Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hip Hip...

I come not to bury the 2011 Yankees, but to praise Jorge Posada.

For once in my life, I'm going to try to suppress the negativity that consumes me and take the high road. This was the most painful, frustrating, devastating Yankees defeat since 2004 (the midge game comes a close second). But I'm not going to talk about the insanity of Joe Girardi allowing the inept Russell Martin to bat in the game's highest leverage situation while Jesus Montero rotted on the bench. I'm not going to bemoan the six more years of having a crippled Alex Rodriguez on the roster. I'm not going to question the veracity of Ivan Nova's "injury," or even worry about C.C. Sabathia opting out of his contract and his diet.

The biggest takeaway from tonight's game is that it was Jorge Posada's last game with the New York Yankees.

As much of a sentimentalist as I am, even I can't argue that the Yankees should re-sign Jorge, at least not for anything more than a non-guaranteed contract. At this point in his career, he's a rapidly declining designated hitter who can only play against right-handed pitching.

I'd love to see Jorge back as a part-time DH, emergency catcher and pinch hitter, but given the Yankees' aging roster, that's not going to happen. And Posada is too prideful to accept a pity contract offer. He may very well end up with another American League team for one last hurrah. But his days as a Yankee are over.

And what days they were.

Posada will likely be kept out of the Hall of Fame for the same reasons that the Yankees lost this series to the Detroit Tigers. Joe Girardi, married to old school baseball reasoning, kept playing and batting Russell Martin long after it became apparent that Martin was utterly ineffective. But he was a veteran presence! He could handle a pitching staff! He had experience, for God's sake! Girardi fiddled while the Bronx burned, leaving an inferior player in the lineup because of prejudices that were long ago proven inane.

When Posada first broke into the big leagues in 1997, he was already the Yankees' best catcher. But former catcher Joe Torre insisted on playing Girardi over Posada for years for those very same reasons -- experience, handling a staff, defense, blah blah blah -- costing Posada hundreds of plate appearances and counting statistics. Posada didn't become the Yankees' first-string, full-time catcher until 2000, by which point he posted a .943 OPS (!)

As it is, Posada is a borderline Hall of Famer -- but he'll likely be kept on the outside looking in because the voters are married to the same kind of old-school thinking as Torre and Girardi. Had he played in all those extra games, he'd have a much better chance of breaking the glass ceiling.

As it stands, Posada finishes the Yankees chapter of his career (and maybe his entire career) with an .848 OPS as a catcher, 275 home runs, 47.6 wins above replacement, and a wOBA of .366. His defense was never great, but he held his own (at least until the last couple seasons), and handled pitching staffs well enough to be a major contributor on four World Series winners, six A.L. pennant winners and 15 post-season qualifiers.

Posada began his career backing up Girardi, and long toiled in the shadows of Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and others. As such, he's probably not appreciated quite enough for his offensive contributions despite being a member of the vaunted "Core Four."

In this 2011 ALDS debacle, he was nothing less than the Yankees' best hitter: taking pitches, working counts, hitting the ball hard and getting on base. In what will almost surely be his final at bat as a Yankee, he almost beat out an infield single. That's a great way to remember him: old, slow, but chugging down that damn line trying to leg out a hit and will his team to victory. He was out, and called as such by the umpire, but he almost fucking made it.

Jorge Posada caught a perfect game with the Yankees. He caught the final outs of World Series victories. He delivered clutch playoff hits. He caught the vast majority of Mariano Rivera's record number of saves. But that was how it ended: Posada waddling toward first as fast as his 40-year-old, beat-up legs would take him, desperately trying to start a rally. As he crossed his first, he flung his arms out to signal "Safe!" even though he knew he was out. He knew flinging his arms out wouldn't compel the ump to allow him to remain on first base, but he just wanted it so much.

Goodbye, Jorgie. You were a flawed but great baseball player. It's been a privilege to watch you for so many years, so many games, so many at bats. You gave a damn as much as anyone on the Yankees over the last decade and a half. You were one of the greatest offensive catchers of all time. That's a luxury we've taken for granted. Now, if Montero or Romine don't develop as catchers, we could be in for years of Martins, Cervellis, Molinas and the like. Then we'll remember how good we had it.

As Mike Vorkunov points out, you kept a picture of Thurman Munson taped to your locker. That tells us all we really need to know about you.