Charles Johnson isn’t the first Black catcher, but he’s the last one to have an impactful career behind the dish.
The MLB has seen many Black and brown players have success playing different positions. From pitcher Bob Gibson to outfielder Mookie Betts, the brothers have done their thing on the baseball diamond and have received recognition for it.
Let it be known that our MLB bros know how to play this game and succeed at a high level.
One position that the MLB has not seen many Black and brown athletes play is the catcher position.
If you were to ask a young baseball fan if they could name a Black catcher, they would struggle to give that answer because there have not been many.
In 2020, The Undefeated published an article about the disappearance of the African American catcher.
Chip Lawrence, a graduate of Southern University, a national cross-checker for the San Diego Padres, and a scout, gave his take on the shortage of Black catchers in the league.
“It is not a glorified position,” Lawrence said in The Undefeated article. “Catching takes commitment and a high tolerance for pain. You have to have a special makeup to be a catcher.”
Lawrence did notice that there are more Black catchers at the collegiate level.
“Most colleges want a player that can receive and be athletic behind the plate, with the ability to hit being a bonus. If anything, we are seeing more college African American catchers now than we have seen in the past few years,” Lawrence said.
That’s a good sign to see more Black college athletes stepping into the catching role. Just like any other position, our brothers can be successful behind the plate.
Now there have been a few Black catchers who had success in the league. Many moons ago, there was Roy Campanella, who played for the old Brooklyn Dodgers, and Elston Howard, who caught for the New York Yankees. Both were stars in the 50s and 60s.
More recently, the biggest catching star was Charles Johnson. For those who aren’t familiar with Johnson, let’s start out with some of his accomplishments during his career.
Johnson played from 1994 to 2005 and during that time he was a two-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove winner and a World Series champion.
That’s an impressive resume right there and the brother accomplished all that while playing catcher.
He spent time playing with six different teams and finished with a .275 career batting average, 167 home runs, and 570 RBI. Behind the plate, he had a .993 fielding percentage.
When Johnson was playing, there weren’t too many Black players playing the same position he was.
“There were only two other black catchers that I knew of: Terry McGriff and Lenny Webster,” Johnson said in the article from The Undefeated.
Johnson knew he wanted to play catcher at a young age and his father wasted no time putting him to work.
“My dad had a wooden tool shed I’d squat in front of. I missed a whole lot of balls. Eventually, those balls tore a big old hole in that shed,” Johnson said. “After a while, my goal became not to let the ball get through that hole.”
That hard work that Johnson put in at a young age allowed him to play collegiately at the University of Miami and he went on to be drafted by the Florida Marlins in the first round of the 1992 MLB draft.
During his first full season in 1995, he won a Gold Glove award and went on to win the award the next three seasons.
He had one of his best seasons statistically in 2001 hitting .259 with 18 home runs and 75 RBI. This MLB bro could get the job done at the plate and behind the plate.
While there weren’t many Blacks behind the dish when Johnson was playing, he made sure to make a name for himself and give inspiration to others who want to play the same position.
Though the MLB has seen a lack of Black catchers, former players like Johnson have paved the way for generations to come.