In the final segment of this series on long-time teammates, this post looks at the most durable battery-mates in games since 1914. With starting pitchers rarely making more than 40 starts in a season (in recent years, rarely more than 35) and with catchers generally accorded more relief during a season than players at other positions, I’ve lowered the bar from the 300 game standard for infielders and outfielders to 200 games for pitchers and catchers. That proved to be just about right, yielding the same number of batteries with 200 games as outfield combos with 300 starts together.
More after the jump.
As with the earlier posts, the analysis looks at games started together, using the Defensive Lineups data available on Baseball-Reference.com for seasons since 1914. In all, I identified about 150 possible battery-mates, of which the following 26 pass the threshold of 200 games started together. The percentages shown represent the indicated game starts as a percentage of all starts by the pitcher in the seasons in which the battery was active.
- 324 games (70.6%) – Mickey Lolich/Bill Freehan 1963-75 Tigers
- 316 games (70.1%) – Warren Spahn/Del Crandall 1949-63 Braves
- 306 games (85.5%) – Red Faber/Ray Schalk 1914-26 White Sox
- 283 games (69.0%) – Don Drysdale/John Roseboro 1957-67 Dodgers
- 282 games (74.2%) – Red Ruffing/Bill Dickey 1930-46 Yankees
- 270 games (81.6%) – Steve Rogers/Gary Carter 1975-84 Expos
- 264 games (75.6%) – Bob Lemon/Jim Hegan 1946-57 Indians
- 250 games (85.9%) – Early Wynn/Jim Hegan 1949-57 Indians
- 248 games (83.5%) – Tom Glavine/Javy Lopez 1994-2002 Braves
- 247 games (78.9%) – Lefty Gomez/Bill Dickey 1931-42 Yankees
- 240 games (70.6%) – Bob Feller/Jim Hegan 1941-56 Indians
- 239 games (74.7%) – Fernando Valenzuela/Mike Scioscia 1981-90 Dodgers
- 237 games (87.1%) – Stan Coveleski/Steve O’Neill 1916-23 Indians
- 237 games (65.7%) – Tom Seaver/Jerry Grote 1967-77 Mets
- 230 games (71.7%) – Lew Burdette/Del Crandall 1953-63 Braves
- 228 games (71.0%) – Steve Carlton/Tim McCarver 1965-69 Cardinals, 1972-79 Phillies
- 224 games (83.9%) – Lefty Grove/Mickey Cochrane 1925-33 Athletics
- 221 games (74.9%) – Paul Derringer/Ernie Lombardi 1933-41 Reds
- 212 games (60.6%) – Whitey Ford/Yogi Berra 1950-63 Yankees
- 208 games (69.6%) – Sandy Koufax/John Roseboro 1957-66 Dodgers
- 208 games (67.1%) – Mike Flanagan/Rick Dempsey 1976-86 Orioles
- 207 games (75.5%) – Jack Morris/Lance Parrish 1978-86 Tigers
- 207 games (70.4%) – Cole Hamels/Carlos Ruiz 2006-15 Phillies
- 203 games (79.9%) – Rube Walberg/Mickey Cochrane 1925-33 Athletics
- 203 games (65.9%) – Billy Pierce/Sherm Lollar 1952-61 White Sox
- 202 games (61.0%) – Dave Stieb/Ernie Whitt 1980-89 Blue Jays
As with the infield and outfield combinations, a long-standing battery is also a hallmark of better teams as every one of these batteries were on a playoff team at least once, with only the Expo and Blue Jay pairs failing to reach the World Series.
The chart below orders these batteries according to the percentages shown above, representing the battery game starts as a percentage of all pitcher starts in the seasons the battery was active. Higher numbers indicate a large majority of his team’s games caught by the catcher and/or a preference by the pitcher for that catcher. Smaller numbers indicate some combination of catchers who also played other positions, or who regularly shared the catching workload with teammates, or who lost considerable playing time due to injuries.
Following are brief narratives on our select group of battery-mates.
