For the defense

Catcher Charles Johnson debuts on BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot

December 19, 2010
Charles Johnson helped the Marlins win the 1997 World Series. (NBHOF/Mangin)

View a photo gallery of the 2011 BBWAA ballot

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – For pitchers, the standard of excellence is the perfect game.

For catchers, it's the perfect season – like the one authored in 1997 by Charles Johnson.

Johnson, who played 12 big league seasons for the Marlins, Dodgers, Orioles, White Sox, Rockies and Rays, is one of 33 players on the 2011 Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot for the Class of 2011 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Johnson is making his debut on the BBWAA ballot.

BBWAA members who have at least 10 years of tenure with the organization can vote in the election, and the results will be announced Jan. 5. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all BBWAA votes cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2011. The Induction Ceremony will be held July 24 in Cooperstown.

Johnson, born July 20, 1971, in Fort Pierce, Fla., set the standard for defense behind the plate in the late 1990s. At his peak, Johnson elicited comparisons with the best receivers in the history of the game.

"He may be the best defensive catcher I ever saw," said Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, who played with Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench on the Cincinnati Reds. "The only guys I've ever seen who were in charge of the game from they day they came to the big leagues were Bench, Ken Griffey Jr. and now Charles Johnson. They are the only three I've ever seen who were the best at their position from the day they started playing."

Johnson was taken by the Marlins with the 28th overall pick in the 1992 MLB Draft out of the University of Miami. He made it to the big leagues just two years later, and by 1995 was Florida's starting catcher – finishing seventh in the National League Rookie of the Year voting and winning a Gold Glove Award despite playing just 97 games.

Johnson won the Gold Glove Award again in 1996, then helped lead the Marlins to their first World Series title the following year with a season for the ages. Johnson did not commit a single error during the regular season, and finished 11th in the NL Most Valuable Player voting despite a modest .250 batting average to go along with 19 homers and 63 RBI.

In the World Series against the Indians, however, Johnson hit .357 with a homer and three RBI. His one-out single in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 pushed teammate Moises Alou from first to third – and Alou eventually scored the game-tying run on a sacrifice fly. The Marlins went on to win the game – and the Series – in the 11th inning.

During the 1998 season, the Marlins traded Johnson to the Dodgers in the Mike Piazza deal. He was shipped to the Orioles before the 1999 season, then had his best offensive year in 2000 when he hit 31 home runs and drove in 90 runs with the Orioles and White Sox.

"When I was coming up, I was taught that catching's my work and hitting's my fun," Johnson said. "You have to be two types of players."

Johnson returned to the Marlins in 2001 as a free agent, but never recaptured the offensive success of 2000. He spent the 2003-04 seasons with the Rockies, then closed out his career in Tampa Bay in 2005.

Johnson finished his career with four Gold Gloves (1995-98), two All-Star Game selections (1997 and 2001), 167 home runs and a .245 batting average.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum