I am a lifetime fan of the San Francisco Giants and have been a witness to Buster Posey's great career
On November 4th, 2021, Gerald Dempsey (Buster) Posey III shocked the Bay Area by announcing that he was going to retire as a player. The news left everyone sad. Why was he retiring after the Giants had a season where they won more games than any season in their history? Posey himself had a year that reminded fans of a younger, less injured version of himself that had the ability once again to drive the ball to all fields.
While his retirement announcement caught a lot of Giant fans off guard, it really should not have been a big surprise. It was becoming apparent that, with all the injuries he sustained as a Major League catcher, his career would not be a long one. The Giants had drafted Joey Bart in the 2018 Draft and Andrew Bailey in the 2020 Draft. The two catchers were both first round selections. Although the fans may not have seen it, the Giants coaching staff and front office saw the pain Posey was enduring. They saw the extensive preparation he had with the trainers that was needed before each game.
I guess it was the nature of the 2021 season that made it hard to think about Buster's retirement. If the Giants would have had a bad year, or if Buster would have gotten hurt, Bart would likely have been brought up. If that would have occurred, the fans could have started to see the changing of the guard. But with the Giants having such a successful year and the race with the Dodgers being so tight right down to the end, there was no time to think about the future. There was no time to bring up a young catcher in a pennant race in which every game became so critical.
At his recent press conference to announce his retirement, Buster talked about the two main reasons why he decided to retire. The first reason was his family. The baseball season took him away from his family between February and October. With two sets of twins to look after and his older twins starting to grow up, he felt a need to be with his family and to be a bigger part of their lives.
The second reason was the increasing pain that he was feeling due to baseball-related injuries. He mentioned his hip injury, his ankle injury, as well as his back pain. All of this pain had taken a lot of the joy out of the game that he loved. The tremendous year that he had this past season was probably due to the fact that he opted out of the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season, which allowed his ailing body to rest.
While it was a sad day for Giant fans and the Giants organization, his retirement left a good feeling as well. In professional sports, it is rare to see a player retire on his own terms. Most players, even the greatest to ever play, usually keep playing until either no team will sign them or their body just simply gives out. For some it may be the money, for some it may just be the competition that compels them to keep playing. Although Buster had a lot of ailments, he clearly could have continued to play. Based off of their comments at his retirement press conference, the Giants were eager to offer him a contract for the 2022 season.
Veteran players who are finally released or traded often become bitter at the organization that they spent most or all of their career with. However, Buster could not have left the Giants on better terms. He left with glowing comments from all the members of the Giants organization, past and present, and he left a 22 million dollar contract on the table.
Looking back at Buster’s career, he was a player that really excelled in every aspect of the game. He was a good hitter for both average and power. He was an excellent fielder with an accurate throwing arm that was far above average. He was also a good receiver who only had 27 passed balls in his entire career.
Buster came to the Giants with a maturity that was far beyond his years. Mike Krukow, in reflecting on Buster’s career, talked about how he immediately gained the respect of the veteran pitchers in his rookie year. He also mentioned how Buster would learn the individual personalities of each of the pitchers, which allowed him to interact with them in a way that maximized their performance.
Buster was also a hard worker who spent long hours analyzing the opposition. He was a master at calling games. When Buster announced his retirement, Clayton Kershaw mentioned that Dodger hitters would often come back to the dugout frustrated that they could not figure out Buster’s pattern of calling pitches.
Buster was also a consistent and durable player that the team could count on. Despite all the injuries, he would suit up and play. He never talked about his injuries or the fatigue he may have been feeling. He never used his injuries as an excuse for poor play. He sustained his horrific ankle injury in 2011, and he bounced back in 2012 by winning the league MVP award and the batting title. In 2018, he had hip surgery to repair a torn labrum. He bounced back in the 2021 season with one of the best years of his career.
Putting aside all these admirable traits, Buster was also just plain smart. Jake Peavy mentioned how Buster could quickly start thinking along the same lines as the pitcher, and how the pitcher almost knew which pitch Buster was going to call. His excellent pitch calling skills was partly due to his extensive preparation, but it was also likely due to his on-the-spot assessment of his pitcher and the hitter in a given situation.
Buster’s career certainly had its memorable moments. There was the grand slam in Game 5 of the 2012 National League Division Series (NLDS) against Cincinnati, his home run in the final game of the 2012 World Series against the Tigers, and his four hits in the key fourth game of the 2010 National League Championship Series (NLCS) against the Phillies.
