The list of Cubs catchers to start an All-Star Game is short. There was Gabby Hartnett in 1934, 1936 and 1937, and there’s Willson Contreras, who was elected to start Tuesday in Los Angeles after starting in 2018 and 2019.
Hall of Famer Hartnett towers over Cubs catching history with a 52.7 WAR, as listed at Fangraphs.com. Contreras, who is having his best overall season at age 30, is at 14.4 career fWAR. He would need to remain with the Cubs through the trade deadline and stay a few more seasons to challenge 19th-century star King Kelly for No. 2 at 24.5.
Jody Davis, an All-Star reserve in 1984 and 1986, hit 122 home runs with the Cubs to trail only Hartnett’s 231 among catchers in franchise history. He had the most sustained success among modern Cubs catchers with 18.5 fWAR to trail Hartnett, Kelly and Johnny Kling (20.0) of the Tinker-Evers-Chance teams of the early 1900s.
Contreras is next in line.
Let’s look deeper at the Cubs’ two All-Star starting catchers:
Hartnett: The Cubs’ regular catcher in the 1932, 1935 and 1938 World Series, he also had three plate appearances in the 1929 Series after he had been injured for most of the season. His 1938 ‘‘Homer in the Gloamin’ ’’ is one of the storied moments in baseball history, a shot to the left-field bleachers with visibility nil in a tie game about to be called because of darkness in pre-lights Wrigley Field. That 3-2 victory boosted the Cubs past the visiting Pirates atop the National League.
In 1935, when he hit .344/.405/.545 with 13 homers, 91 RBI and 154 weighted runs created plus, Hartnett was named the NL’s Most Valuable Player.
A Cub for 19 of his 20 seasons before finishing with the Giants in 1941, Hartnett blended offensive production with star-level defense. His 127 career wRC+ ranks fifth among Hall of Fame catchers. Mike Piazza leads the group at 140, but Hartnett tops modern Hall of Famers Johnny Bench (125), Yogi Berra (124), Carlton Fisk (117), Gary Carter (116) and Ivan Rodriguez (104).
Contreras: He started his own postseason legacy in 2016, including a homer against the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw in the Cubs’ 5-0 victory in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series and an RBI double that gave the Cubs a 3-1 lead on their way to an 8-7 victory against the Indians in Game 7 of the World Series.
Contreras has given the Cubs a power presence, with 108 homers since his debut in 2016. That’s third among Cubs catchers behind Hartnett and Davis. Contreras’ 117 wRC+ is third among Cubs catchers, 10 points behind Hartnett and 21 behind Kelly.
An fWAR of 2.9 in 2019 is Contreras’ career high, but he’s at 2.4 at the All-Star break. When not catching, he has taken advantage of opportunities as the designated hitter. With an .821 OPS, 13 homers and 122 wRC+, Contreras is on track for about 4.2 fWAR.
At normal production, it would take Contreras three or four seasons to catch Kelly on the fWAR list among Cubs catchers. Getting the three or four seasons might be the hardest part.