Baseball mortality during the dog days of AugustBy
As Jorge Posada, the Yanks’ once and former designated hitter, has come to grips with his newfound role on the bench, the hot-tempered elder statesman has not been in the best of spirits. “I’m not happy with it,” he said to reporters this week. “I don’t need to tell you again that I’m not happy with it. But I’m moving on, and I’ll be ready to play whenever I happen to play.”
Of course, Jorge isn’t happy, and he has many reasons not to be. At the tail end of a career that could land him in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, Posada has been told by his one and only employer that he’s no longer with a job, and if he were anyone other than Jorge Posada, the Yanks probably would have flat-out released him a few weeks ago. Since he has a legacy, though, and rosters expand in three weeks, the Yanks will allow him to bow out somewhat gracefully at the end of the season.
For Posada, the end has been jarring. As the Yanks’ seemingly full-time DH for much of the season, he hit just .230/.309/.372 with nine home runs. He hasn’t homered since June 29, the date of A.J. Burnett‘s last win, and Posada posted just a .207/.258/.244 in 89 plate appearances since then. The league average DH is hitting .262/.338/.416. That sound Jorge hears isn’t the end of the road fast approaching.
For the past 15 seasons, Jorge Posada has been a stalwart. Often underappreciated for his hitting, he was a five-time All Star and finished third in the MVP voting in 2003. For the first few years of his career, he split catching duties with Joe Girardi and did not emerge as the Yanks’ full-time catcher until 2000 when he started 136 games the plate. His career numbers — .273/.374/.474 with 270 home runs — are particularly impressive as a backstop.
Posada was one of those Yankees with whom I grew up. We all know the stories of the core of the Yankee Dynasty as the team’s farm system produced Jorge along with his buddy Derek Jeter, their lefty Andy Pettitte, the closer Mariano Rivera and the graceful centerfielder Bernie Williams. Bernie’s slide into baseball oblivion was a quick one, spurred on by a slowing bat and a knee injury. He too was unhappy when the Yanks offered him only a Spring Training invite and only recently has re-embraced his turn in the Yankee spotlight.
Getting older though is what baseball is about. It’s a game dictated not by a clock but by the more leisurely pace of outs. As our favorite players age, the outs melt away much like innings on a scorecard. Jorge Posada isn’t the first former great to grow old before Yankee fans’ eyes, but he’s the first of the group that formed the core of my first Yankee Dynasty to suffer the fate. Andy Pettitte retired because his body couldn’t withstand the beating of another season, but he still had the skill to match.
Jorge isn’t alone here. We’ve seen Derek Jeter’s magical age-defying offensive streak come to a screeching halt lately as well. Even though he’s hitting better after coming off of the DL, his numbers are right-handed pitching are painful to see, and his overall line is a far cry from the halcyon days of 2009. The .273/.335/.360 slash line makes him seem like just another middle infielder and not Derek Jeter. One day in the future, in 2012 or 2013, the Yanks will be faced with a Jorge Posada situation with Jeter, and the boyish short stop won’t seem quite as timeless.
On the mound too, we’ve seen Mariano Rivera lose a little something. It’s not much, but it’s enough. Last night, it was the difference between missing middle-in on a 3-1 pitch that didn’t cut enough at 91 and missing middle-in on a 3-1 pitch that didn’t cut enough at 93 or 94 as he would have thrown five or six years ago. At 41, Rivera is the oldest Yankee, and baseball time marches on.
But baseball too is about renewal. Although no one will be the Next Mariano Rivera, young kids with live arms and lots of promise pass through the Yankee Stadium doors. We know the names of the players who are supposed to be the Next Big Thing, and we see a pitcher like David Robertson turn into a star. Soon, in ten or 12 weeks if the Yanks make a big October run again, it will be time to say good bye to Jorge Posada. But another feisty player with a hot temper will take his place. That’s the circle of baseball life.