But when you think about his career, it was more about a consistent high level of play and the calm leadership role that he assumed over time. His leadership had the greatest impact on the pitching staff, but it also likely set a standard for the rest of the team. If the best player on the team is also the hardest worker, it does not leave the rest of the team with any excuses for a lack of preparation.
What Giants CEO Larry Baer called the “Golden Era of Giants Baseball” began when Buster arrived in 2010. There were many other players who contributed to that first World Series title, but I think most Giant fans could sense that there was something special about No. 28. He came to the Giants with a sudden impact the likes of which had never been seen in this organization. He is now leaving with everyone wanting more.
Hall of Fame
Now that Buster has retired, the next question that arises is whether his career is hall of fame worthy. Entrance to the Baseball Hall of Fame is determined by votes from members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. You must be retired for five years before you can be eligible for the hall of fame. Buster will not be eligible until 2027.
Since it is determined by the votes of sports writers, there is a certain amount of subjective analysis that determines whether a player qualifies. However, I think that selection is generally determined by some combination of these four factors:
- Total raw numbers (i.e., home runs, hits, wins, saves, etc.) and statistics (i.e., batting average, OPS (on base plus slugging), ERA (earned run average), etc.).
- Individual awards such as Most Valuable Player, Cy Young, batting titles, Golden Glove Awards, etc.
- Team success, particularly World Series titles.
- The character of the player.
Buster only played in 12 seasons, which included 2009 when he was a September call up and only had 17 at bats. There was also 2011 when he only played in 45 games before sustaining a season-ending ankle injury on the infamous collision with Scott Cousins. Even in his first real year with the Giants in 2010, he came up in the middle of the season. As a result, Buster had only 10 seasons where he played over 100 games and only six seasons where he played more than 114 games.
By HOF standards, his career is quite short. As a result, his total raw numbers are not that impressive. His 1500 hits, 158 home runs, and 729 runs batted in are good numbers for the number of games he played, but most Hall of Fame careers are much longer.
He does have some impressive statistics, such as a .302 lifetime batting average, which is a higher lifetime average than all but 5 of the 16 catchers in the hall of fame. Of those five, only Mike Piazza was someone who played in the modern era. He also has a .831 OPS, which is higher than both Ted Simmons and Ivan Rodriguez, who are the last two catcher to be elected to the hall of fame.
Buster’s career holds up well as far as individual awards is concerned. He was Rookie of the Year, League MVP, won a batting title, and won a Golden Glove award, which is given to the best fielding catcher in the league. He has five Silver Slugger awards, which is given to the best hitting catcher in the league. He was also a seven-time All-Star.
In comparison, hall of fame catcher Gary Carter has three Golden Glove awards, five Silver Slugger awards, and was an 11-time All-Star. However, he doesn't have a league MVP award, batting title, or Rookie of the Year award. Ted Simmons doesn’t have any individual awards other than one Silver Slugger award and being an eight-time All-Star.
The third factor is team success. How much does team success enter the equation? Does Buster having a role in winning three World Series championships help his resume? When you look at players that have been voted into the hall of fame, there is not a clear connection to team success. However, there may be some connection between team success and the perceived impact that a specific player had on the team’s success.
For instance, Sandy Koufax, who is in the HOF, only won 165 games in his career, which is far below most HOF pitchers. He had many individual awards (League MVP, three Cy Young awards, five Era titles, etc.), and these awards in and of themselves may have qualified him. But he also was on three World Series championship teams.
In addition, his teammate Don Drysdale, who is also in the hall of fame, had only 209 wins, which is also on the low side for the hall of fame. Drysdale did not have the number of individual awards as Koufax (one Cy Young Award), but he was also on three World Series championship teams.
It seems likely that the World Series titles helped both players reach the HOF, particularly for Drysdale. I believe this was the case because those Dodgers teams were not loaded with superstars. I think anyone who followed the Dodgers in the early 60s would agree that the team’s success was largely due to Koufax and Drysdale.
On the other hand, a couple of players from the Yankees dynasty of the 1990s and early 2000s seem to have HOF numbers, but they have not qualified and so far have not even been close to getting enough votes to qualify. Jorge Posada has good numbers for a catcher and has more total raw numbers than Buster as he played in 17 seasons. He was also on four World Series championship teams. Some have said that if Buster gets in, so should Posada. Likewise, Posada’s teammate Andy Pettitte won 256 games in his career, which is 91 more games than Koufax and 47 more than Drysdale, and yet he is not in the hall of fame. Pettitte was on five World Series championship teams with the Yankees.
