I’ll preface this post with a full disclosure that I am about as diehard a Yankee fan as there is. I live and die by this team, so yes, I may be a bit biased over the course of this entry. Sue me. I’ll show up to court with my Yankee tie on.
On January 24th, a storied career finally came to a close. Jorge Posada is finally stepping away from the game he loves after 17 seasons at the ripe old age of 39. For Yankee fans, he joins a list of catchers rich in history. Names such as Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Thurman Munson, and Elston Howard come to the forefront of any baseball historian’s mind when it comes to great Yankee catchers. You can easily rank Jorge Posada among them.
While Jorge may not sport the number of All Star Appearances that Yogi Berra or Bill Dickey did, and he certainly didn’t win Yogi’s 3 MVP awards, and definitely didn’t have Dickeys lifetime .313 BA, Jorge brought one of those famed “intangibles” that Yankee fans love to use when defending a player. It’s hard to argue for an intangible, as there is no real clear cut way to explain what your eyes see and your brain appreciates. You just watch him take a field and you knew there was no one on that field more proud to wear the pinstripes with the interlocking NY. Now, I know that’s certainly good enough to get a bronze statue in monument park, and your number retired by your team, but it just isn’t good enough to get you into the Hall of Fame.
Sabermatricians rejoice, as I know you’re pulling out your hair at the mention of these categories. I’ll throw a bone your way too. Jorge’s Range Factor per 9 is much higher than Yogi’s (compare Jorge’s 7.49 to Yogi’s 5.56). While the numbers are much higher overall at the catcher’s position in the present day, it’s hard to argue that a stat is meaningless while at the same time comparing a player to Hall of Famers who played in different eras. You can’t have it both way, gents.
Getting away from actual stats, as those can get boring very quickly, I present another argument. Jorge Posada should have been an MVP winner in 2003, if not for Alex Rodriguez and his season of steroids. Okay, maybe Carlos Delgado would have won, but Jorge was not far behind Delgado in the voting, and both men shared the same number of first place votes. I contend that if A-Rod wasn’t cheating to be the MVP, Posada would have won that MVP in 2003, and we would have a significantly different argument about the guy. Unfortunately, this was not the case, and this is the closest Jorge ever came to the MVP trophy. However, this is as close as Bill Dickey ever came, as he never won the trophy either. Yogi won three, but it’s hard not to win the MVP at least once when your team is winning 10 World Series rings, and you go to the All Star Game every year you played as a starter.
Jorge has an award that neither Bill Dickey nor Yogi Berra ever won, and that is the Silver Slugger. Granted, the Silver Slugger only started to be awarded in 1980, you can’t fault someone for being a victim of when they were born. An award is an award, and Jorge won five of them. The only two players to win more in the American League were Ivan Rodriguez and Lance Parish. Also, Jorge has something that of the Yankee catcher Hall of Famers, only Yogi has under his belt: A victory in a perfect game. Not many other players have the honor to call a perfect game, and even fewer have actually been elected to the Hall of Fame after catching one. Currently, only 2 catchers have been elected. A few others are still active. Of them, only Ivan Rodriguez is the only surefire Hall of Famer.
An interesting stat I heard from the MLB network relates to that power of Jorge’s. During his time as an active catcher, from 1998 to 2010, no player hit more than 240 homeruns. This is 11 more than Mike Piazza’s 229 and 24 more than Ivan Rodriguez’s 216. I think this stat alone supports my theory that Jorge deserves his mantle on the wall in Cooperstown, as those are two of the best power hitting catchers of all time.
Sadly, this is where I digress, as I know what will happen with Jorge’s ballot. It will become a replica of Elston Howard, who happens to have many similar numbers to Jorge Posada in both offense and defensive categories. Howard, the first African-American to play for the Yankees is a two time Gold Glove winner, and a recipient of the MVP award. He took over for Yogi after his retirement, and won himself four World Series rings. He never made it to the Hall of Fame. He was an above average fielder, just like Jorge, but his numbers weren’t quite there. It looks a lot like Jorge’s line, to be honest, with the exception of a few stats. Jorge had over 110 more homeruns, 200 more hits, 100 more doubles, 300 more RBIs, and his OBP was 50 points higher than Elston’s. One could use these stats as an argument had Elston been elected, but he never was.
