Standing on the top step of the dugout, Posada gazed in disbelief. It was over. The series, the season, and his Yankee career had concluded.
Speaking to the media a few minutes later, Posada choked up, becoming so emotional he had to excuse himself from the Q&A session. Clearly, he didn’t imagine his 16-year tenure coming to a close in this way.
Growing up in Santurce, Puerto Rico, Posada excelled at baseball with natural right-handed power. His father, Jorge Sr., painstakingly taught Jorge to be a switch-hitter, knowing as a scout, this would make his son a more appealing player.
All the hard work paid off when the Yankees drafted Posada in 1990. The sheer pride of a Puerto Rican kid being drafted by the Yankees is comparable to a kid named “O’Flanagan” signing with Notre Dame.
He came to the team as an infielder, but with the lower body the size of a sequoia. His lack of athleticism, but strong arm made him a perfect candidate to play behind the dish and don the catcher’s gear.
Rising through the minors, he eventually made it to New York and in 1999. He was officially the full-time catcher. During the next decade, Posada became a fan favorite and a part of the “Core Four,” which included Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte.
He was definitely never the cuddliest of this bunch.
While Rivera and Pettitte are documented “holy rollers” and Jeter is a politically correct cliché machine, Posada was the member whose raw emotions sometimes rose to the height of summer wild fires. Whether it was engaging in verbal headhunting with Pedro Martinez in the 2003 ALCS or mixing it up with stalwarts like teammate Kyle Farnsworth, Posada never backed down from whatever or whomever the game threw at him.
In the 2011 season, however, tensions mounted when general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi informed him during the offseason that his catching days were behind him. More than any other year, Posada’s emotions were on public display, and at times, they got best of him.
While it never reached Billy Martin versus Ed Whitson territory, the damage was done. Posada said the right things to the media, but it was quite evident that the public demotion was not sitting well with the proud veteran.
On May 14th, Girardi assigned him to the ninth spot in the batting order against the Red Sox. In turn, Posada asked out of the game.
The matter was never fully explained by Posada, Girardi, or Cashman, although media outlets reported hissy fits and threats of retirement were made that day. Posada later described the ruckus as, “ I had a bad day,” and tried to salvage the slumping season.
He continued to play sparingly throughout the year with numbers well below his average.
However, when the playoffs began Posada showed off those old steadfast hitting talents. In the 2011 ALDS, he had six hits with .579 on-base percentage, and led the Yankees in hitting with a .429 batting average.
It was reminiscent of Don Mattingly’s last Yankee series in the 1995 ALDS, when he gave the fans one last offensive eruption.
It’s quite possible Posada will get offers from some American League teams who feel there are still some hits left in his bat. Needless to say, watching him play in another uniform at the age of 40 is not an image Yankee fans want to see. His fans acknowledge his career is over. But, does he?
Deep down in his stubborn body, he, too, must recognize it’s time.
The switch-hitting kid from Santurce with the full-size ears undoubtedly made his mark on the most celebrated team in baseball. He arrived in the minors as a big hitter without a position. He leaves New York with a spot as one of the best players in franchise history.
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