Since the Gold Glove Award was adopted only three catchers have won more than Sundberg: Hall of Famer Johnny Bench, future Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez and former All-Star Bob Boone. A former first round pick, Sundberg is one of the best defensive catchers in the game’s rich history. Jim ranks 13th all-time in career putouts among catchers, 30th all-time in would-be basestealers gunned down and 30th in fielding percentage behind the dish. Runners rarely tested Sunny’s arm–he erased 41% of daring base runners over the course of his career.
Sundberg was the second pick in the 1973 draft by the Texas Rangers out of the University of Iowa. The Midwestern backstop didn’t spend too many hours on the farm. Texas called him up in 1974 and made him their everyday catcher that season. As a rookie, Jim made the All-Star team and had a solid .354 on-base percentage. Although Jim never was an elite offensive player, he was a polished backstop from day one. In his sophomore season he gunned down 46% of would-be basestealers and led catchers in both putouts and assists. Sundberg would lead backstops in both putouts and assists every year with the exception of 1979 when he finished third in assists.
Beginning in 1976, Jim began a four-year string of leading catchers in fielding percentage. Couple that with his league-leading chain of putouts and assists, and Sundberg was the best defensive backstop in the business. Sunny’s bat started to come around in 1977 when he set a personal high in batting average with a .291 mark. That season he also set his career high in RBI and runs scored while earning the second of what would be six straight Gold Glove Awards. He made a return trip to the All-Star Game in 1978 and by 1979 he had become a reliable .270 hitter. From 1978 to 1981, Jim hit in the .270s each season.
In 1980 Jim started showing off some power as he reached double-digits in homeruns for the first time that season. But the newfound brawny blasting didn’t come at the expense of his catching–he gunned down 48% of would-be basestealers in 1981. Jim reached ten homeruns in 1982 before his offensive skills eroded in ’83. In his tenth season with the Rangers, Jim hit just .201 and Texas shopped him after the season. He was traded to the Brewers for Ned Yost and promptly got back on track with an All-Star season in Milwaukee. But a four-team trade after the season would allow Jim to make his only postseason appearance as he was sent to the Kansas City Royals.
With the Brewers in ’84 he led the American League with a 50% success rate of erasing thieves, but with Kansas City Jim would get a look at World Series duty. He socked ten homers for the Royals during the regular season and added another in a rousing ALCS triumph over the Blue Jays. Sunny drove in six runs against Toronto and helped Kansas City upset the Jays. In the World Series Jim posted a .400 on-base percentage as he caught every game in the Fall Classic defeat of the St. Louis Cardinals. But his career was nearing the end of the line. In ’86 he enjoyed his last good season by setting a personal high with a dozen dingers. Traded to the Cubs for Thad Bosley and Dave Gumpert, Jim was never again a regular catcher. He ended his career back in Texas in 1989 as a backup catcher.
G 1,962/R 621/H 1,493/2B 243/3B 36/HR 95/RBI 624/SB 20/BB 699/SO 963/BA .248/OBP .327/SA .348