Had it been a list of the best Yankee catchers of all time, of course Jorge would be ranked above Elston Howard. As much as it pains me to do it, I’d probably rank him above Thurman Munson too, but that is only because Jorge played longer, and had a couple of more World Series rings than Thurman did. However, Jorge played the same game, with the same intensity. Jorge lived and died by the pinstripes the same way I, as a fan, do so from April-late October every year. It’s hard as a fan to not like that. It’s almost the same reason why Yankee fans don’t like A-Rod. He just doesn’t bring that intensity that a guy like Jorge does. I want my players to be angry after a game. I want them to feel like they let down the entire city of New York, because the next time they take the field, they’re going to tear the cover off of the ball. Jorge, for 17 seasons, was that guy.
I’ll never forget when the Yankees were suffering a tremendous loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in early 2009, and Girardi didn’t want to waste a pitcher, so he put Nick Swisher on the mound. Swisher recorded a strike out, laughed on the mound, and rolled the ball to the dugout for his trophy case. The team found humor in the embarrassing situation, as Swisher could then retire with a 0.00 ERA. Everyone except Jorge Posada. When asked after the game about it, Posada wasn’t so amused. “Nobody was laughing,” Posada said. “I think today was embarrassing, and it’s just one of those days that everything went for them and nothing went for us. We didn’t pitch, we didn’t do the things we were supposed to do.”
Oddly enough, it was Jorge who clinched the Yankees AL East title in 2011. It was a season of accomplishments, from Jeter’s 3000th hit, to Mariano Rivera’s 602nd save. It was very appropriate that Jorge Posada got an achievement of his own. One that stood for everything he stood for. He launched the team into the playoffs. Pinch hitting for a hot-hitting Jesus Montero, Jorge drove a single into right field, scoring two runs, and sending the Yankees to the playoffs.
I realize that this is supposed to be about the career of the man, and why he should be in the Hall of Fame, but I firmly believe that clinching game is a microcosm of Jorge the player. He didn’t have to hit a home run with the bases loaded and two outs in the 8th. He just had to make contact, and score a run to take the lead. He gave the Yankees two. He was always giving a bit more than they asked, but never hogged the spotlight or the glory. If the team was winning, he was winning. The epitome of a team player is Jorge Posada.
While I personally gave Posada a lot of grief for not being a clutch player, he was also the man who caught Jeter’s famous “Flip Play” in Oakland in the 2001 ALDS. He sent Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS into extra innings with his double in the bottom of the 9th. While the Yankees have found a suitable replacement behind the plate in the form of Russel Martin, I just feel as though the Yankees are missing that extra bit of intensity that Jorge brought to the table. Not to knock Martin, as he had a fantastic first year for the Yankees, but there is no player quite like Posada.
We watched him grow up and mature as a player, and become a leader of the Yankees. He became a general on the field and did everything a fan could ever wish for in their player. Posada deserves to have his name added to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York when his balloting begins in five years. While I am fairly sure the Baseball Writers do not agree with me, and won’t vote Jorge in, I hold out hope that they will let go of this gate keeper mentality, where some vote “No” on the first ballot, just because. Jorge’s numbers are right there with other Hall of Fame catchers.
It’s time for him to get his fair shake, and his own individual accomplishment that every player dreams about. In five years, I hope to be in Cooperstown with other Yankee fans on the grass chanting “Hip-Hip-Jorge” one final time. I just wish the Writers would see it my way for once. But this would mean Mattingly and Munson would be in too. But that’s an argument for another day.
Erik Espenberg is a native New Yorker who is an avid fan of the Yankees, Rangers, and Jets. When not writing for Camel Clutch, he can be found killing his brain cells playing assorted video games. He can be contacted at [email protected].