Classic Yankees: Jorge Posada

With the retirement of Jorge Posada, he now becomes a “Classic Yankee.”

No team in baseball can match the Yankees for five catchers the quality of Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson, and Posada. While there was hope (now gone) that Jesus Montero could join that quintet, who knows who will come along in the future.

That quintet includes two Hall-of-Famers, five MVP awards, a ROY, and three catchers with over 200 career HR.

Posada was signed as a second baseman, and then was converted to catcher. He made his MLB debut with the Yanks (for whom he spent his whole career) in 1995. Despite getting into only one game, Posada was put on the postseason roster. He pinch-ran (!) in Game 2 of the ALDS, and scored a run on a game-tying double by Ruben Sierra.

While a part of the 1996 WS champs (thus getting a ring), Posada didn’t contribute much to the 1996 club. He was 1 for 14 in eight games.

His story really starts in 1997, when he became a backup to current Yankees manager Joe Girardi. 25 years old that year (26 in August), Posada may have had a late start, but it may have benefited him later. He hit .250-6-25 that year in 60 games, with an OPS+ of 101. The switch-hitting Posada was 0 for 2 in the postseason.

He became a regular in 1998, and hit .268-17-63, OPS+ 115. Posada was blessed with good plate discipline. In the postseason, he was 0 for 2 in the ALDS, 2 for 11 in the ALCS with a HR and 2 RBI, and 3 for 9 in the WS, with a HR and 2 RBI. He also was the catcher for David Wells’ perfect game.

Posada had an off-year in 1999, hitting .245-12-57. OPS+ 91. Torre still trusted Girardi more in the big games, and Posada got into just one ALDS game, going 1 for 4. He was 1 for 10 in the ALCS, with a HR and 2 RBI. That HR, his only hit in the ALCS, sounded the death knell for the Red Sox in the 9th inning of Game Five. In the WS, he was 2 for 8 with an RBI. Knowing that Girardi would not return for 2000, Posada petitioned (successfully) to start Game 4. He wanted to be the one to close out the WS (which the Yankees did).

Posada then had a marvelous 2000. In a year in which many Yankees bats slumped (Brosious, Tino, Knoblauch) and one in which the mid-season acquisitions of David Justice (to replace the injured Shane Spencer) and Glenallen Hill saved the Yankees season, Posada, along with Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams, was a mainstay. While Jeter hit .339 with an OPS+ of 128, and Williams had 30 HR and 121 RBI on his way to an OPS+ of 140, Posada had an OPS+ of 139 in his own right, walking 107 times that year while putting up numbers of .287-28-86. He won a Silver Slugger and was an All-Star but didn’t receive any MVP consideration. In retrospect, that seems like a huge oversight, probably because of his 151 strikeouts that year. But still, 107 walks, OPS+ 139, 28 HR, 86 RBI…

In the postseason, Posada was 4 for 17, 1 RBI in the ALDS, 3 for 19, 3 RBI in the ALCS, and 4 for 18, 1 RBI in the WS.

In 2001, Posada once again was an All-Star and won the Silver Slugger Award. He hit .277-22-95, OPS+ 117. He had a huge HR in Game 3 of the ALDS (the Jeter Flip game). The Yanks only got two hits in that game, but Posada’s HR was the difference in the 1-0 Yankees’ victory. The Yanks, down 0-2 to the A’s in that series, came back from the dead and won the series. Posada was 8 for 18, that HR, and 2 RBI. In the ALCS, Jorge was 3 for 14. He was 4 for 23, 1 HR, 1 RBI in the WS.

2002 saw another All-Star selection, and another Silver Slugger. 268-20-99. Jorge had typical catcher’s speed (none) and led the AL in GIDP. The OPS+ was 121. He was 4 for 17, 1 HR and 3 RBI in the ALDS.

