KANSAS CITY – Buster Posey won the Johnny Bench Award in college. He met Bench several times. He’s been compared to him from the day he broke into the big leagues – a solid lead chest protector, as expectations go.
Johnny Bench never won a third World Series ring. By the end of next week, Buster Posey just might pick up a claim check for No. 3.
What happens when you surpass the standard? What happens when you lead your team to a third World Series in your fifth big league season? What happens when you provide punch in the middle of the order, catch every pitch, bind together three disparate lineups and filter every aspect for a team that is collecting pennants like cocktail stirrers?
Well perhaps this: A cessation to those unceasing “when will Posey change positions” questions next spring.
“I enjoy catching,” said Posey, on the eve of Game 1 of the World Series. “I’ve told you guys that for awhile. Especially this time of year, the games are so draining. It’s funny to say it, but that’s what I enjoy. I enjoy the feeling you get at the end of the game, being physically and mentally wiped out.”
Even after the 18-inning win at Washington?
“Eh, no,” he said. “No, not so much.”
Sure, Posey might have felt fresher if he had played first base in that marathon Game 2 of the NL Division Series at Nationals Park. But a loss would have felt so much worse. And when you consider that four different Giants threw 135 pitches in the ninth inning or later that night, with the game potentially ending on any of them, it’s hard to imagine the Giants willing themselves to that series-defining win with anyone other than Posey behind the plate.
“He had to be exhausted,” Matt Cain said. “Nobody could see he was exhausted.”
Sure, Posey might net five extra home runs, another 20 RBI or so and a fancier WAR if he played every day on the infield. But where’s the value in that if you’re sitting at home in October?
When baseball analysts use phrases like “positional scarcity,” they scarcely take into account what Posey does for the Giants. This is a franchise that has thrown out three different second basemen, three different left fielders and three different center fielders on its World Series clubs.
They’ve had a pair of first basemen, third basemen, shortstops and right fielders over that span. Even Pablo Sandoval, a part of all three pennant-winning clubs, wasn’t a starter in 2010.
They’ve used one catcher. Well, for 39 out of 41 playoff games, anyway.
“Some really big personalities have come and gone, and some are here now,” Posey said.
Posey is not a big personality. He is merely a huge difference maker.
“He does everything,” said Madison Bumgarner, who will be making his club-record 11th postseason start when he takes the mound in Game 1 on Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium.
“He’s stayed the same guy. He’s always been the same. He just worries about doing his job. He’s not worried about anything else. He’s not trying to get attention from anybody. He’s not trying to be flashy. He’s just trying to go out there and do his job the best he can, and be a leader for his teammates, and he has.
“He’s honestly been a leader in the clubhouse since the first year he was here. I mean, you can’t say that about very many guys.”
You can’t point to many starting catchers with three World Series rings, either. Posey, if the Giants can win four of the next seven games, would join an exclusive group headed by Yogi Berra (10 rings), Bill Dickey (eight) and Jorge Posada (five) – all Yankees. Elston Howard (four) and Joe Girardi (three) won in pinstripes, too. Then, of course, there is the most coveted job in baseball: the Yankees’ backup catcher. Parade waving became a practiced art for Ralph Houk (six) and Charlie Silvera (five).
In the much smaller non-Yankee contingent, with three rings apiece, you’ve got Gene Tenace, John Roseboro, Tim McCarver and Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane. And not much else in the way of everyday backstops.
“I've always said this: if you look at a team that's had success, I think you should look behind the plate, because those guys play such a critical role,” Giants manager and former catcher Bruce Bochy said. “Because every day they're handling a pitcher out there trying to get a win, and they have to deal with 11, 12 different personalities.
“Buster's got a great way about him. Pitchers love throwing to him. He’s worked on his game behind the plate. When he came up we had some things to tweak to make him a better player, and he gets it. He's made himself into, I think, an all‑around elite player. Not just a hitter, but a catcher.”
Posey still doesn’t have an extra-base hit this postseason. For a No. 3 hitter on almost any other team, there would be loads of breathless analysis about what’s the matter. Not Posey.
“Well, I think you're just looking at a great talent,” Bochy said. “He's got the whole game. He understands the game. He takes a lot of pride in handling their pitching staff and he's a guy that's hitting in the heart of our order.
“I think it's fair to say he takes priority in handling his staff. We're very fortunate to have such a talented player. Not just a talented player, but great character, and a guy that cares about the pitching staff and handling them and trying to make them better pitchers. That's what good catchers do.”
During the NLCS, someone asked Posey how he manages his nerves this time of year. His answer is that he doesn’t. The postseason is why he plays the game. It isn’t a time for anxiety. It’s April and May and August when baseball is a job, when he clocks in and clocks out and puts his head down to get through the tedium in between. This is the fun part, when he’ll do things like run 19 mph while scoring from second base on a single or take an aggressive chance to cut down a lead runner.
Posey does carry over one trait from the regular season to the playoffs, though.
“With all that’s going on, these pitchers don’t see panic in him,” Righetti said. “They see the same guy. He’s very aggressive, but he comes off with his demeanor of, `This is how I’m going to be.’”
He’ll take the weight, even if it’s being loaded off two trucks at once.
“He’s able to separate himself from his offense and defense, and he does it so seamlessly on these runs we’ve had,” left-hander Javier Lopez said. “Even in 2010 as a rookie, he’s commanding respect from a rotation at the top of its game and a bullpen that had a veteran presence. And we’ve seen that evolution continue, and watch him get better and better.”
Posey easily could be wearing a Royals uniform, by the way. Kansas City is one of four teams that drafted ahead of the Giants in 2008. The Royals took first baseman Eric Hosmer, instead.
“We had (catcher) Salvador Perez in the system at the time, but we loved Buster Posey,” Royals GM Dayton Moore told our A’s Insider Joe Stiglich. “He was a terrific talent, we knew he was a great baseball player. Great competitor, knew he was a quality person. But we felt Hos fit us better at the time, especially long term.”
The Kansas City Royals, with their running game, would test the composure of any catcher. They will look to press every advantage. That’s one storyline as this World Series gets underway.
Here’s one more trend story making the rounds: Is Buster Posey the new Derek Jeter?
“Any time you get compared to Derek Jeter, it’s extremely flattering,” said Posey, answering the question just as Jeter might.
“I try to just … again, I’m sorry for being so boring, but I’m trying to focus on winning four more games.”
In other words: maybe. But Jeter was a shortstop. Posey might rather be compared to Berra every October. After all, there’s no better déjà vu all over again than going back to the World Series.