Best Cincinnati Reds Catchers in Team History [All-Time List!]

The Cincinnati Reds are one of the oldest teams in the major leagues. Since their start in the 19th century, a number of talented and productive catchers have appeared on the Reds roster. 

This article showcases the best Cincinnati Reds catchers in team history based on each player's career and single season wins above replacement (WAR).

Keep scrolling to learn more…

best cincinnati reds catchers of all time

Background on the Reds

The Cincinnati Reds have an incredibly rich history that can be traced back well into the 19th century. 

Since their establishment in the American Association back in 1882, the Reds have won five World Series championships and they have fielded a wide variety of legendary players (guys like Roush, Rose, Kluszewski and Pinson, to name just a few). 

Ted Kluszewski Reds

Famous slugger of the 1950s, Ted Kluszewski.

Some extremely talented catchers have also played for the Reds over the years. This article focuses on these men in detail, as we highlight Cincinnati's best backstops since 1882.

Wins Above Replacement (WAR)

WAR is a baseball statistic that does a great job of comprehensively measuring the total value of a player.  

If you're interested in learning more about WAR, we'd suggest starting here.

For this article, we looked back and researched every catcher that has played for the Cincinnati Reds since 1882 and ranked them by their highest career and single-season WAR (using the Fangraphs calculation, or fWAR).  

Keep reading to learn who the top five Reds catchers of all time are based on career WAR, followed by an overview of the top five seasons by Reds catchers according to WAR.

Top 5 Reds Catchers by Career WAR

Please note: The catcher must have at least 100 defensive games played as a member of the Reds to be eligible for our career WAR list.

#1. Johnny Bench, 74.8 career WAR

Johnny Bench hitting

Johnny Bench at bat [image source: Malcolm Emmons, USA Today Sports].

One of the greatest catchers of all time, Johnny Bench played his entire 17 year MLB career with the Cincinnati Reds.

From his big league debut in 1967 through 1983, Bench hit .267/.342/.476 and collected more than 2,000 hits, 389 career home runs and 1,376 RBIs. Key defensive statistics include a career .990 fielding percentage as a catcher and a lifetime caught stealing percentage (CS%) of 43%. 

Bench was the 1968 NL Rookie of the Year, a two time NL MVP (1970 and 1972), a 14 time all star, a ten time gold glove award winner, and he was the 1976 World Series MVP. He has the highest JAWS of any catcher in history at 61.2.

Bench was a first ballot Hall of Famer and was inducted in Cooperstown in 1989.

#2. Ernie Lombardi, 41.9 career WAR

Ernie Lombardi holding baseballs

Big man catcher Ernie Lombardi of the Reds.

The bulk of Ernie Lombardi's 17 year MLB career was spent in Cincinnati. The 1940 World Series winner earned the NL MVP award (in 1938), won two batting titles, and he was named to eight all star teams.

Lombardi had a lifetime batting average of .306, and he had nearly 1,800 hits and 190 homers. He was an excellent hitter but had a reputation for being slow on the basepaths.

Every defensive game Lombardi appeared in while in the major leagues was as a catcher. In the 1,544 games Lombardi played behind the dish, he had a fielding percentage of .979 and a strong CS% of 48%.

Lombardi is one of the few career catchers enshrined in Cooperstown, as he made the Hall of Fame in 1986.

#3. Smoky Burgess, 34.2 career WAR

Smoky Burgess Reds

Smoky Burgess posing for a pre-game picture [image source: Getty Images].

Forrest "Smoky" Burgess was a short and stocky switch-hitting catcher with a reputation for being a great hitter. In a career that spanned 18 seasons and three different decades, Burgess spent four years in Cincinnati (1955 - 1958).

Burgess started his time in the big leagues with the Chicago Cubs in 1949 before moving to the Philadelphia Phillies, then the Reds. Over the course of his career, he made nine all star games and slashed .295/.362/.446 with 1,318 lifetime hits. 

Burgess played nowhere else defensively other than catcher. In 9,291 innings behind the dish, he maintained a .988 fielding percentage and he gunned down 213 runners attempting to steal (36%).

In the second half of his career, Burgess became a top notch pinch hitter and set a (since broken) record for most pinch hits in a career. 

#4. Benito Santiago, 28.7 career WAR

Benito Santiago Reds

Santiago fielding a bunt [image source: Getty Images].

Benito Santiago was one of the most dominant catchers in the MLB through the late 80s and early 90s. The Puerto Rican native and 1987 Rookie of the Year with the Padres spent 20 seasons in the big leagues, two of which were with the Reds (1995, 2000).

Santiago had a lifetime .263 batting average with 217 career home runs and 920 RBIs. He made five all star teams and he won three gold gloves and four silver slugger awards. 

Behind the plate, Santiago had a fielding percentage of .987 and he threw out an average of 35% of runners attempting to steal. He led league catchers multiple times in key statistical categories like defensive games, assists, caught stealing, and more. 