The fiery Posada had one of his best years in 2003, and finally was awarded with MVP consideration, long overdue. He tied Yogi Berra’s Yankee record of 30 HR by a catcher, and hit .281-30-101, his only season with 100 RBI. Once again an All-Star and Silver Slugger winner, Jorge finished 3rd in the MVP voting. His OPS+ was 144. A-Rod won the award (a steroids year for Alex while with Texas) with six first-place votes and 242 points. Carlos Delgado had five first-place votes and 213 points. Posada got five first- place votes and 194 points.

In the ALDS, Posada was 3 for 17. His fieriness was on display in Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS, a game that the Yanks won 4-3. Posada was one hollering at Pedro after Pedro came up and in on Karim Garcia, and that precipitated the bench-clearing brawl that saw Pedro Martinez throw Coach Don Zimmer to the ground.

In Game Seven, it was Posada’s two-run double that tied the game in the eighth inning, setting the stage for Aaron Boone’s pennant-winning HR three innings later. Posada was 8 for 27, four doubles, 1 HR, and 6 RBI in that series. In the WS, Posada was 3 for 19, 1 RBI.

Besides catching, Posada also DH’d and once in a while would play first base. In his final season, 2011, he actually mopped up a Yankees blow-out win by playing second.

In 2004, Posada’s streak of four consecutive All-Star selections and four consecutive Silver Sluggers came to an end, but he still had a productive season, hitting .272-21-81, OPS+ 131. Again he led the league in GIDP. He was 4 for 18 in the ALDS, and in the ALCS was 7 for 27 with 2 RBI.

Posada’s production continued well into his thirties. In 2005, he hit .262-19-71, OPS+ 109. Although never a Gold Glove winner, Posada’s bat was lethal. When he retired, Posada’s total of 275 HR (not all as catcher) ranked him 8th amongst players whose primary position was catcher. In the 2005 ALDS, Posada was 3 for 13, a HR, 2 RBI.

“Hip-Hip” Jorge had a typical 2006. .277-23-93, OPS+ 122. Looking back over his career, it’s amazing to me how he only got MVP consideration in only two years—2003 and 2007. His OPS+ numbers, especially for a catcher, suggested that he deserved better. Posada was 7 for 14, 1 HR, 2 RBI in the 2006 ALDS.

Posada turned 36 in August of 2007, but he put up surprisingly great (for a 36 year old catcher) numbers that year, hitting .338(!) (No leg hits there!). He hit .338-20-90, with an OPS+ of 153. He became an All-Star and Silver Slugger winner for the fifth and final time, and finished sixth in the MVP voting (won by A-Rod, now with the Yanks, who put up 54 HR and 156 RBI). He went 2 for 15 in the ALDS. From Wikipedia: He is the only MLB catcher to ever have hit .330 or better with 40 doubles, 20 home runs, and 90 runs batted in (RBIs) in a single season. And to do it in a season in which he turned 36!

For as great as Posada’s 2007 season was, 2008 was as much of a waste. Posada injured his shoulder and missed about 2/3 of the season. In just 51 games, he hit .268-3-22, OPS+ 103. There were serious concerns about his ability (at age 37) to bounce back.

In 2009, Posada became the first player to HR in the New Yankee Stadium.

2009, however, saw Posada’s last great season, and, after nine years, a return of the World Championship to the Yankees. Posada was a key figure to that, hitting .285-22-81, OPS+ 125. Due to his age, Posada’s playing time was reduced from what it had been previously, but his bat was still productive. There were increasing concerns about his defense, however.

During his career, there were pitchers who Posada had issues with. El Duque for one, Randy Johnson for another. While Jeter was the “ice” of the Yankees, (icy cool), it was Posada who was the fire. In the 2009 postseason, Posada was benched for Jose Molina when A.J. Burnett started. Still in all, Posada had a big insurance PH RBI single in Game 2 of that year’s WS.