1. 324 games (70.6%) – Mickey Lolich/Bill Freehan 1963-75 Tigers
Rookies together in 1963, these two were both developed in the Tiger system after signing as amateur free agents. Freehan would play his entire career in Detroit, setting a franchise record with over 1500 games caught. Lolich came within 35 innings of the Tiger franchise record workload, before passing the 3500 IP career threshold with the Mets in 1976. Included was his career high 376 IP in 1971 when he started 45 games, 41 of them caught by Freehan. Lolich was also the Tiger hero in the 1968 World Series with 3 CG wins including a game 7 triumph, pitching on two days rest and prevailing over Cardinal ace Bob Gibson.
2. 316 games (70.1%) – Warren Spahn/Del Crandall 1949-63 Braves
15. 230 games (71.7%) – Lew Burdette/Del Crandall 1953-63 Braves
Spahn and Crandall were both signed as amateurs by the Braves while Burdette was a throw-in by the Yankees when they purchased Johnny Sain for $50,000 late in the 1951 season. Spahn and Crandall would very likely hold top spot if not for Crandall losing the 1951 and 1952 seasons to military service. With Spahn and Burdette at the top of their rotation, the Braves claimed consecutive league championships in 1957 and 1958, splitting those two World Series with the Yankees. Burdette was the hero of the 1957 series with three CG wins including shutouts in game 5 and (after just two days rest) again in game 7. In their final season together Burdette was traded to the Cardinals in June and, two weeks later, Spahn and Crandall both went the distance in a famous 16-inning loss to Juan Marichal and the Giants. Crandall was dealt to San Francisco in a 7-player swap after that 1963 season while Spahn would play one more year in Milwaukee before finishing his HOF career in a 1965 season split between the Mets and Giants (that included an Aug 31 matchup with Burdette who bested the 44 year-old Spahn with a 2-0 shutout, one of 10 games since 1914 with two starters aged 38+ both going the distance).
3. 306 games (85.5%) – Red Faber/Ray Schalk 1914-26 White Sox
Faber was a rookie in 1914 while Schalk was in his second full season. They would remain fixtures in the Chicago lineup for almost their entire careers, Schalk catching a franchise record 1722 games for the Sox, and Faber surpassing 4000 IP for the South-siders, second only to Ted Lyons. Chicago claimed two league championships in this duo’s tenure, besting the Giants in the 1917 World Series and infamously throwing the 1919 series against the Reds. This pair would make 35+ starts together for three straight years (1920-22), each a 300 IP, 20 win season for Faber. Schalk was released after the 1928 season and finished his career with a few games for the Giants. Faber would play his entire career in Chicago, ending in 1933 at age 44.
4. 283 games (69.0%) – Don Drysdale/John Roseboro 1957-67 Dodgers
T20. 208 games (69.6%)- Sandy Koufax/John Roseboro 1957-66 Dodgers
Roseboro debuted late in the 1957 season but, at age 24, was the old man to 21 year-olds Drysdale and Koufax, in their second and third seasons respectively. In their 10 seasons together, this trio would lead the Dodgers to four NL titles and three world championships, the latter including the 1963 and 1965 seasons when Drysdale and Koufax both made 40 starts and logged over 300 IP, the first live ball era teams with two such pitchers, and only the second pair of pitchers to do so twice (the first were the Giants’ Christy Mathewson and Joe McGinnity in 1903-04). Koufax retired after the 1966 season and Drysdale did the same three years later. Roseboro was traded after the 1967 season (for 1965 MVP Zoilo Versalles) and finished his career with the Senators in 1970.
