Catchers like Jason Kendall are incredibly rare. During his nine seasons with the Pirates from 1996 to 2004, he showed off how uniquely talented he was. Even if the team wasn’t winning much, he was someone fans could root for.
Kendall debuted in 1996 and made the National League All-Star team as a rookie. He did so two more times with the Pirates. Thanks to his ability to start 140+ games as a catcher consistently and play well when he was in the lineup, Kendall managed to become of the league’s best backstops.
On offense, Kendall thrived with a mix of hitting for average and using his uncharacteristically good speed. It’s uncommon to see a catcher steal a lot of bases. From 1998 to 2000, Kendall stole more than 20 in each season.
Kendall was as dangerous at the plate as any leadoff man in baseball. You don’t see catchers bat first in many lineups. However, his .306/.387/.418 batting line tells us why he did see time in the one-hole while with the Pirates.
Kendall often batted well over .300 and would finish the year with an OBP above the .400 mark. He did whatever he could to get on base; including his Pirates record of 177 hit by pitches. Only two others have ever reached 100.
In six of his nine seasons, Kendall was a .300 hitter for Pittsburgh. Three times he finished with an OBP above .400 with the final two seasons each finishing at .399.
Had he played on better teams, his status in MLB history may have been different. Unfortunately, Kendall didn’t see any playoff action at all with the Pirates, as his tenure in Pittsburgh lasted through their postseason drought.