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Charles Johnson: The Greatest Glove in Marlins History

Beyond being a productive offensive player for a time, Johnson’s calling card was his work with the leather.

BBN-METS-MARLINS Photo credit should read RHONA WISE/AFP via Getty Images

In parts of 12 MLB seasons between 1994-2005, Charles Johnson put up career numbers that wouldn’t necessarily wow you at first glance (167 home runs, .762 OPS, 97 OPS+, 22.6 rWAR). But along the way, this longtime Marlins’ catcher earned 2 All-Star selections, a World Series ring—hitting .357 in the series to secure that ring, by the way—and 4 National League Gold Gloves. He donned “the tools of ignorance” about as well as any other NL backstop of his generation.

You see, Johnson’s awards were a product of a defense acumen that bears no true rival in the franchise’s near-30-year history.

By dWAR (defensive wins above replacement), Johnson generated 8.6 wins with his glove as a member of the Marlins. Using Baseball-Reference’s Stathead tool, we see that this is by far the most in franchise history.

Florida/Miami Marlins career leaders in dWAR
Florida/Miami Marlins career leaders in dWAR

“My number one responsibility for me is to be a catcher first then a hitter,” Johnson said in 1995, “because that’s something I’ve always been taught up through high school, college, and all the way through the minor leagues.”

Metrics beyond dWAR, such as Rfield (another term for Total Zone) further support Johnson’s superiority with the leather. He holds the franchise record in that category, too, at 53 runs above average. The 19 total zone runs that CJ accrued during the Marlins’ 1997 championship season placed him tops among big league catchers and 6th among all defenders league-wide.

Among the best in terms of slowing down the running game, Johnson ranked top-5 in caught stealing percentage five times, including a career-best 47.6-percent rate in 1996. After finishing 2nd in total runners thrown out in ‘95 and ‘96, Johnson led the league in ‘97, throwing out a remarkable 56 would-be base stealers, a mark only bettered since by future Marlin Paul Lo Duca in 2003. It’s no secret then as to why the slick-handed backstop led the NL that season with 2.7 dWAR, finishing 2nd in the sport to Álex Rodríguez’s 3.0 mark.

Johnson also played an integral role in stewarding Marlins pitchers to special performances, catching each of the first three no-hitters in club history: Al Leiter (5/11/96), Kevin Brown (6/10/97), and A.J. Burnett (5/12/01).

For his career, Johnson would retire with 73 Rfield, more than defensive stalwart Mike Cameron (71.1), Hall of Famers Andre Dawson (70.2), Al Simmons (67), and Rogers Hornsby (54), and our good old friend Jeff Mathis (66). While Johnson won’t ever be referenced with the same fervor in baseball’s historical lexicon as those middle three, his distinction as the best glove the Fish have ever had is as firm now as it was upon his final game with the club in 2002.

Should the Marlins organization go further to honor his contributions?