5. 282 games (74.2%) – Red Ruffing/Bill Dickey 1930-46 Yankees
10. 247 games (78.9%) – Lefty Gomez/Bill Dickey 1931-42 Yankees
These two batteries were the foundation of the second Yankee dynasty of 7 pennants and 6 World Series titles from 1936 to 1943. Dickey had recorded an outstanding (.324/.346/.485 in 474 PA) rookie campaign in 1929 when he was joined by Ruffing early in the 1930 season. Ruffing, with a 39-96 record and 92 ERA+ for the Red Sox, hardly seemed to warrant his hefty $50,000 price tag but the Yankees evidently saw signs of better things in the big right-hander. Gomez debuted that season and won 20 games with a 150 ERA+ in his 1931 rookie campaign, and won 20 games again the next season (albeit with a pedestrian 97 ERA+). For the Yankee four-peat of 1936-39, Ruffing won 20 games each year for an 82-33 record and a 137 ERA+ while Gomez posted an almost identical 138 ERA+, good for a 64-38 record. For Dickey, it was 20+ HR and 100+ RBI for each of those seasons, good for a .326/.415/.565 slash and 144 OPS+. The Braves purchased Gomez after the 1942 season while Dickey and Ruffing entered military service (despite both being in their late 30s), then reunited briefly in 1946 before both were released on the same day just before the end of that season (Dickey’s release closely followed his resignation as manager, a post Dickey had assumed following Joe McCarthy‘s resignation early that season).
6. 270 games (81.6%) – Steve Rogers/Gary Carter 1975-84 Expos
Steve Rogers started his Expos career with a bang in 1973, going 6+ innings and allowing three runs or less in each of his first 16 games, seven games more than the next-longest such streak to begin a career. But the next year was a struggle, logging a 15-22 record with an 86 ERA+. Rogers righted the ship in 1975 with rookie Carter seeing part-time duty behind the plate, the first of six straight 200 IP seasons with at least a 115 ERA+. Carter became the everyday catcher starting in 1977, his first of four straight 5 WAR seasons that were followed by 3.8 WAR in strike-shortened 1981 and then three straight 7 WAR seasons to close out his time with the Expos. Carter was traded to the Mets for four players after the 1984 season while Rogers remained with Montreal his entire career, ending in 1985.
7. 264 games (75.6%) – Bob Lemon/Jim Hegan 1946-57 Indians
8. 250 games (85.9%) – Early Wynn/Jim Hegan 1949-57 Indians
11. 240 games (70.6%) – Bob Feller/Jim Hegan 1941-56 Indians
The Indians enjoyed their most sustained period of stellar play in the late 40s and early 50s, winning at least 88 games for nine straight years (1948-56) while claiming two pennants and finishing second to the Yankees on 5 occasions. That success was driven by consistent starting pitching as these batteries provided at least 55 starts in the last eight of those years, including 80 starts for three straight seasons (1949-51). Feller and Lemon played their entire careers in Cleveland while Wynn enjoyed his greatest success as an Indian with seven straight years (1950-56) of 17+ wins and no more than 13 losses, tied with Lefty Grove (1927-33) and Roger Clemens (1986-92) for the longest streak of such seasons in the live ball era. Feller retired after the 1956 season, followed by Lemon two years later. Wynn and Hegan both departed after the 1957 season, for Chicago and Detroit respectively.
9. 248 games (83.5%) – Tom Glavine/Javy Lopez 1994-2002 Braves
These two were both signed by the Braves as amateurs, Glavine as a second round draft pick and Lopez as an undrafted free agent. Glavine was among the senior circuit’s top pitchers (with a 1st, 2nd and 3rd place finish in 1991-93 CYA voting) when these two first started together in 1994. During their tenure, Glavine would repeat that three time top-3 CYA voting result as the Braves won their first World Series in almost 40 years in 1995 and followed that result with two more pennants over the next four seasons. Glavine ranks 3rd as a Brave in IP, Wins and ERA+ (min. 1000 IP) while Lopez is the career leader among Brave catchers in HR and RBI. Both would leave Atlanta as free agents, Glavine after the 2002 season and Lopez a year later after a career-best season of 43 home runs, the most ever in a non-qualified season (his .687 SLG in 495 PA in that 2003 season is the best ever by a catcher in any season of 20 or more games).
12. 239 games (74.7%) – Fernando Valenzuela/Mike Scioscia 1981-90 Dodgers
The Dodgers famously found Valenzuela in Mexico while Scioscia was a first round pick. After both debuted in the 1980 season, the 20 year-old Valenzuela led the Dodgers to the 1981 World Series title with a CYA season, leading the league in IP, starts, complete games, shutouts and strikeouts, both the youngest pitcher and the only rookie to do so. Among those categories, Valenzuela led again only in complete games (he is the last pitcher to reach 75 CGs by age 25) as he topped 250 IP and 1000 BF in each of the next six seasons, before that workload started to take its toll. The Dodgers were world champions again in 1988 but Valenzuela was not a factor, injured the second half of the season and ineffective before that. Two years later he was released by the Dodgers, and then bounced around for several years. Scioscia, the Dodger franchise leader in career games caught, remained with the team his entire career, ending in 1992.
