Longtime Catcher Was Good, But Worthy Of Sharing Sacred Space With Legends? Hardly

By Jason Keidel
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I guess Butch Wynegar wasn’t available.

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The Yankees, who wear the most celebrated uniform on Earth, are handing out plaques like popcorn during a doubleheader.

The latest flag to be planted in the sacred soil of Monument Park is Jorge Posada. His real name isn’t that, really, but rather de Posada. Maybe. According to Baseball Reference and Wiki, his name is Jorge Rafael Posada Villeta. But jorgeposada.com says its Jorge Rafael De Posada.

But while his name is complex, his game was not. And it’s simple to assert that Posada does not belong in Monument Park, where he will join fellow newcomers Bernie Williams and Andy Pettitte — two golden spokes in the epic, pinstriped wheels that rolled to stardom in the 1990s.

Posada was a fine baseball player who had the supreme serendipity of playing for the Yankees, under Joe Torre, and with and a conga line of luminaries in their prime. It certainly didn’t hurt that he was Derek Jeter’s BFF. It’s unlikely any player will enjoy that confluence of timing and talent ever again.

Now Posada is sipping his Scotch — sponsored by Johnny Walker — and enjoying the perks of playing along players much better than he was. As with all team sports, the greats make bad players look decent, and good players look regal. Posada is the latter, but not a luminary.

Jorge Posada is now sharing historical space with Babe Ruth, a newly sainted member of Yankees lore. And that’s just absurd.

Who would have thought the Mets would be more prudent in whom to honor for eternity? The Mets didn’t even dedicate their ballpark to the Mets, but rather to the Brooklyn Dodgers, a gaffe of nostalgia by Jeff Wilpon. But if Doc Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, and Gary Carter are not nestled nicely into some ring of honor, how the heck is Posada an entrenched member of Mt. Rushmore?

With each year, decade, and day the Yankees trivialize, betray, blaspheme, the holy stripes on their backs. As a catcher alone, Posada was painful to watch. Rickey Henderson could moonwalk to second base on him … today. But the catcher who heaves hand grenades to second base must surely have a platinum bat. Right?

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Negative. Posada’s pedestrian numbers at the plate include 275 home runs, 1,065 RBI, and a .273 lifetime batting average. Oh, and his 10 triples in 16 years (17 if you care to include his one plate appearance in 1996).

Does this matter? Why does it? With worldly issues of terror and climate and economy, who cares if someone ducked under the velvet rope of Yankee aristocracy while the bouncer wasn’t looking? Good for him! Get yours, dude! Hip, Hip, Jorge!

Except everyone suffers when we suffer the indignity of a decent player taking up divine space. The problem is the low orbit of qualification. Every time a Posada enters Monument Park, it trivializes the occasion, bends the criteria until it snaps. Especially in the Bronx, where we often judge heroes by high deeds under brown leaves. In the chill and thrill of October, Posada shrunk under the lights, batting just .248. With 11 homers and 109 strikeouts in 125 postseason games.

No sport is tethered to its history like baseball. From the numbers on their backs to the backs of their baseball cards, MLB players are judged almost entirely by stats. The interminable march from March to October, 162 events of stale nuance. So in the absence of pyrotechnic touchdowns, thunderous dunks, or last-second goals, baseball must live within the barbed-wire reality of its numbers.

We become attached to a team, and hence its players, for myriad reasons. Folks wonder why Pettitte is sainted while Alex Rodriguez is vilified. It’s simple. Pettitte enjoys the twin virtues of a quick apology and likability. Few folks believe the charming southpaw indulged in HGH just twice, but he jumped in front of the scandal and kept his mouth shut. A-Rod toiled in his lies while lecturing kids on the perils of PEDs.

So any assessment of an athlete is at least slightly subjective. We don’t know who did what or when they did it. A-Rod is hardly the first or last MLB miscreant. There will never be universal regard for a particular player. And part of the sport in sports is our loving and loathing a man, using our own, neurotic metrics.

But we are supposed to draw the line at the bejeweled walls of Monument Park. When Ruth, Gehrig, Joe D, and Mantle are the four pillars of the pinstriped palace, then some selectivity is in order. To have a Yogi Berra and Jorge Posada lathered across the same walls and halls, then something or someone has been compromised.

It doesn’t take 20/20 vision to see No. 20 doesn’t belong.

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Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel