By Jason Keidel
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Jorge Posada suffered a stiff back, spawned by a bruised ego, assuaged by a bloated contract.
Posada is a starting player for the New York Yankees – an honor befallen few men. I won’t bore you with bromides, like the inequity of high-paid players and low-paid teachers, but Posada demands a turn under the microscope as a microcosm of the modern athlete.
(I’ll assume you’ve had a pulse over the last 48 hours and won’t recount his “hissy fit,” to quote Jack Curry, before removing himself from a game.)
The planet’s population is slightly less than 7 billion. Let’s make the modest assumption that 15 billion humans lived over the last century. According to my friend Bassam Oshana from STATS, LLC, 1,532 men have played at least one game for the New York Yankees, meaning about one in 10 million humans have held the highest honor of wearing that uniform, perhaps the most sacred in sports.
This honor is lost on Posada. As is the $13 million he makes this year for the apparent dishonor of batting ninth for the most successful team in the history of American sports. Posada stretches the already chasmal gap between folks who fly around the world in corporate jets and those of us who live in it.
Making it worse was seeing the online onslaught from his family, whom he sadly used as conduits and emergency publicists, family fingers pounding keyboards on Facebook and Twitter, defending his honor, using a bad back (that no medic on the team treated) as a pretext for his disappearance. We don’t blame his family for trying it, but rather Posada for allowing it.
The Yankees, acolytes, and some jaded fans will wrap Posada in euphemisms. He’s a “gamer” and a “trooper” and a “proud man” who loves to play baseball. Then play, Jorge. Batting ninth shouldn’t break your spirit should you be all the things assumed of you. But Posada leaped from pride and pugnacity by refusing to look at the one place with all his problems and all his answers: his mirror.
We can easily close our collective eyes and replay those hand grenades he tossed toward second, or throws sailing into the outfield, or the myriad curveballs bouncing hopelessly past him to the backstop. We looked past those moments because he more than made up for it with his bat. But when you hit .160 you expose yourself to shifts in the lineup and in your status.
Posada nodded when asked after the game Saturday night if he felt disrespected. But it’s not disrespectful to abandon your team while teeming with self-pity because you don’t like where your name is scribbled on a card?
Only with sports do we engage in this ritual – questioning the demotion of an employee who clearly deserves it. When you (or a coworker) don’t get the job done, your boss finds someone who does. And they don’t care what your wife tweets or the paternal tones of your pops, who serenades cyberspace with pleas for patience.
There is no movement by the media or calls to the company to save your job, to protect your honor, to trade on your past, to italicize your myriad contributions over the years. Can you perform today? That’s what matters in Manhattan and in the Bronx and beyond.
The great equalizer between the pampered and the proletarian is Father Time. The lone solace we get is we can do our jobs for decades, sans the ignominy of a public demotion and equally ugly response.
Forgive those of us who feel neither empathy nor sympathy for Posada. He doesn’t owe me a thing. Perhaps he feels he doesn’t owe you, the fan, a thing. But he owes his employer, his team, and his brothers on that bench, a lot better.
No doubt you’d like to remember him in a more fitting refrain, perhaps his two fists and forearms flexed as he howled at second base in 2003, after his big hit against Pedro Martinez in the ALCS, the Aaron Boone game.
Indeed, this doesn’t erase his résumé, or forfeit his five rings. It doesn’t end his bromance with Derek Jeter, doesn’t alter the altar where his worshippers kneel. But this is now a bookmark in the baseball book he wrote. It’s his Scottie Pippen moment.
Posada, inserted late last night as a pinch hitter, got the perfunctory ovation from a crowd long on nostalgia and short on memory. We’ll see how long the group hug lasts if he’s hitting .160 in July. His mea culpa before the game won’t add to his woeful average.
Perhaps no matter how humble we are, stardom is bound to poison us. It has clearly corrupted Jorge Posada.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com
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