prior to the 2008 season.
During the 2007 season, Kevin Cash proved he too could catch the knuckleball. Cash was not much of a hitter but became the backup catcher for the 2008 season after Mirabelli was released. Cash was a better defensive catcher than Mirabelli and at the point was a bit more reliable with the bat. He hit a dramatic postseason home run for the Red Sox during the ALCS against Tampa Bay. He moved on to the Yankees after the season but returned briefly during the 2010 season.
Originally acquired from the Padres in 2006 when the Red Sox traded David Wells, it took Kottaras until 2008 to make his Major League Debut. He became the principal backup in 2009 when he also showed the ability to catch Wakefield's knuckler. Kottaras did not hit much, hitting only .237/.308/.387/.696 with one home run, but he was a decent defensive catcher. He developed a bit more power after being selected off waivers by the Brewers.