#5. Ed Bailey, 28.4 career WAR

Ed Bailey Reds

Catcher Ed Bailey in his Reds uniform [image source: Getty Images].

Ed Bailey enjoyed a 14 year MLB career split among five different teams. The majority of his career - including his most productive years - were spent with the Cincinnati Reds (1953 -1961).

A lifetime .256 hitter, Bailey collected 915 hits, 155 home runs and 540 RBIs. 

The six time all star spent 8,749 innings playing behind the plate. He had a lifetime .986 fielding percentage as a catcher and a 40% CS%.

Honorable Mentions:

  • David Ross, 22.4 career WAR
  • Ramon Hernandez, 22.0 career WAR
  • Bubbles Hargrave, 19.3 career WAR
  • Johnny Edwards, 15.3 career WAR

 

Top 5 Seasons by Reds Catchers, Ranked by WAR

Please note: The catcher must have at least 70 defensive games played in one season as a member of the Reds to be eligible for the single-season WAR list.

#1. 1972 - Johnny Bench (9.2 WAR)

Johnny Bench in 1972

Bench during a May 1972 home game against the Padres [image source: Getty Images].

Johnny Bench's 1972 campaign was one of the best seasons that a catcher has ever had in the major leagues.

The 24 year old Bench won his second NL MVP award that year after hitting .270/.379/.541 with a league leading 40 home runs and 125 RBIs. He also led the NL that year in sacrifice flies (12) and intentional walks (23).

In 1,139 innings behind the plate in '72, Bench kept a .992 fielding percentage and led NL catchers with an incredible 56% CS%. 

That season, Bench led the Reds to their first of several World Series appearances of the decade. 

#2. 1974 - Johnny Bench (8.0 WAR) 

Johnny Bench 1974 all star game

Bench at bat during the 1972 all star game in Pittsburgh [image source: Getty Images].

Johnny Bench had another spectacular year in 1974, in which he helped lead the Reds to a 98 win season. That year, he hit .280 with 33 home runs in addition to a league leading 129 RBIs and 315 total bases. He also set a career high with 108 runs scored.

Bench won his seventh consecutive gold glove for his defensive work behind the plate in 1974. He was second among league catchers in fielding percentage (.993) and caught stealing (48.6%), among other categories. 

Bench was the NL's starting catcher in the 1974 all star game and he finished fourth in NL MVP voting that year.

#3. 1970 - Johnny Bench (7.9 WAR)

Sparky Anderson Johnny Bench

Reds manager Sparky Anderson and Bench during the 1970 World Series [image source: Getty Images].

At just 22 years old, Johnny Bench became one of the youngest players in baseball history to win MVP in 1970. 

Bench smashed an NL leading 45 home runs, a record among catchers that stood until Salvador Perez surpassed him in 2021 (or in 2003 with Javy Lopez, if you strictly count homers only when in the lineup as a catcher). 

He also led the league with 148 RBIs, with 84 extra base hits, and with 11 sacrifice flies that year. 

On the defensive side of the house, Bench won his third consecutive gold glove in 1970. He threw out 30 runners attempting to steal (48.4%), and was second in the league in assists (73) and double plays turned (12) by a catcher. 

Other notables from Johnny Bench's storybook 1970 season include leading the Reds to an NL pennant and starting the all star game at Riverfront Stadium, his home field.

#4. 1975 - Johnny Bench (6.8 WAR)

Johnny Bench 1975 world series

Bench celebrating the Reds' World Series victory in 1975 [image source: Getty Images].

Continuing his streak of incredibly productive seasons, Johnny Bench made his eighth consecutive all star game in 1975 and won his eighth consecutive gold glove award that year.

In '75, Bench hit .283 with 28 home runs, 110 RBIs and an .878 OPS. Defensively, he had a .989 fielding percentage and a 46% CS%.

Bench helped lead the Big Red Machine to a thrilling World Series championship in 1975 over the Boston Red Sox. It was the Reds' first championship since 1940. 

#5. 1969 - Johnny Bench (5.3 WAR)

johnny bench 1969

A portrait of Bench at Crosley Field in 1969 [image source: Getty Images].

Johnny Bench's fifth best season (based on fWAR) came in 1969, just one year after winning NL Rookie of the Year. 

He hit .293/.353/.487 in '69 with 26 homers and 90 RBIs. Behind the plate, Bench had a career best 57% CS%, which led the league. He also had a .992 fielding percentage and won his second straight gold glove that season. 

Though he was named an all star reserve in 1968, Bench started the 1969 all star game - the first of many. 

List of All Reds Catchers With a 2.0+ WAR Season

Catchers that have a season resulting in a 2.0 or better WAR often means they had a productive year. 

A wide variety of Reds catchers have reached - and in some cases - far surpassed this mark since the current Reds franchise got its start back in 1882.   

Check out the list below to learn more about every Cincinnati Reds catcher in franchise history to have had a WAR that was 2.0 better in a single season.

