Best Chicago Cubs Catchers in Team History [All-Time List!]

The Chicago Cubs are one of the oldest and most storied franchises in the major leagues. Over the team’s 150+ years, a number of stars have caught for the Cubs. 

This article takes a close look at these men and showcases the best Chicago Cubs catchers of all-time based on career and single-season WAR.

Keep scrolling to learn more...

best chicago cubs catchers of all time

A Quick History of the Chicago Cubs

The 19th Century

The Chicago Cubs can trace their origins back to the year 1870 and the establishment of the “Chicago Base Ball Club.” The press called them the “White Stockings”, and the name stuck - for a while. 

The White Stockings joined the National League in 1876 as one of its founding members. In the first few decades of the White Stockings’ history, they were led by (now) Hall of Famers like Al Spalding, Cap Anson and John Clarkson.

Chicago White Stockings team photo circa 1886

The Chicago White Stockings circa 1886.

The team's name also changed a few times in the late 1800s, from the White Stockings to the Colts, then to the Orphans. In 1903, "Cubs" was officially adopted as the team's name.

First Half of the 20th Century

The Cubs’ best season in franchise history (and one of the best ever all time) occurred shortly after their name change, in 1906. They won an incredible 116 games, good for a .763 winning percentage. 

However, the Cubs lost the World Series in 1906 to their crosstown rivals, the Chicago White Sox. Still, the Cubs continued to play phenomenal baseball the following two years and they won back-to-back World Series in 1907 and 1907. 

Team Picture of the 1906 Chicago Cubs

One of the best teams of all time, the 1906 Chicago Cubs.

In 1916, the Cubs began playing at Weeghman Park, which was later renamed Wrigley Field. Wrigley is second only to Boston’s Fenway Park as the oldest, active MLB ballpark. 

The Cubs had their share of ups and downs between 1910 and 1920. That decade, they had four sub .500 seasons but two NL pennants (1910 and 1918). 

Over the next decade, it was much of the same for the Cubbies with a few seasons under .500 and a number of winning seasons without playoff appearances. However, the Cubs won the NL pennant in 1929 and they would go on to win three more pennants in the next nine years, for a record of 805 - 576 (.583) between 1930 - 1938.

After the ‘38 pennant, the Cubbies didn’t have another first place finish in the NL until 1945, where they lost a heartbreaking seven game World Series to the Detroit Tigers. 

That same Series, the Cubs were said to be “cursed” when a fan named Billy Sianis and his pet goat were ejected from Wrigley. 

The Cubs would miss the World Series for the next 70 years. Legend has it that the Cubs’ World Series drought was due to the curse of the billy goat.

Phil Cavaretta of the Chicago Cubs

The 1945 NL MVP, Phil Cavarretta.

The 1950s to Today

The Cubs didn't have much to write home about in the 1950s and 60s. Their cumulative record for both decades was 1,407 wins to 1,734 losses (.448) and they finished as high as second in the NL just once during this span.

Still, there were some great players on the Cubs during this period. Men such as Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo were some of the stars of the Cubs at this time.

In 1969, the Cubs spent much of the season in first place in the NL East. But at the end of the season they collapsed and ended up missing the playoffs. The team that topped them in their Division, the New York Mets, went on to claim their first World Series championship that year.

Another shot at breaking the Cubs’ World Series drought came in 1984, but they dropped the final game of that NLCS to the San Diego Padres

The Cubs reached the NLCS again in 1989 (lost to the Giants), in 2003 (lost to the Marlins), and in 2015 (lost to the Mets).

The year 2016 would prove to be the one for the Cubs. In one of the most exciting World Series in recent memory, the Cubs ended their World Series championship drought by defeating the Cleveland Indians in seven games. 

Chicago Cubs celebrate 2016 World Series win

The Cubs celebrate after the final out of the 2016 World Series.

Although 2016 was thrilling and definitely memorable for the franchise, the Cubs have not yet been able to replicate the success they had in 2016.

Currently, the team is in a rebuilding mode. It’s going to be interesting to watch how the team evolves in the coming seasons under new GM Carter Hawkins and manager David Ross.

Wins Above Replacement (WAR)

Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, is a baseball term developed to measure player contributions to his team.

The definition of WAR is as follows:

“WAR measures a player's value in all facets of the game by deciphering how many more wins he's worth than a replacement-level player at his same position (e.g., a Minor League replacement or a readily available fill-in free agent).”

Different formulas are used for pitchers and for position players. Also, WAR calculations vary depending on the publisher (e.g., Fangraphs vs Baseball-Reference). 

Nonetheless, WAR is an incredibly useful metric because it does a great job at quantifying and capturing the amount of a player’s value to his team.

In this article, we researched every catcher that has ever played for the Chicago Cubs and ranked them by their career and single-season WAR (using the Frangraphs calculation, or fWAR). This means that we reviewed data going back to 1876 - the Cubs’ first season in the NL. 

