Lolich and Freehan formed a battery more than any other combo in baseball history

Clockwise from left: Mickey Lolich & Bill Freehan; Javy Lopez & Tom Glavine; Gary Carter & Steve Rogers; and Red Ruffing & Bill Dickey.

The pitcher and catcher on a baseball team form the “battery”, an old baseball term that you don’t hear nearly as much today. Which pitcher/catcher teamed together the most as a battery in baseball history? I’m glad I asked. Here’s a list:

1. 324 games – Mickey Lolich & Bill Freehan, 1963-75 Tigers

Mickey and Bill’s most famous start was Game Seven of the 1968 World Series when Lolich pitched, completed, and won his third game of the Fall Classic. These two came up together in the Detroit farm system and became regulars in 1963, beginning a partnership that lasted 13 seasons in the Motor City. This is the only one of the top ten batteries that does not include at least one Hall of Fame player.

2. 316 games – Warren Spahn & Del Crandall, 1949-63 Braves

This pair teamed up in Boston and (after the Braves relocated) in Milwaukee too, where they helped the club to a pair of pennants and one title. Spahn’s professional baseball career began in 1940, he missed three full years while he was a soldier in World War II, he fought through Europe as part of a munitions team that blew up bridges. He saw heavy combat. When he was 25 he returned to the Braves and won eight games. The Hall of Famer won twenty games 13 times, ten times after his 30th birthday. He was the best “old” pitcher in baseball history and retired with more wins than any lefty in history. He still holds the record.

Crandall debuted when he was only a few months past his 19th birthday, becoming the youngest starting catcher in history. He was a bit like Ivan Rodriguez behind the plate: he liked to bounce around, stay nimble, throw behind runners and try to pick them off base. That was unusual for his era.

3. 306 games – Red Faber & Ray Schalk, 1914-26 White Sox

Like Lolich and Freehan, this pair came up at basically the same time, in the dusty years of the deadball era. Schalk ended up in the Hall of Fame, he was a peppery player who took control of the defense from behind the dish. Faber is also in the Hall, a spitball specialist who won 254 games. Both Faber and Schalk were honest players on the infamous 1919 “Black Sox” team.

4. 283 games – Don Drysdale & John Roseboro, 1957-67 Dodgers

Roseboro started with Sandy Koufax 208 games, making him one of only four catchers to team with two or more pitchers in at least 200 games. The other four are Del Crandall, Bill Dickey, and Jim Hegan. This pair appeared in four World Series together, the most by a National League battery.

5. 282 games – Red Ruffing & Bill Dickey, 1930-46 Yankees

Both Ruffing and Dickey are in the Hall of Fame, they appeared in seven World Series as a battery. Ruffing was shuffling along with the Red Sox, unremarkable on the mound until the Yankees traded for him. He changed his delivery and also benefited from better teammates, winning twenty games in four consecutive seasons and tacking on seven more wins in the Fall Classic.

6. 270 games – Steve Rogers & Gary Carter, 1975-84 Expos

Carter was drafted as a shortstop by the Expos and learned how to catch in the minor leagues. Carter was a fantastic athlete (he was offered a scholarship to play quarterback at USC) and worked hard to become a Gold Glove catcher. Rogers had a very nice career but he usually pitched for mediocre teams, which is why his career record is a non-secy 158-152 for 13 seasons, all in Montreal. The highlight of Rogers’ career came in Game Five of the 1981 Playoffs against the Phillies when he fired a six-hut shutout to advance the Expos to the LCS.

7. 264 games – Bob Lemon & Jim Hegan, 1946-57 Indians

The next two batteries are from the Indians teams that featured a great pitching staff. The Tribe had Lemon, Wynn, Bob Feller, and Mike Garcia together for several years. The Feller/Hegan combo ranks 11th with 240 games together. Hegan is the only catcher who caught at least 200 games for three different pitchers. All three of those pitchers (Lemon, Wynn, and Feller) are in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Hegan was a fine defensive catcher but he couldn’t hit a lick. He never once hit as high as .250 in a season, his career mark was a lowly .228, and it wasn’t just that: he walked infrequently and he didn’t have much power. He made the All-Star team five times solely for his glove and with him behind the plate the Indians won flags in ’48 and ’54. In the 1948 World Series he surprised everyone by hitting a home run.

8. 250 games – Early Wynn & Jim Hegan, 1949-57 Indians

If you wanted to find the most ornery pitcher in the history of baseball, Wynn would make the short list. He was known for pitching inside and for his nastiness on the days he pitched. “I’d knock down my own grandmother if she dug in on me,” Wynn once said.

9. 248 games – Tom Glavine & Javy Lopez, 1994-2002 Braves

In all the years the southpaw Glavine was teaming with Lopez, the Braves also had Greg Maddux, but Lopez didn’t catch Maddux because the ace had his own personal catcher. Usually it was Eddie Perez or Paul Bako, anyone but Lopez. Maddux didn’t like the way he and Javy worked together and demanded he pitch to anyone else. Manager Bobby Cox had no problem listening to his four-time Cy Young Award winning pitcher.

10. 247 games – Lefty Gomez & Bill Dickey, 1931-42 Yankees

Gomez was the left-side complement to Ruffing, starting seven times in the World Series, going a perfect 6-0. He was a silly guy, a cut-up, a clown. On the Yankees in the 1930s that was unusual, the other stars on the team were boring. Lou Gehrig was very shy and quiet, Bill Dickey liked to recede into the background, and Joe DiMaggio had a stick up his ass. But Gomez played pranks and laughed a lot. As a result he earned the nickname “Goofy”.

Dickey had the fortune of playing in Yankee Stadium where the short right field fence helped him immensely. He has one of the biggest home run differentials in history, having hit 67 percent of his career home runs at home, many of them down the short right field line at Yankee Stadium. But Dickey was a fine hitter on the road too, posting a .308 batting average and .468 slugging percentage away from The Bronx. Lefty Gomez, the great Yankee pitcher and purveyor of nicknames, called Dickey “The Man Nobody Knew” after a group of fans neglected to recognize the All-Star catcher during a night out in New York City with teammates. The name never stuck, but Dickey didn’t mind, he liked being anonymous in the shadows of his more famous Yankee teammates.

Other Tigers batteries over 200 games: Jack Morris and Lance Parrish worked together 207 times from 1978 to 1986.

Comments

comments

About Dan Holmes

The editor of Detroit Athletic Co. blog, is the author of Ty Cobb: A Biography. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, and worked for Major League Baseball as a web producer. He contributed to Sock it to 'Em Tigers: The Incredible Story of the 1968 Detroit Tigers, and Deadball Stars of the American League. Follow him on Twitter at @thedanholmes or visit his personal blog at danholmes.com.