SeasonNameWAR
1972Johnny Bench9.2
1974Johnny Bench8.0
1970Johnny Bench7.9
1975Johnny Bench6.8
1969Johnny Bench5.3
1938Ernie Lombardi5.2
1979Johnny Bench5.2
1973Johnny Bench4.9
1956Ed Bailey4.9
1923Bubbles Hargrave4.9
1977Johnny Bench4.9
1976Johnny Bench4.8
1968Johnny Bench4.5
2014Devin Mesoraco4.2
2012Ryan Hanigan4.2
1971Johnny Bench4.1
1926Bubbles Hargrave4.0
1978Johnny Bench4.0
1957Ed Bailey3.9
2011Ryan Hanigan3.9
1959Ed Bailey3.8
1889Jim Keenan3.7
1944Ray Mueller3.7
1940Ernie Lombardi3.6
1955Smoky Burgess3.5
1965Johnny Edwards3.3
1882Pop Snyder3.3
1960Ed Bailey3.3
1935Ernie Lombardi3.3
2010Ryan Hanigan3.3
1936Ernie Lombardi3.2
1980Johnny Bench3.2
1943Ray Mueller3.2
1963Johnny Edwards3.1
2009Ryan Hanigan3.1
1932Ernie Lombardi3.0
1939Ernie Lombardi2.9
1922Bubbles Hargrave2.8
1987Bo Diaz2.7
2005Jason LaRue2.7
1986Bo Diaz2.6
1902Heinie Peitz2.6
1910Larry McLean2.6
2006David Ross2.6
1924Bubbles Hargrave2.5
2010Ramon Hernandez2.4
2008David Ross2.4
1937Ernie Lombardi2.4
1962Johnny Edwards2.3
1917Ivey Wingo2.2
1952Andy Seminick2.2
1958Ed Bailey2.2
1992Joe Oliver2.1
2005Javier Valentin2.1
1888Jim Keenan2.1
1964Johnny Edwards2.1
1883Pop Snyder2.1
1942Ray Lamanno2.1
1915Tommy Clarke2.1
1927Bubbles Hargrave2.0
1934Ernie Lombardi2.0
2021Tyler Stephenson2.0

Reds Catchers over the Last 10 Years

Please note: catchers are listed based on games caught that season for the Reds. Those with the most games caught start at the top. 

2013 Reds - Finished third in NL Central, lost Wild Card Game

  • Devin Mesoraco (primary)
  • Ryan Hanigan
  • Corky Miller

 

2014 Reds - Finished fourth in NL Central 

  • Devin Mesoraco (primary)
  • Brayan Pena
  • Tucker Barnhart

 

2015 Reds - Finished fifth in NL Central

  • Brayan Pena (primary)
  • Tucker Barnhart
  • Ramon Cabrera
  • Devin Mesoraco

 

2016 Reds - Finished fifth in NL Central

  • Tucker Barnhart (primary)
  • Ramon Cabrera
  • Devin Mesoraco
  • Rafael Lopez

 

2017 Reds - Finished fifth in NL Central

  • Tucker Barnhart (primary)
  • Devin Mesoraco
  • Stuart Turner
  • Chad Wallach

 

2018 Reds - Finished fifth in NL Central

  • Tucker Barnhart (primary)
  • Curt Casali
  • Devin Mesoraco
  • Tony Cruz
  • Tim Federowicz

 

2019 Reds - Finished fourth in NL Central

  • Tucker Barnhart (primary)
  • Curt Casali
  • Kyle Farmer
  • Juan Graterol
  • Ryan Lavarnway

 

2020 Reds - Finished third in NL Central, lost Wild Card Series

  • Tucker Barnhart (primary)
  • Curt Casali
  • Tyler Stephenson

 

2021 Reds - Finished third in NL Central

  • Tucker Barnhart (primary)
  • Tyler Stephenson

 

2022 Reds - Finished fourth in NL Central

  • Tucker Barnhart (primary)
  • Aramis Garcia
  • Austin Romine
  • Michael Papierski
  • Chuckie Robinson
  • Mark Kolozsvary
  • Chris Okey

 

Complete List of All Reds Catchers Over the Last 10 Years

The following is a list of all Cincinnati catchers that have played in at least one defensive game for the Reds since the 2013 season. 

Players are listed in alphabetical order by first name.

  • Aramis Garcia
  • Austine Romine
  • Brayan Pena
  • Chad Wallach
  • Chris Okey
  • Chuckie Robinson
  • Corky Miller
  • Curt Casali
  • Devin Mesoraco
  • Juan Graterol
  • Kyle Farmer
  • Mark Kolozsvary
  • Michael Papierski
  • Rafael Lopez
  • Ramon Cabrera
  • Ryan Hanigan
  • Ryan Lavarnway
  • Stuart Turner
  • Tim Federowicz
  • Tony Cruz
  • Tucker Barnhart
  • Tyler Stephenson

 

Thank You for Reading

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Sources for this Article

  • Baseball Almanac
  • Baseball Reference
  • Fangraphs
  • National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
  • Red Reporter