What follows in this article is an overview of the top five Chicago Cubs catchers ranked by career WAR, and the second section focuses on the top five seasons by Cubs catchers as measured by their single-season WAR.

 

Top 5 Cubs Catchers by Career WAR

Please note: The player must have at least 100 defensive games (catching) played as a member of the Chicago Cubs to be eligible for our career WAR list.

#1. Gabby Hartnett, 53.7 career WAR

Former Cubs catchers in hall of fame Gabby Hartnett

Hall of Fame catcher and Cubs legend Gabby Hartnett.

One of the top catchers to ever play the game, Gabby Hartnett enjoyed a 20 year big league career, nearly all of which was spent with the Chicago Cubs.

Hartnett debuted for the Cubs on April 12, 1922 and remained in Chicago through the 1940 season. He then spent one solitary year, at age 40, as a member of the New York Giants in 1941. 

Hartnett hit a total of .297/.370/.490 over the course of his MLB career, and collected 1,912 hits, 236 home runs and 1,179 RBIs. Defensively, he caught over 15,000 innings, maintained a .984 fielding percentage and had an incredible 56% caught stealing percentage (CS%), second all-time behind Roy Campanella.

Named NL MVP in 1935, Hartnett made six-straight NL all-star squads between 1933 and 1938. He was also a part of four NL pennant winning Cubs teams during his career (1929, 1932, 1935 and 1938).

Gabby Hartnett was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955.  

#2. Frank Chance, 46.0 career WAR

Frank Chance at bat

Cubs great Frank Chance at bat.

Frank Chance is well known as the player-manager who led the Cubs to two World Series championships in 1907 and 1908. Chance also enjoyed a 17 year big league career, the majority of which he played as a first baseman.

In addition to first base, the versatile Chance also played in the outfield and - you guessed it - as a catcher. In fact, Chance caught a total of 187 games for the Cubs.

Chance collected 1,274 hits during his career and had a lifetime batting average of .296. He was incredibly fast and led the majors in stolen bases twice (1903 and 1906).

Roughly 15% of the defensive games Chance appeared in were spent behind the plate. In the 1,375 innings that Chance caught in the majors, he had a fielding percentage of .953 and threw out 46% of runners attempting to steal.

Frank Chance was inducted by the Old Timers Committee into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946.

#3. King Kelly, 45.1 career WAR

Mike "King" Kelly when with the Chicago White Stockings (Cubs)

Mike "King" Kelly of the Chicago White Stockings.

Mike “King” Kelly was a versatile 19th century player and manager who spent time with six major league teams. Kelly played seven years with the Cubs’ predecessor, the White Stockings, between 1880 - 1886. He also served as a player-manager later in his career.

Kelly had 1,813 hits and a lifetime .307 batting average over his 16 year career. He won two batting titles (1884, 1886) and led the NL in runs three times (1884 - 1886), in doubles three times (1881, 1882, 1889), and in OBP twice (1884, 1886).

He was an incredibly versatile ballplayer. Kelly played every position on the diamond during his professional career. He caught about ⅓ of the games he played in - 584 games in total. Kelly had approximately 2,198 putouts as a catcher and a 46% CS%.

King Kelly was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945. Like Chance, he was voted in by the Old Timers Committee.

#4. Roger Bresnahan, 39.6 career WAR

Roger Bresnahan portrait with the Chicago Cubs

Roger Bresnahan when playing for the Cubs.

It was Roger Bresnahan's time with John McGraw's New York Giants that first brought him to prominence. However, Bresnahan did play approximately 249 games for the Chicago Cubs over parts of four seasons. 

Bresnahan spent the final three years of his professional career (1913 - 1915) with the Cubs, the last season of which he was the player-manager of the team. He also had a two game stint with the Cubs in 1900.

Over his 17 year career, Bresnahan hit .279 with 1,252 hits, 682 runs and 212 stolen bases. Behind the plate, he had a .971 fielding percentage as a catcher and a 47% CS%.  

Like King Kelly, Roger Bresnahan was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945. He was also selected by the Old Timers Committee. 

#5. Miguel Montero, 27.2 career WAR

Catcher Miguel Montero of the Chicago Cubs throwing

Former Cubs catcher Miguel Montero.

Miguel Montero broke into the big leagues in 2006 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He stayed with Arizona through the 2014 season before being traded to the Cubs, where he spent parts of the next three seasons. Montero was a member of the Cubs' 2016 World Series championship team.

For his career, Montero had a .256/.340/.411 slash line with 126 home runs and 550 RBIs. He caught nearly 9,000 MLB innings, had a .990 fielding percentage behind the dish, and threw out 26% of runners trying to steal. 