Posada was 4 for 11 with a big Game 3 HR in the ALDS, that HR, 2 RBI. He went 4 for 20, 1 HR, 1 RBI in the ALCS. In the WS, he was 5 for 19 with 5 RBI.

Posada had a decent enough 2010, but his defense was slipping. He hit .248-18-57, OPS+ 115. In the ALDS he was 3 for 11 with 2 RBI. In the ALCS he went 5 for 19 with 1 RBI.

With Posada now 39, and his defense slipping, the decision was made for him to be the Yanks’ DH in 2011. He would catch in just one game. (He played 1B in 14 games and 2B in that one mentioned earlier).

Posada didn’t take to DH-ing. In May, he removed himself from the lineup when he saw his name 9th on the lineup card. A lesser Yankee may have been released. After the games of May 10th, Posada was hitting just .147. It wasn’t until early June until he got that batting average back over .200, and he wound up hitting .235-14-44, OPS+ just an 87.

It was apparent that Posada was done, and that he wouldn’t be back with the Yankees in 2012. The only question was, would he play elsewhere?

Posada ended his Yankees career in style. Although the Yanks were ousted in the 2011 ALDS, Posada was 6 for 14 in that postseason series. After the last game, when asked what being a Yankee meant to him, Posada, aware of the moment (his last game in pinstripes), broke down in tears and walked away.

So now he retires. Posada hit .273 in his career with 275 HR (same # as Roger Maris). His OPS+ was a very good 121. His 162 g. average was .273-24-94. Going by 75% (fair for a catcher), you’d get .273-18-71. When checking out similarity among ballplayers, Posada is similar to Lance Parrish, Gabby Hartnett*, Javy Lopez, Bret Boone, Gary Carter*, Joe Gordon*, Vern Stephens, Bill Dickey*, Bill Freehan, and Benito Santiago. Note some (*) are Hall-of-Famers. Some are catchers.

Posada is an interesting HOF case. Besides the .273 and 275 HR (as mentioned, 8th among players who primarily were catchers), he played in a whopping 125 postseason games, hitting .248 with 11 HR and 42 RBI. On baseball-reference.com, he is a 98 on HOF Monitor (Likely HOF 100) and a 40 on HOF standards (Likely HOF 50). So it looks like close, but no cigar.

Still in all, Posada is a worthy member of the “quintet”… five catchers who collectively (Dickey, Berra, Howard, Munson and Posada) achieved plateaus no quintet of catchers of any other team has reached. Most teams would be happy to boast of two, maybe three catchers of the quality that the Yankees have had with five.

Maybe one day #20 joins the other four catchers (#8 twice [Dickey and Berra], #32 (Howard) and #15 (Munson)) as being a retired number.

Off the field, Posada dealt with a serious issue. Once again, from Wikipedia: Posada’s son, Jorge Luis, suffers from craniosynostosis, which he was diagnosed with 10 days after he was born. Jorge Luis has endured numerous surgeries to correct the condition. Posada established the Jorge Posada Foundation to help find a cure for the disease and support families with children affected by the condition. Jorge released a charity wine in 2008 called Jorge Cabernet to raise funds for his foundation. In June 2011, his son underwent what Posada hoped would be the final surgery for the condition.

Will the fiery Posada become a coach for the Yankees one day? A manager? Time will tell.

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2 Responses to Classic Yankees: Jorge Posada

  1. Matt says:

    Nice piece, Mike. Great you mentioned the HR off Zito in the 2001 ALDS. Mussina is also forgotten that game. Jorge leaves the game a Yankee – like the other four great catchers. I think #20, along with #51 & #21, should be retired.

    • Mike Sommer says:

      Actually, two of the five catchers played their final MLB game in a uniform other than a Yankees uniform. Ellie Howard spent the end of 1967 (and was the catcher for Boston in the 1967 WS) and all of 1968 with Boston. Yogi Berra didn't retire a Yankee, but had a couple of games as a Met in 1965.