T13. 237 games (87.1%) – Stan Coveleski/Steve O’Neill 1916-23 Indians
Coveleski was a 26 year-old rookie and O’Neill a 24 year-old veteran when these two debuted together in 1916, the Indians’ first season with star center-fielder Tris Speaker. With these three providing strength up the middle, Cleveland steadily improved, culminating in a world championship season in 1920. During their last seven years together Coveleski logged 200+ IP and posted an ERA+ over 120 each season, including four consecutive 20-win campaigns from 1918 to 1921. O’Neill departed for Boston after the 1923 season, and Coveleski left for Washington a year later (where he would be briefly reunited with Speaker in 1927).
T13. 237 games (65.7%) – Tom Seaver/Jerry Grote 1967-77 Mets
Seaver was NL RoY in 1967, the 24 year-old Grote’s third campaign with 90 games caught. The Mets finished in their customary last place that season but better fortunes were just ahead with a world championship season in 1969 and an NL pennant (albeit with an 82-79 record) in 1973. In their first seven seasons together, Seaver logged 250+ IP with a 115 ERA+ and a .550 W-L% each season to join Kid Nichols as the only pitchers with that career start. Included were two Cy Young awards, three 20 win seasons and three times leading the NL in ERA, ERA+ and strikeouts (Seaver would add another season in 1975 with a CYA, 20 wins and a strikeout crown). But, all good things do come to an end. After seven winning seasons in eight years, the Mets crashed in 1977, their first of three straight last place finishes with 95+ losses, and dealt both Seaver and Grote during the season, to the Reds and Dodgers respectively.
16. 228 games (71.0%) – Steve Carlton/Tim McCarver 1965-69 Cardinals, 1972-79 Phillies
Carlton debuted in 1965 for the defending world champions as McCarver that season recorded his third straight campaign catching 100 games and batting .275, then the most ever (consecutive or not) by a Cardinal backstop. Another World Series title came in 1967 followed the next season by a third pennant in five years. But, when St. Louis dropped 10 games in the win column in 1969, McCarver was gone, dispatched with Curt Flood to the Phillies (McCarver reported, Flood didn’t) to acquire slugger Dick Allen. In this duo’s time in St. Louis, Carlton posted three qualified seasons with ERA under 3.00, the only Cardinal to do so before age 25. Two years after McCarver’s departure, Carlton joined his old batterymate in Philadelphia, but only briefly as McCarver was traded midway in the 1972 season and ended up back with the Cards in 1973 (Ted Simmons was now the everyday St. Louis catcher so, in his second Cardinal stint, McCarver managed only 9 starts with veteran right-hander Bob Gibson as that battery finished just three starts shy of the 200 mark). This duo reunited a third time when the Phillies signed McCarver as a free agent midway in the 1975 season, with McCarver becoming Carlton’s personal catcher starting in 1976 as Lefty began a four-year run that included two 20 win seasons, a second Cy Young award, and three straight NL East titles for the Phillies. McCarver retired after the 1979 season (but made a brief comeback late in the 1980 campaign as Philadelphia again claimed the NL East crown en route to the franchise’s first World Series title). Carlton would win two more Cy Young awards and remain with the Phillies until 1986 before bouncing around with a few clubs to close out his career.