Montero was named an NL all-star twice in his career (2011 and 2014) and he earned MVP shares in two seasons (2011 and 2012).

Honorable Mentions

  • David Ross, 22.4 career WAR
  • Johnny Kling, 21.3 career WAR
  • Bob O’Farrell, 21.2 career WAR
  • Duke Farrell, 19.9 career WAR
  • Jody Davis, 17.6 career WAR

 

Top 5 Seasons by Cubs Catchers, Ranked by Single-Season WAR

Please note: The player must have at least 50 defensive games (catching) played in one season as a member of the Chicago Cubs to be eligible for the single-season WAR list.

#1. 1886 - King Kelly (7.6 WAR)

Vintage card of Mike King Kelly

A vintage card of King Kelly.

Mike "King" Kelly had the best season of his Hall of Fame career in 1886 and the best year of any Cubs catcher in history according to single-season WAR. 

Kelly dominated the NL in 1886. He finished first in the league in batting average (.388), runs (155), OBP (.483) and times on base (258) that year. His OPS of 1.018 and his 53 stolen bases were both good for second in the league. 

Versatile defensively, Kelly played 53 games that season as the White Stockings/Cubs catcher. He also played every other position in '86 except for pitcher. 

#2. 1993 - Rick Wilkins (6.7 WAR)

Former Chicago Cubs catcher Rick Wilkins

Rick Wilkins in 1993.

Rick Wilkins had a career year and a surprisingly productive season in 1993. 

Wilkins was just 26 that season and was only three years into his big league career. Yet he slashed a strong .303/376/.561 with 30 home runs and 73 RBIs in 1993. 

Wilkins joined a fairly exclusive club among full-time catchers by reaching the 30 home run mark that year.

Defensively, Wilkins caught 1,077 innings, maintained a .996 fielding percentage and had a 46% CS% in '93.

#3. 1930 - Gabby Hartnett (5.6 WAR)

Gabby Hartnett posing for picture in 1930

Gabby Hartnett posing for a picture in 1930.

One of the best statistical seasons in Gabby Harnett's Hall of Fame career came in 1930. That year he hit .339/.404/.630 with 37 home runs and 122 RBIs. He had career highs in home runs, RBIs, hits (172), runs (84), OPS (1.034) and total bases (320).

In 136 games played behind the plate that season, Harnett had a .989 fielding percentage and he threw out 48% of runners trying to steal. He led league catchers in 1930 in defensive games (136), putouts (646), assists (68), and runners caught stealing (36). 

#4. 1935 - Gabby Hartnett (5.1 WAR)

Gabby Hartnett in catcher's gear

Gabby Hartnett in his catcher's gear in 1935.

In 1935, Gabby Hartnett won the NL MVP after a season in which he hit .344/.404/.545 for the NL pennant winning Cubs.

At the plate, Hartnett hit 13 home runs, collected 91 RBIs and had a .949 OPS.

Behind the plate, Hartnett caught for 914 innings and led all NL catchers in 1935 in assists (77), double plays turned (11) and CS% (60.3%).

#5. 1937 - Gabby Hartnett (4.7 WAR)

Charlie Grimm and Gabby Hartnett

Gabby Hartnett and Cubs manager Charlie Grimm in 1937.

Hartnett was 36 years old and nearing the end of his big league career in 1937. Yet he still turned in an impressive campaign that resulted in another all-star appearance and a second place MVP finish.

He slashed .357/.424/.548 in '37 with 12 home runs and 82 RBIs. Hartnett maintained a strong .996 fielding percentage as a catcher and a 61% CS% during the season. His fielding percentage that year was tops in the NL among catchers and his CS% was second in the league. 

List of All Chicago Cubs Catchers With a 2.0+ WAR Season

Reaching a 2.0+ WAR in a season reflects a productive year for any MLB player. A very large number of Chicago Cubs catchers have met or exceeded the 2.0 WAR mark since 1876, when the team first began playing in the NL. 

Check out the below table which shows all Cubs catchers who have had a 2.0+ WAR season.

