Maybe Baseball will change the barbaric rule now!
By Grant Brisbee –
You might think Giants fans are devastated by the season-ending injury to Buster Posey. You might not know how devastated, though.
May 26, 2011 – Buster Posey was probably going to be about a four- or five-win player this year. He’d accumulated two WAR already, so if the Giants were going to finish 94-68 this year, now they’ll probably finish around 91-71.
And that’s that.
Yeah. No. I’m sure there’s a statistical angle to take, and it’s rare that the loss of one player can completely eliminate a team from contending, but that’s not where Giants fans are right now. Give us a week or so. Let us get caught up in the inning-to-inning routine, and maybe we’ll start worrying about what this means for the Giants. They don’t have a hot catching prospect. They have a bunch of replacement-level types.
You want analysis? The Giants will replace an All-Star catcher with a scrub, and it will cost them some wins.
But that’s not why most Giants fans feel nauseous right now. Giants fans were in love with Buster Posey.
When Buster Posey was a prospect, lighting up the Pacific Coast League, he was blocked byBengie Molina, the Least Exciting Player in Baseball. You can argue about his value to the club, but it’s hard to argue that he wasn’t the least exciting player. He was the slowest player in the game, he regularly made outs on bad pitches, and a good portion of what was to supposed to make up his value was invisible — handling a pitching staff well and calling a good game weren’t the sort of the things that showed up in the box score. Well, except for that “runs allowed” section, which didn’t change when other catchers were playing, but that was nitpicking.
So you had an unexciting player doing unexciting things, with a perceived value that was something like a tiger-repellent rock. And there was this young guy, tearing up the minors, just begging for a chance to hit. The Giants kept saying things like, “Wait a sec, we’re talking about catchers. You can’t just replace catchers mid-season. Those guys are more than players; they’re leaders, field generals, pitcher-whisperers.”
It was a bit of a cultural divide. But as Molina’s on-base percentage sunk toward .300, and as the Giants kept losing because they couldn’t hit, the Giants realized that they needed to make a bold move. Molina was traded, and Posey started.
So here’s the progression:
- Giants fans were bombarded with organizational propaganda about the value of a catcher. They were told that not just anyone could step in and catch, that catchers were the most important position on the team. The manager was a former catcher, and was at least a deacon in the Church of Catcher.
- Buster Posey stepped in, revived a moribund offense, and led his team and pitching staff to the first championship in San Francisco history.
The first point had an effect on how big the legend grew. It had to. For almost a year, the Giants were resolute that not just anyone could catch. It took a certain experience, a je ne sais catch that took years to learn. And this fresh-faced kid from Mt. Olympus didn’t just step in and win Rookie of the Year — he wrangled a pitching staff that people said would be impossible for a rookie to wrangle. He took the franchise somewhere that Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, and Clark did not.
And suddenly the idea that a catcher was an all-important team leader didn’t seem like hokum. Now it seemed like it was true, and that Buster Posey was a rookie who did it better than anyone else.
Add to this that the Giants hadn’t developed an All-Star position player since Matt Williams became a regular in 1990. That was almost 20 years of development, and the best position player to come up through the system was Bill Mueller. The second-best was Marvin Benard. This is why the area went nuts for Pablo Sandoval, and it’s why they went especially nuts for Buster Posey, who was almost certainly going to end that All-Star drought this season.
There will never be a perfect storm like this again: Posey is a guy who helped break an organizational drought for hitters and championships, he played a position that the fans were repeatedly told was almost impossible to do well, and he is possibly the most likable personality on the team, combining perfect amounts of seriousness and charm in a goofy clubhouse.
Does this read like a fan-boy’s love letter to Buster Posey? Good. It’s supposed to. This is why losing Posey goes beyond wins and losses, beyond a lament that the Giants might not make the playoffs now. Baseball was far, far more fun with Posey than without him. He added a mythology for Giants fans that would be hard for any player to add to any team. He was a guy who was going to get a statue out front of AT&T Park someday, but only if fans didn’t first spontaneously gather and build one themselves out of kisses and melted-down pennies.
Some players, like Tim Lincecum, get the “Franchise” tag because they symbolize the hopes and dreams of an entire organization. If Giants fans had come up with a nickname for Posey, then, it should have been something like “The Essence Of Everything Good About Baseball And This Guy Is The Best Thing Ever About Baseball And Oh Please Please Stay Healthy Forever And Ever.” If that was too clunky, TEOFGABATGITBTEABAOPPSHFAE would have worked just fine.
Now Giants fans have a year or so to hope he’ll be the same player when he returns. Injuries are inherent in sports. But cripes, this one stings. This one stings a lot.
Get better soon, Buster. You are already missed.