I don’t want to spoil the party, but the American League’s current home run leader hasn’t really broken the single-season record for home runs by a catcher. Yet.
Come to think of it, neither, really, did the Hall of Famer he’s being lauded for surpassing, Johnny Bench.
Perez teed off on Indians starter Triston McKenzie in the top of the fifth Monday, with Nicky Lopez aboard, and sent his 46th homer of the season into the Progressive Field bleachers to send home the sixth and seventh Royals runs. (The Royals won, 7-2, and went on to sweep the doubleheader.) And, yes, Perez was the catcher at the time he hit the blast.
ESPN made a note that Perez topped Bench’s 45 in 1970 “for the most by a player who played at least 75% of his team’s games at catcher.” Well, there are two Hall of Famers who did hit 40 home runs in a season as catchers. One of them did it twice. Both of them played ninety percent or better as their teams’ catchers in those seasons. So did the non-Hall of Famer who hit 41 as a backstop one fine season.
But nobody thought about mentioning Roy Campanella or Mike Piazza while Perez approached Bench’s 1970 season total. They didn’t say a single word about Piazza hitting 40 each in 1997 and 1999, hitting every one of them strictly when he was his team’s catcher in both seasons.
Perez this season has actually hit 31 homers when he was the Royals’ catcher and fifteen when he was the Royals’ designated hitter, on those days the Royals elected to keep his fat bat in the lineup while giving his 31-year-old, well-enough-worn knees a break.
When Bench hit his 45 in 1970, he hit 38 of them as the Reds’ catcher. He also hit one each when he played first base and right field, and five when he played left field. Bench hit an even forty homers total in 1972, and he hit 34 of those as the Reds’ catcher. He hit two playing third base and four playing right field while he was at it.
The previous catcher with the most big bops was Campanella, hitting 41 in 1953. But what do you know: Campy hit forty of those as the Dodgers’ catcher. (He hit the other as a pinch hitter.) Piazza’s pair of 40-homer seasons as a catcher really tied Campanella, then. He’s still the only catcher in Show history to do that twice.
Never mind “the most by a player who played at least 75 percent of his team’s games at catcher.” How about recognising Piazza playing 91 percent of his 1997 games at catcher when he hit forty homers as the Dodgers’ catcher? How about recognising Piazza playing 96 percent of his 1999 games behind the plate when he hit forty homers as the Mets’ catcher? How about recognising Campanella playing 93 percent of his 1953 games behind the plate when he hit forty as the Dodgers’ catcher?
How about that non-Hall of Famer who hit 41 as a catcher in 1996—hitting every one of those as a catcher while playing 94 percent of his games behind the plate? Todd Hundley, anyone? There’s your real single-season homers-by-catcher record holder. My guess is that Hundley not being a Hall of Famer slips him through the proverbial cracks; I’d forgotten him myself until a friend of good standing reminded me.
Various breeds of fans and analysts love to nit-pick and cherry-pick when a player seems to knock a predecessor out of the record book. I didn’t hear a lot of nit-picking and cherry-picking about Perez approaching Bench.
But if you’re going to continue crowning Bench the now-dethroned single-season home run king among catchers, you really ought to see what he actually hit when he actually strapped the tools of ignorance on. He came up two short of Campanella as a catcher in 1970 and six short of Campy behind the dish in 1972. Not to mention three short of Hundley.
Piazza actually matched Campanella for power while actually catching, dead-even, in 1997 and 1999, though he still fell one short of Hundley. But you didn’t hear that in the middle of the hoopla preparing to anoint Perez the new single-season home run champion among catchers, either.
Yet when Bench broke Hall of Famer Yogi Berra’s record for career homers by a catcher (you may remember hearing that Berra sent Bench a congratulatory telegram saying, “I always thought that record would stand until it was broken”), they mentioned the 327 Bench hit specifically as a catcher (overall, he sent 389 over the fences) and the 293 Yogi hit while actually behind the plate.
And when Piazza broke the total of the man who broke Bench’s lifetime homers-by-catcher total, fellow Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk, they mentioned the 396 Piazza launched specifically as a catcher, too.
But they didn’t talk that way when Perez approached Bench’s overall 1970 season total. I couldn’t possibly predict how many more home runs Perez has in his bat with eleven games left on the Royals’ season schedule. I’m not sure anyone else can, even with the Royals closing out against the Indians, the Tigers, the Indians again, and the Twins.
He’s hit eight this month so far. But he needs to hit seven more while catching if he wants to tie Bench’s actual 1970 bombs as a catcher; and, he needs nine more to tie, ten more to pass Piazza and Campanella, and eleven more to pass Hundley, the real record holder.
Then, again, with the way he’s hit this season, and assuming the Royals let him continue catching with their season lost long enough, it’s not necessarily out of bounds to think Perez still has a real shot.