17. 224 games (83.9%) – Lefty Grove/Mickey Cochrane 1925-33 Athletics
T24. 203 games (79.9%) – Rube Walberg/Mickey Cochrane 1925-33 Athletics
Grove and Cochrane were rookies in 1925, joining Walberg whose career to that point was exceptional only in the wrong sense, with ERA, FIP and BB/9 all above 5.0 over his first two seasons. In this trio’s first season together, the Athletics recorded their first winning campaign since claiming the AL pennant 11 years before. Eight more winning seasons would follow, including three consecutive pennants from 1929 to 1931, the first two world championship seasons. Grove quickly established himself as the dominant pitcher of his time, with five seasons leading in ERA and ERA+, winning 20 games and claiming the strikeout crown, both in seven consecutive seasons, and winning the MVP award in the Athletics’ 1930 world championship season. Grove’s 195 wins with the Athletics are the most in the live ball era over the first 9 seasons of a career, while his 151 ERA+ has been exceeded (barely) only by Roger Clemens in 2000+ IP over those same 9 seasons. Cochrane matched Grove with his own MVP season in 1928 and averaged better than 0.8 WAR per 100 PA over his 9 seasons with the A’s, one of only nine catchers to start his career with that level of WAR production. After his rocky start, Walberg developed into a reliable starter, finishing his tenure in Philadelphia with seven consecutive 200 IP seasons, five of them with 16 or more wins. All three were traded after the 1933 season as Connie Mack sold off his star players; it would be a long dry spell for the A’s with only three winning seasons (1947-49) in the next 34 years.
18. 221 games (74.9%) – Paul Derringer/Ernie Lombardi 1933-41 Reds
Lombardi was acquired from Brooklyn before the 1932 season and Derringer arrived from St. Louis a year later as Cincinnati, then in the middle of five straight 90 loss seasons, started a slow rebuilding process that culminated with consecutive pennants and a World Series title in 1939-40. Derringer lost 20 games in his first two seasons as a Red but would rebound with four 20 win seasons, the last two in Cincinnati’s two pennant winning seasons. Lombardi’s MVP season in 1938 was his fourth straight 350 PA campaign batting .330 with 130 OPS+, still the longest streak of such seasons by a catcher. The Braves purchased Lombardi before the 1942 season, and Derringer was sold to the Cubs a year later.
19. 212 games (60.6%) – Whitey Ford/Yogi Berra 1950-63 Yankees
This duo teamed with Mickey Mantle to form the foundation of the third and longest Yankee dynasty, claiming a remarkable 15 pennants and 10 World Series titles in the 18 seasons from 1947 to 1964. Ford posted a .720 W-L% (216-84) over those seasons, still remarkable even for such a powerhouse team. In ten of the last twelve of those seasons, Ford exceeded 200 IP and 15 wins, including his 1961 CYA season with a 25-4 record from a majors-leading 283 IP. Berra redefined the role of catcher with ten straight 20 HR/80 RBI seasons (1949-58), a streak by a catcher since matched only by Mike Piazza from 1993 to 2002 (Piazza whiffed at least 65 times in each of those seasons, while Berra never once reached even 40 K’s). That run included three MVP titles for Berra, the last two in consecutive seasons in 1954-55. Berra retired after the 1963 season to succeed Ralph Houk as Yankee manager, guiding the Bombers in 1964 to the last pennant of this dynasty. Ford would remain with New York his entire career, ending in 1967.
T20. 208 games (67.1%) – Mike Flanagan/Rick Dempsey 1976-86 Orioles
Flanagan was a rookie pitcher in 1976 when Dempsey arrived in Baltimore after a 10 player trade with the Yankees that also brought future Oriole stalwarts Scott McGregor and Tippy Martinez. In Baltimore, Dempsey got his first chance to play on a regular basis and established himself as a reliable if unspectacular player, excelling on defense and regularly placing among the leading catchers in fielding percentage, assists and throwing out base stealers. Flanagan quickly developed into one of the AL’s better pitchers, turning in eight consecutive seasons (1977-84) with 20+ starts and a .500 or better record as Baltimore only twice finished more than three games out of the division lead, claiming the AL pennant in 1979 as Flanagan won the Cy Young award and a world championship in 1983. Dempsey left Baltimore as a free agent before the 1987 season and Flanagan was traded to Toronto early in the same year. The two were reunited in Baltimore in 1992, the final season for both, with Flanagan working out of the bullpen and Dempsey catching just a handful of games.
