By Jason Keidel
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We all had a favorite.
Who was yours? Was it Paul O’Neill, who gave the Yanks the blue-collar grit that came to define the dynasty?
Was it Tino Martinez? He had the impossible chore of replacing Donnie Baseball, whose ghost straddled Martinez’s back until he hit that grand slam in Game 1 of the ’98 World Series.
We all know about WFAN host Mike Francesa’s appreciation of Bernie Williams — the soft-spoken, guitar-strumming center fielder who actually remembers the Yankees when they were rancid.
Or did your heart dwell deep into the Core Four? Let’s be candid — when it came to the iconic quartet, our loyalties were largely split into two camps. You were either a Derek Jeter devotee or worshiped at the altar of the immortal Mariano Rivera.
Maybe the more devout among you favored Andy Pettitte, who’s Cajun cadence and religious refrain made him impossible to dislike, even if you loathed the Yankees.
But who actually misses Jorge Posada?
I never thought I’d say this, but I do. Never thought I’d say that after his hissy fit before the Boston game, when he pouted his way out of the ballpark after Joe Girardi wrote his name down in the bowels of the lineup. It was an amateur move. And, if that weren’t enough, he refused to admit it.
WFAN co-host Craig Carton concocted a hysterical game show based on Posada’s excuses. First it was his back, then he had to talk to his wife, then he was having a bad day. The more he talked, the deeper his foot plunged into his mouth. Some say there’s always been some lingering rancor between Posada and Girardi, who battled for playing time at the end of Girardi’s playing career. But Posada knew he goofed.
Of course, one day is not a career make. And Posada should be defined by more than an ill-timed tantrum. Perhaps his greatest moment came in 2003, when he swatted that flare into center field against Pedro Martinez in Game 7 of the ALCS, which had more big moments than almost any single game in baseball history.
Was it Posada’s hit? Aaron Boone’s homer? Or maybe Mo crying and collapsing on the mound while the euphoric Yankees galloped around the diamond, chasing Boone.
Posada was part of many historic moments in pinstripes. More than anything, he brought a street-smart toughness to the team, an aura of muscle and the comforting truth that you weren’t going to intimidate the Bronx Bombers. Indeed, the current club could use a little more talent and temerity.
Yes, I wrote a column denouncing all the Hall of Fame talk. When he retired, all the verbal bouquets dropped at his doorstep were quite exorbitant. He was among the best-hitting catchers of his time, the only catcher in MLB history to bat .330 or better with 40 doubles, 20 homers and 90 RBIs in one season.
But his career numbers were not quite Cooperstown-worthy, with a lifetime .273 batting average and 275 homers. And his game behind the plate was woeful. He had a fit catching anything in the dirt — often leading the AL in passed balls — and threw to second base like he was heaving a bowling ball.
But Posada was clutch. He has a stack of Silver Slugger Awards (five). He made five All-Star teams, but such things are dubious, especially when you consider that Joe Torre picked some of the roster and the overall dearth of decent catching talent. And he was no doubt helped by the stratospheric success of his team.
There’s no sin in being a good player on a great team. Indeed, Jeter and Rivera aside, the Torre Yankees were an amalgam of really good players with almost divine chemistry on the diamond. Their roster was littered with All-Stars who fell a few rungs short of Cooperstown.
Cone. Bernie. Tino. Paul. El Duque. Wells.
And Posada, whose absurdly thick Puerto Rican accent spoke to his obdurate, old-world approach to his craft.
As we see with Brian McCann’s pedestrian production after the Yanks made it rain on the former Atlanta Brave, playing catcher in New York City is about more than balls and strikes and strikeouts. It takes a rich pride and thick hide to bask in Broadway’s glow without burning in its glare.
Just ask Posada.
Too stubborn to assimilate. Too flawed for the Hall of Fame. Too talented to ignore.
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