Neither of these players have the individual awards that Koufax has. But I think there may be another factor. Those Yankees teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s were loaded with talent. Two players from those teams (Derek Jeter and Mariano Riviera ) are in the HOF. In addition, for some of those years, they had Wade Boggs, who is in the HOF, and Roger Clemens, who is clearly a HOF player based on performance (he has been excluded due to the use of PEDs).
There is no doubt that both Posada and Pettitte contributed greatly to the success of the Yankees during those years. However, some of the HOF voters may have felt that those Yankees teams also contributed a lot to the success of Posada and Pettitte, and thereby inflated their statistics.
In looking at Buster’s career, I think Buster’s contribution to the Giants titles is more comparable to Koufax and Drysdale than Pettitte and Posada. There are no players on any of the Giants championship teams that are in the HOF or would even have HOF consideration. Bumgarner is a still a remote possibility, but that is very unlikely. Buster was clearly the leader of those championship teams that were filled with good but not great players. I believe this is the biggest reason that Buster should get in. It was not just the statistics that he put up, but it was that his leadership inflated the statistics of his teammates.
The final factor is the perceived character of the individual. This of course is very subjective, but it is clear that some of the greatest players to ever play the game are not in the HOF because of character-related issues. This issue is constantly being debated every year when the HOF voting takes place.
As far as Buster is concerned, it is hard to think of any player who has as a higher character and is viewed with more esteem. He was a great player and teammate who was admired by his teammates and the front office. At his retirement announcement, the Giants owner (Greg Johnson) and general manager (Farhan Zaidi) indicated that they would confide in Buster on various baseball issues.
He is also a husband and father that is dedicated to his family, which was part of the reason for his retirement. In addition, with his growing wealth, he has become a local philanthropist. He has donated money to worthy causes such as the Pediatric Cancer Unit at UCSF Children’s Hospital.
So, if character flaws can keep you from being in the HOF, can an exemplary character increase your chances? Another related question is whether or not being liked by the print media can help your chances.
Since the HOF is determined by voters who are human beings making a subjective determination, the answer to these questions has to be yes. Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area indicated that the writers “adore” Buster, and he feels confident that they will vote him in the HOF. It seems that in this category of character, Buster will only benefit.
In viewing Buster’s qualifications for the HOF, he qualifies in every area except possibly in total raw numbers. Make no mistake about it, total raw numbers are important for the hall of fame. Being a great player is one thing, but being great for a long period of time is something else. Consistent great play requires hard work, staying in shape, avoiding injuries, and mental toughness.
I do believe that these are qualities that Buster possesses. However, certain factors that were somewhat out of his control may have contributed to his lack of raw numbers. First, his home ballpark was not a hitter’s park. It was one of the most difficult parks in the league to hit home runs. Duane Kuiper speculated that Pac Bell/AT&T/Oracle Park cost Buster approximately 100 homes runs. Furthermore, he speculated that had he played in Arizona or Colorado, which are hitter’s parks, he may have had 150 more home runs.
The other factor that worked against Buster was the position that he played. The catching position is the most demanding position on the field and is the most susceptible to injuries. Buster seemed to be fighting injuries his whole career, or at least since 2011 when he sustained the broken ankle that cost him most of that year. He played through the injuries as well as can be expected, but injuries were an unfortunate reality in his career.
There are only 16 catchers in the hall of fame that played the majority of their career in the Major Leagues (3 were inducted from the Negro Leagues). The only position with fewer HOF members is third base with 15. It is likely that this relatively small number of catchers in the HOF is at least partly due to the wear and tear that catching has on a body, which often results in a shorter career.
However, I believe the tremendous impact that Buster had on so many different facets of the game overrides his lack of longevity and lack of raw numbers. Former Giants Manager Bruce Bochy said “For a decade no player had more influence on the game than Buster.”
For Buster it was never about statistics like trying to reach a certain number of hits or home runs. Because if it were about statistics, he would likely not have retired. It was about winning. It was about winning with class and whether it was his intention or not, being a role model for the other players on the team as well as for the Giants organization, fan base, and the entire league.
Not every organization was lucky enough to have its best player be so highly thought of as a person. There were probably many Giants fans who were delighted when their son or daughter wanted a Buster Posey jersey. When Clayton Kershaw’s son asked him what player to pattern himself after, he said Buster Posey.
In summation, it was a career that was about perfect in every way, except that it did not last long enough. The Giants wanted him for another year, the fans hated to see him retire, and even the HOF discussion revolves around a career that was too short. However, maybe the reason that it seemed too short was that it was so good. I think everyone, the HOF included, should be thankful that they were a witness to his career, because as the legendary Chicago Bears coach George Halas said in reference to the Great Gale Sayers, “His like will not be seen again.”