SeasonNameWAR
1886King Kelly7.6
1993Rick Wilkins6.7
1930Gabby Hartnett5.6
1935Gabby Hartnett5.1
1937Gabby Hartnett4.7
1923Bob O'Farrell4.6
1922Bob O'Farrell4.6
1928Gabby Hartnett4.4
1986Jody Davis4.2
2010Geovany Soto4.1
1969Randy Hundley3.9
1967Randy Hundley3.9
1934Gabby Hartnett3.8
1903Johnny Kling3.7
1906Johnny Kling3.7
1876Deacon White3.6
1908Johnny Kling3.6
1885King Kelly3.5
1924Gabby Hartnett3.5
2011Geovany Soto3.4
1933Gabby Hartnett3.3
1927Gabby Hartnett3.2
1879Silver Flint3.2
1907Johnny Kling3.2
2015Miguel Montero3.1
1980Tim Blackwell3.0
2008Geovany Soto3.0
1982Jody Davis3.0
1902Johnny Kling3.0
1925Gabby Hartnett2.9
2005Michael Barrett2.9
1936Gabby Hartnett2.9
1931Gabby Hartnett2.7
2019Willson Contreras2.7
1914Roger Bresnahan2.6
1938Gabby Hartnett2.6
1983Jody Davis2.6
1902Frank Chance2.6
1984Jody Davis2.6
2016Willson Contreras2.5
1985Jody Davis2.4
1932Gabby Hartnett2.4
2017Willson Contreras2.4
1881Silver Flint2.4
2006Michael Barrett2.3
1877Cal McVey2.3
1942Clyde McCullough2.3
2004Michael Barrett2.3
1979Barry Foote2.2
1968Randy Hundley2.2
1966Randy Hundley2.2
1939Gabby Hartnett2.1
1877Cap Anson2.1
2021Willson Contreras2.1
1946Clyde McCullough2.1
1995Scott Servais2.0
1992Rick Wilkins2.0

Cubs Catchers over the Last 10 Years

Please note: the following catchers are listed based on the order of games caught per season for the Cubs. Catchers with the most games caught per season start at the top. 

2012 Cubs - Finished fifth in NL Central

  • Geovany Soto (primary)
  • Steve Clevenger
  • Welington Castillo
  • Koyie Hill
  • Anthony Recker
  • Blake Lalli

 

2013 Cubs - Finished fifth in NL Central

  • Welington Castillo (primary)
  • Dioner navarro
  • J.C. Boscan

 

2014 Cubs - Finished fifth in NL Central 

  • Welington Castillo (primary)
  • John Baker
  • Eli Whiteside
  • Rafael Lopez

 

2015 Cubs - Finished third in NL Central, lost NLCS

  • Miguel Montero (primary)
  • David Ross
  • Kyle Schwarber
  • Welington Castillo
  • Taylor Teagarden

 

2016 Cubs - Finished first in NL Central, won World Series

  • Miguel Montero (primary)
  • David Ross
  • Willson Contreras
  • Tim Federowicz

 

2017 Cubs - Finished first in NL Central, lost NLCS

  • Willson Contreras (primary)
  • Miguel Montero
  • Alex Avila
  • Rene Rivera
  • Victor Caratini
  • Kyle Schwarber
  • Taylor Davis

 

2018 Cubs - Finished second in NL Central, lost NL Wild Card Game

  • Willson Contreras (primary)
  • Victor Caratini
  • Chris Gimenez
  • Taylor Davis

 

2019 Cubs - Finished third in NL Central

  • Willson Contreras (primary)
  • Victor Caratini
  • Jonathan Lucroy
  • Taylor Davis
  • Martin Maldonado
  • Kyle Schwarber

 

2020 Cubs - Finished first in NL Central, lost NL Wild Card Game

  • Willson Contreras (primary)
  • Victor Caratini
  • Josh Phegley

 

2021 Cubs - Finished fourth in NL Central

  • Willson Contreras (primary)
  • Robinson Chirinos
  • Austine Romine
  • Tony Wolters
  • P.J. Higgins
  • Jose Lobaton
  • Erick Castillo
  • Taylor Gushue
  • Tyler Payne

 

Complete List of All Cubs Catchers Over the Last 10 Years

The below list shows every Chicago Cubs catcher who played in at least one defensive game as a catcher for the team since 2012. 

Catchers are listed in alphabetical order by first name.

  • Alex Avila
  • Anthony Recker
  • Austine Romine
  • Blake Lalli
  • Chris Gimenez
  • David Ross
  • Dioner navarro
  • Eli Whiteside
  • Erick Castillo
  • Geovany Soto
  • J.C. Boscan
  • John Baker
  • Jonathan Lucroy
  • Jose Lobaton
  • Josh Phegley
  • Koyie Hill
  • Kyle Schwarber
  • Martin Maldonado
  • Miguel Montero
  • P.J. Higgins
  • Rafael Lopez
  • Rene Rivera
  • Robinson Chirinos
  • Steve Clevenger
  • Taylor Davis
  • Taylor Gushue
  • Taylor Teagarden
  • Tim Federowicz
  • Tony Wolters
  • Tyler Payne
  • Victor Caratini
  • Welington Castillo
  • Willson Contreras

 

Thank You for Reading

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. We learned a lot about the Cubs from the time spent researching and writing it.

If you would like to reach out, please go to the Contact Us page or send an email directly to scott (at) catchersome (dot) com.

Thanks for stopping by Catchers Home.

 

Sources for this Article

  • Baseball Reference
  • Chicago Tribune
  • Fangraphs
  • Retrosheet