Hey, have you heard the one about Buster Posey being the next Derek Jeter?
Of course you have. Probably a lot. Possibly too often by now.
Why? Because timing is everything, my friend.
For starters, there's how Posey is currently gunning for his third ring in five years, a decidedly Jeter-esque feat. Oh, and then there's how the longtime New York Yankees shortstop recently vacated his throne as Major League Baseball's golden boy.
As you might have heard, Jeter is gone now. He put 145 more games and 149 more hits on his resume in 2014 and then hung up his spikes. Just like he said he would in February.
Oh, the Yankees will find another shortstop. There's a 100 percent probability of that. And Jeter will find stuff to do that probably doesn't involve spending 14 hours a day curled up in a chair playing Sudoku.
But where does baseball find the next Derek Jeter? Good luck on that.
Thus began the scramble to come up with nominees for Jeter's successor as, in Stark's and everyone else's words, the "Face of Baseball."
Among those giving it a whack was Joe Posnanski for NBC Sports, whose 10 candidates had the distinction of not being named Buster Posey. He just didn't come to mind. In fact, I don't recall him coming to anyone's mind.
Well, he sure does come to mind now. Because if baseball must have someone to fill Jeter's shoes, who better than a guy who's walking the same path walked by Jeter himself?
Think back to how it all began for Jeter. He was the No. 6 pick of the 1992 draft, and he rose as high as baseball's No. 4 prospect in Baseball America's eyes by 1995. With the Yankees already emerging from some lean years, Jeter looked like the missing puzzle piece.
And he was. Jeter became a full-time player in 1996 and hit .314 on his way to winning the American League Rookie of the Year. He was then an instrumental part of the Yankees snapping their nearly 20-year championship drought.
Now think back to how it all began for Posey. He was the No. 5 pick in the 2008 draft and rose as high as baseball's No. 7 prospect in Baseball America's eyes by 2010. With the Giants emerging from some of their own lean years in 2009, Posey likewise looked like the missing puzzle piece.
Naturally, Posey pulled a Jeter. He became the Giants' everyday catcher in 2010 and hit .305 with 18 homers to earn the National League Rookie of the Year. He also came through in the World Series to help the Giants win their first championship since 1954.
Eerie stuff, isn't it? That it is, and you know as well as I do that the start is just, well, the start.
Jeter's '96 season was the start of an excellent five-year run in which he hit .323 and averaged 16 homers and 22 stolen bases. In the process, he won four rings.
Posey's '10 season was also the start of a fine five-year run. Even with an injury-ruined 2011 and second-half-slump-marred 2013, he's still a .310 hitter with 83 dingers since 2010. He won the NL MVP in 2012, and three more wins against the Kansas City Royals would give him his third ring.
Being a great young player is one thing. Being a great young player and a collector of rings is something much rarer. But there was Jeter in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and here's Posey now.
Now, sure, just as Jeter didn't do it all by himself—seriously, those Yankees teams were stacked—Posey hasn't been a one-man show. He had Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum to begin with, and now he has Madison Bumgarner, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence.
And yet, another Jeter parallel with Posey is how there's a limit to how much his importance can be downplayed.
Jeter held down one of the most important positions on the diamond and was also regarded as one of the ultimate leaders by example. Posey is holding down the most important position on the diamond, and it's easy to find people crooning about his leadership.
As Giants assistant general manager Bobby Evans put it, per Stark:
You can't be a catcher on three postseason teams, like Buster has been, and not provide leadership. He's obviously a leader on the field and in the clubhouse, but the way he carries himself in the public is exemplary. Very dignified. Very strong family man. Well respected. Very professional with the media.
Of course, those last points are another way Posey has emerged as a Jeter-esque figure. He leads a different sort of private life, granted, but his demeanor in the spotlight isn't that unlike Jeter's.
Posey looks good on camera, at least in part because his general swagger is a mix of confidence and humility. And though he's rarely interesting, that Posey is also rarely (never?) controversial when cameras, microphones and notepads are trained on him is a Jeter-esque gift that few athletes possess.
Behold the Jeter Hero Mold:
- Chosen one fulfills the prophecy, returns once-glorious kingdom to glory.
- Chosen one continues to fight heroically.
- Chosen one keeps the victories coming.
- Chosen one inspires others.
- Chosen one looks good on camera and sounds good in print.
Even if the topic makes you roll your eyes, you have to admit it. The Jeter Hero Mold is just the perfect way for an athlete to forge a storybook career. And so far, Posey is following it to a T.
This makes Posey a strong enough candidate to fill Jeter's shoes. Just as important, however, is the icing on the cake for MLB: Posey is arguably just as perfect a fit for his time and place as Jeter was for his.
Though we're referencing the idea of the Face of Baseball, an article Jack Moore wrote for The Hardball Times in August is worth bringing up. In it, he argued the Face of Baseball is actually obsolete.
Between being a member of the Yankees, a regular in the World Series and the All-Star Game and a star of many commercials, Jeter was always on TV. Since that was the way for athletes to get exposure and the vessel through which athlete personas were packaged and sold, Jeter and the image he cultivated were omnipresent and all-powerful.
But then the Internet happened. It vastly increased the number of perspectives from which fans could approach baseball. Beyond that, it also vastly shrunk the distance between fans and players.
In a world like this, it's that much harder for there to be a Face of Baseball and that much easier for there to be Faces of Baseball. Instead of the TV's guy, fans can pick their own player.
But here's an idea: Maybe there can be a Face of Baseball if said Face of Baseball has multiple faces that each have their own appeal. You know, a real modern man.
Like, for example, Buster Posey.
Posey certainly has the face of a great ballplayer, the face of a winner and the face of a model citizen. And to this point, all these faces have gotten plenty of TV coverage. One of his other faces, though, is one that many athletes wear these days: the face of a man of the people.
In forums like these, Posey tends to come off as the non-controversial character he plays for the media. But as you might have noticed, he's not afraid to wear the face of a comedian when he's asked to.
Oh, and one more thing: Albeit indirectly, Posey has another Internet-friendly faced in that of an ultimate badass.
Confused? Here are four words that might jar your memory: "I ain't havin' it."
No wonder the guy is as popular as he is. And I don't say that just because Posey is on TV a lot these days and because I'm part of the same media corps that's never been more enthralled with the guy. There's one measure that says Posey really is a legit fan favorite.
As Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reported in September, Posey's jersey was the fourth-hottest seller among all players in the second half. In the first half, Mark Newman of MLB.com reported that Posey's jersey was the second-hottest seller behind, yup, Jeter's.
So the next Derek Jeter? According to these measures, Posey is arguably already the next guy in line.
And according to everything else, that's all too perfect.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.
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