Jorge Posada officially announced his retirement today and undoubtedly there will be a lot of talk about retiring Jorge’s number and his possible induction into the MLB Hall of Fame 5 years from now. The general consensus seems to be that his number will be retired, but that he falls short of the HOF. I agree that it probably plays out that way, but I think there is an argument to be made that Posada has been overlooked for the majority of his career.
Despite all the vague and intangible qualities attributed to the “dynasty” Yankees of 1996-2001 (“clutch”, “aura”, “mystique”, etc.), their formula for success was actually pretty simple: they had elite talent at up the middle positions and they had quality, durable starting pitching. Having Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada at CF, SS, and C respectively, provided a gigantic advantage. Though there are obvious questions about how good all 3 actually were defensively, it is still rare to fill all 3 of those positions of with elite hitters.
That is the part that is most often overlooked I think: Posada was an elite hitter. He never had a ton of homeruns (though he did hit 30 in 2003 and had 275 for his career), did not hit for a high average (with the exception of the absurd 2007 when he hit .338), and never was the Yankees’ full time 3 or 4 hitter. But he did get on base consistently. Posada was a patient hitter, with a career walk rate of over 13%. There is a lot of value in that, but it’s generally not the kind of value that gets you MVP votes and that was certainly the case with Posada, who finished 3rd once (2003) and 6th another time (2007), but otherwise never showed up on the ballot. Yet, MVP votes or not, Posada was, year in and year out, one of the premier hitting catchers in baseball.
Jorge also gets overlooked because he was a pretty limited player. He was a tremendous hitter but he was a below-average defender (even if that was sometimes overblown) and atrocious base runner (the thought of Posada sliding into a base still makes me cringe). Posada was never considered the best player on his team – or even close to it for that matter. These kind of narratives matter when it comes to voting, fair or not. The one narrative that could potentially pick up steam is that Posada was the best player at his position for a period of time (once Pudge Rodriguez started slowing down) and was top 5 for almost every season he spent as a full time catcher. He had both a high peak and longevity – neither good enough for induction on their own, but perhaps enough when considered together.
It’s dangerous relying on things like MVP voting and All-Star Game appearances when looking back on a career and, like Bernie Williams, those things will probably hurt Posada’s HOF chances even though they shouldn’t. If we are using the “Jim Rice test,” as I like to call it, where we compare Posada to a recent HOFer, then sure Posada was definitely more valuable than Rice so he should be in. Of course, by that measure so should Bernie Williams, and I can’t see him getting in any time soon. And Tim Raines was better than all of them and I don’t think he gets in either. So clearly the HOF is not simply about how good a player was.
Bottom line is that when it comes to players like Posada, they need some sort of narrative to give them the support necessary for induction. I don’t think Posada gets it, but with the large wave of candidates coming next year who are dealing with the steroid issue, anything is possible. If Posada does get in, I for one will be happy for him. Until then, I look forward to seeing #20 out in Monument Park someday soon. Hip Hip (Jorge).