The Last Stand of Jorge Posada
It’s not hard to pinpoint the exact moment Jorge Posada became my favorite Yankee player. It was during Game 3 of the 2003 American League Championship Series. The Bombers were engaged in a bitter duel at Fenway Park against the hated Red Sox, and with Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez on the hill it was destined to be a classic. Early on it was evident that Pedro didn’t have his best “stuff”, and in the early innings the Yanks were spraying hits all over the field. With a base open in the top of the 4th inning, Pedro rifled a high fastball that grazed the top of journeymen Karim Garia’s back. The Yankee dugout took umbrage to this pitch directed at Garcia’s dome, and the man leading the verbal assault on Pedro was Jorge. Decked out in his catching gear, Posada was berating Pedro and had to be restrained by teammates. I loved it. The Yankees under Joe Torre rarely retaliated when Pedro or other pitchers threw at their players, so it was refreshing to see Posada stand up for his teammate and try to get after him. The Yankees ended up winning that particular game and the series in a dramatic Game 7 that saw Jorge tie the game with a hit off his nemesis Pedro in the 8th inning.
Since that ALCS I have followed Jorge’s career with a keen interest. A five-time All-Star and four-time World Series champion, Jorge was one the most prolific hitting catchers for close to a decade and is a borderline Hall of Famer. Though never a great defensive catcher, in his prime years he was serviceable behind the plate and possessed a rocket arm. His stats should stand the test of time as even though he played a portion of this career in the “Steroid Era”, Jorge was never mentioned or suspected as having taken performance enhancers. A member of the vaunted “Core Four”, he will be forever linked with the Yankee dynasty of the late 90’s.
As a loyal Posada fan and apologist, at times over the last two-three years it has been hard to watch him play. Although he had a great offensive year in 2009 and was a key contributor as the Yankees won the World Series, you could definitely begin to see the erosion of his defensive skills. During the 2009 and 2010 seasons, almost every game he would make a defensive miscue of some kind. I always gave him some slack due to the volume of games (both regular season and playoffs) he had caught in his career, as Jorge was an absolute warrior who always wanted to be out there behind the plate. Given his workload over the years he was destined to show signs of slowing down, and I wasn’t surprised when Brian Cashman told him after the 2010 season that he would be DH’ing his final year in Pinstripes.
I thought that perhaps Jorge’s legs and body would be rejuvenated this year by not having to endure the daily wear and tear of catching, that he would be an offensive force at the plate and maybe earn himself another year with the Yanks. He could pad his stats, maybe get himself closer to the Hall, and win another ring. Unfortunately that has not been the case. In what will almost surely be his final year in Pinstripes, he has struggled at the plate and adapting to his new DH role. Jorge’s average has hovered around the .230 mark, and he has struggled to such a degree against left-handed pitching that the switch-hitter is only being used against right-handed pitchers. I hold out hope that he still has some pop left in his bat (after a slow start he hit .382 in June), and that maybe he will have a big hit or two in the playoffs. This scenario is somewhat cloudy, as Jorge’s role with the team seems to change on a weekly basis. Just a week after being informed by Manager Joe Girardi that he was being replaced as the team’s primary DH, Jorge responded with a grand slam and 6 RBI day. Though more than likely just a temporary reprieve, for fans of his it was a magical day that brought us back to the greatness of his past.
Having spent his entire career with the Yankees, I think it would be fitting of a player and man of his stature to retire as a member of the only organization he has ever been a part of. It’s tough watching your sports heroes get older, and I already miss seeing Jorge behind the plate as the Yankees everyday catcher. Pitchers and other players came and went, but for years it was a given that the emotional leader of the Yankees would be running out to there to catch the next playoff game. Those days are unfortunately over, and while he plays out the string on his final season in Pinstripes I’ll take time to reminisce about that game in the fall of 2003 that Jorge became one of my all-time favorite Yankees.