T22. 207 games (75.5%) – Jack Morris/Lance Parrish 1978-86 Tigers
Morris and Parrish were both rookies in 1978, with each coming into his own the next season as Morris posted a solid 17-7 record with 133 ERA+ and Parrish provided some pop with 19 home runs and a ,276/.343/.456 slash. Those would become familiar accomplishments as Detroit developed into a consistent winning ball club culminating with a world championship season in 1984. Morris logged 240 IP (except in the strike-shortened 1981 season) and won at least 14 games with a winning record for all of the pair’s last 7 seasons together. Parrish developed into a consistent and durable slugger with 20 home runs each of those same 7 seasons (again excepting 1981) while catching 120 games every year (except 1981 and an injury-shortened 1986 season). Parrish left as a free agent before the 1987 season while Morris stayed until signing as a free agent in Minnesota before the 1991 season.
T22. 207 games (70.4%) – Cole Hamels/Carlos Ruiz 2006-15 Phillies
Both players debuted in the 2006 season, with Hamels taking a regular turn in the starting rotation that season and Ruiz getting his first shot at regular play the next year as the Phillies claimed their first of five consecutive division crowns, including two pennants and a World Series title. Hamels was the Phillies ace in their 2008 world championship season, turning in his second of six 200 IP season with 130 ERA+. Ruiz caught 100 games in 7 of this duo’s 10 seasons together, including two seasons batting .300 with 125 OPS+. Ruiz’s 149 OPS+ in 2012 ranks 6th (5th excl. FL) since 1901 among all catchers in a 400 PA season with fewer than 20 home runs. In their final game together, Hamels no-hit the Cubs at Wrigley Field, then was dealt to to Rangers in a trade deadline deal. Ruiz remains with the Phillies, signed through the 2016 season.
T24. 203 games (65.9%) – Billy Pierce/Sherm Lollar 1952-61 White Sox
Lollar joined Pierce in Chicago after the 1951 season via a trade from the Browns that sent Jim Rivera the other way (Rivera would find his way back to Chicago before the 1952 season was done). Pierce was a promising young southpaw with the White Sox but had yet to learn to control his heater, averaging over 6.0 BB/9 over his first 450+ IP. He started turning that around in 1951, dropping his BB/9 under 3.0 and moving his SO/W ratio above 1.5. Working with Lollar, Pierce continued that improvement, posting a SO/W ratio above 1.7 in 180+ IP in each of their ten seasons together. Included were two 20 win seasons, two years leading in SO/9 and one (1955) leading in ERA, ERA+, WHIP and SO/W, one of just three live ball era seasons by a southpaw with 200 ERA+ in 200+ IP. The Sox posted a winning record in each of this duo’s ten seasons, finishing no lower than 3rd in all but their last year. Included was an AL championship in 1959, the first on the South Side since the Black Sox of 1919. Pierce’s 2931 IP for the White Sox are the most by a southpaw and rank fourth in franchise history, while Lollar’s 1241 games caught for the White Sox rank second only to Ray Schalk. Pierce departed for San Francisco after the 1961 season while Lollar remained with the Sox for the rest of his career, ending in 1963.
26. 202 games (61.0%) – Dave Stieb/Ernie Whitt 1980-89 Blue Jays
Whitt was a rookie and Stieb a sophomore in their first season together in 1980. It would be the first of eleven straight 180+ IP seasons for Stieb, seven with an ERA+ over 120. Included were two seasons leading in ERA+ and H/9, two leading in IP, and three straight years (1982-84) with 7 WAR and 10 complete games, a feat since matched only by Roger Clemens from 1986 to 1988. Whitt combined durability with consistent pop, catching 115 games for seven straight seasons (1983-89) and reaching double figures in home runs for eight straight years (1982-89). During their decade together, the Blues Jays rose from a last place club to a consistent contender with two AL East crowns and two seasons finishing just two games back of the division leaders. Stieb is the Blue Jays franchise leader in IP, Wins, Starts, CG and Shutouts while Whitt leads Toronto catchers in games and most batting categories. Whitt was traded to the Braves after the 1989 season while Stieb stayed until the Blue Jays’ world championship season in 1992 before going to the White Sox as a free agent the next year.