With Derek Jeter’s career now closed, this is a chance for several young players to stake their claim as the most prominent face of baseball. The prevailing thought is that it should be Mike Trout of the Angels, maybe Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers. There are those who properly wax poetic about the wondrous grace and talent of Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen. Maybe even Bryce Harper of the Nationals. You can probably come up with a few others.
What those names lack is any semblance of success in the postseason. Can you really be a generational talent in your sport without a run of championships, or at least one? That’s why this year’s World Series, which continues tonight with Game Three between the Giants and Kansas City Royals in San Francisco’s AT&T Park (8 p.m., Ch. 29, Radio 1520 AM), stands to have big historical significance.
The Giants are looking for their third title in five years, something not done since Joe Torre’s Yankees and accomplished by just three franchises since 1920.
So how about Buster Posey as the new big face of the game?
The Giants’ baby-faced catcher showed up in the big leagues for 17 at-bats in September 2009, and his team has been winning ever since. On top of that, Posey has already reached individual excellence no one can match since 2010.
Here’s the golden nugget: Posey and Stan Musial are the only players in history to win two World Series titles and an MVP award over their first three seasons. Impressive. Jeter, remember, never won an MVP in his career.
The Giants had been by the Bay for 52 years without winning a World Series until 2010. Think of the pantheon of great names who played there and have statues outside of AT&T Park but no Series rings. Mays, Marichal, McCovey and Cepeda all got shut out. So did No. 25, who shall remain nameless.
When I posed the thought to Posey this week in Kauffman Stadium, he acknowledged he’s heard the growing chatter over his stature.
“It’s obviously flattering because I think pretty much anyone in this room is a fan of Derek Jeter and what he’s accomplished,” Posey said. “It’s a flattering remark. But at the same time you try not to think about that type of stuff too much and just focus on the field. You’re trying to win for your team.”
Not a flamboyant, face-of-the-game answer. But no one would ever characterize Jeter’s interactions with reporters as pearls of wisdom most of the time either. Posey, a soft-spoken Georgian, doesn’t give outsiders too much. He’s pretty antiseptic. That’s just how he is.
“My dad was the first to tell me when I was pitching when I was 7 or 8 that he didn’t want the other team to know if I was having a great game or a bad game,” Posey said. “That’s something that’s always stuck with me. That type of attitude bodes well for me with this sport because we play so many games.”
Posey is 27 going on 17, with a batboy-type impishness. But don’t for a second confuse that with a lack of competitiveness.
The Giants signed Posey to their richest amateur deal ever in 2008, giving him $6.2 million out of Florida State as the No. 5 pick when many thought he should have been No. 1. The Rays whiffed with that pick, taking high school shortstop Tim Beckham. We’ve seen him a lot in Buffalo playing with the Durham Bulls and he’s played all of four big-league games. The Royals, by the way, took Eric Hosmer at No. 3.
(How many World Series trips might the Rays have made had they taken Posey? How would this year and maybe even this series be different if Kansas City had gone with him?)
Aside from his injury-shortened 2011 season from a broken leg in the infamous home plate collision with Miami’s Scott Cousins, Posey has been a model of consistency.
His stats during his four full seasons in the big leagues are pretty incredible. Posey batted .305 with 18 homers and 67 RBIs in 2010 to win National League Rookie of the Year honors, even though he wasn’t called up until late May. In 2012, he swept pretty much everything (batting title, comeback player of the year, Hank Aaron Award and MVP) after going .336-24-103 – and did it all while making just $615,000. He slipped slightly last year (.294-15-72) but rebounded in 2014 (.311-22-89).
The Giants, of course, paid up after 2012 and signed Posey to a nine-year, $167 million extension that ties him to the club through 2021. The contract was the longest in team history and accelerates to the point where he will make $21.4 million a season for the last five years of the deal.
“He does everything so great,” ace Madison Bumgarner said of Posey. “From Day One he’s been one of the best. He’s stayed the same guy. 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 honestly been a leader in the clubhouse since the first year that he was here. You can’t say that about very many guys.”
Manager Bruce Bochy was a catcher in his big-league days, a former No. 1 pick of the Astros who got a hit in his only World Series at-bat for the Padres in Detroit 30 years ago this month. He marvels at the man he has behind the plate.
“I think you’re just looking at a great talent. He’s got the whole game,” Bochy said. “He understands the game. He takes a lot of pride in handling the pitching staff and he’s a guy that’s hitting in the heart of our order. 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 staff and trying to make them better pitchers. That’s what good catchers do.”
Posey is hitting .288 with five RBIs in the postseason this year, including 2 for 9 in the first two games of this series. He does not have an extra-base hit in 52 at-bats beginning with the Giants’ wild-card victory at Pittsburgh, unusual for a hitter with a career slugging percentage of .487 and a career on-base/slugging mark of .861.
Catchers take quite a beating and can tend to tire in the October spotlight to the point where their offense suffers. It stands to reason that Posey is overdue to break out now that he’s returned home.
“I like baseball. I enjoy playing the game and having these moments,” Posey said. “It’s simple really. I’ve been fortunate to play with a lot of good players and pitchers. I just enjoy the game.”