EDIT: This piece was written before I learned of Posada’s hamstring injury. An apology can be found here.
The majority of readers may not take any interest in this post, but it’s not the first time that will have happened, so no hard feelings. But for the Yankees fans who find themselves reading this, I write to confirm what you undoubtedly saw in tonight’s game against the Detroit Tigers; namely, that Jorge Posada is kind of a disappointment.
The Yankees entered the top of the 9th inning down 4-0. Tigers’ reliever Fernando Rodney – who is often accompanied to the mound by a barrel of gasoline – replaced Bobby Seay and was slated to face the Yankees’ 5-7 hitters. Robinson Cano led off with a double. Nick Swisher followed with an RBI single, making the score 4-1 with nobody out. Then Melky Cabrera singled, sending Swisher to third with still nobody out. Manager Joe Girardi rightly pinch-hit Jorge Posada for Jose Molina. Seasoned Yankees fans everywhere at this point probably feared Posada grounding into a double play, which he does with some regularity. But Posada has pop in his bat, and an extra-base hit would have made the game 4-3 Tigers with no one out. You take the good with the bad. And boy, did Posada go out of his way to put forth the bad.
On the third pitch of the at-bat, Posada grounded weakly to the left side of the infield. It just made it by Rodney, which meant that the Tigers’ third-baseman would have to charge it hard to have any chance at turning two. Brandon Inge did this successfully, throwing it to Placido Polanco at second to record the first out. Polanco negotiated the disruptive Cabrera and threw to first to nail Posada by half a step, completing the double play. Swisher scored, making it 4-2 with no one on and two outs. I was grudgingly accepting of this outcome. That is, of course, until I saw footage of Posada running to first base.
To put it bluntly, Posada half-assed it. When watching the play unfold live, I assumed he had been running hard to first but was beat because, well, he has always run like he just went number two in his diaper. But the replay clearly revealed minimal effort to beat the throw to first. He was jogging for one hundred percent of those 90 feet from home to first.
Now, people who know me understand that I generally care very little about hustle in baseball. Baseball is different than basketball and football because hustle – that is, extra hard effort – usually has very little effect on the outcome of a play. In basketball, a player that hustles can tangibly and genuinely help his team by running harder than the other guy for loose balls or rebounds. In football, a blitzing cornerback can recover and help tackle the ball-carrier thirty yards down the field. It’s tough in baseball to hustle your way to throwing a strike or getting a base hit. Of course, hustle has some value on defense and on the bases. But it’s generally quite marginal and not nearly significant enough to get worked up about when evaluating a player. Hustle is nice, and I’d rather have it than not, but it’s not a deal-breaker by any means.
Posada’s “effort” irritated me for two reasons. First and foremost, he had a good chance to keep the Yankees alive in a relatively important game. The Yankees were coming off three crushing losses to the Red Sox in Fenway Park, and criticisms of varying legitimacy are mounting. Winning the first game in Detroit would have been a nice way to turn the page. If Posada had actually run hard to first base, the Yankees would have been looking at a runner on first with one out in a 4-2 game. With Ramiro Pena on deck, the chances of mounting a successful comeback were admittedly slim, but that situation is far better than no runners on and two outs. For once, hustle would have actually and significantly helped the Yankees’ prospects, and Posada opted to half-heartedly meander to first base. That’s reason number one.
Reason number two has a decidedly more ironic bent to it. Two weeks ago, the Yankees played the Rays in St. Petersburg. A dismal performance by Chien-Ming Wang eventually forced the Yankees to pitch outfielder Nick Swisher late in the game. Swisher was understandably amused by this development, and did what most of us do when we are amused: smile. He smiled self-consciously and incredulously as he pitched a scoreless 8th inning in a 15-5 game. Hardly anyone could blame him, except Jorge Posada. The decidedly humorless Posada said:
“Nobody was laughing. Today was embarrassing; just one of those days where everything went for them and nothing went for us. We didn’t pitch or do the things we were supposed to do. Nobody was laughing.”
I need to say very little to point out the irony here. If embarrassment is meant to be avoided, then Posada had no business loafing it to first base in a critical situation tonight. Didn’t “do the things you were supposed to do?” You’re darn right you didn’t. Four World Series rings be damned, Posada is no longer allowed to criticize teammates for displaying a lack of pride or effort.
For reasons I’ve already discussed, it’s unusual for me to feel so strongly about something like this. Despite my increasingly cranky and analytical fandom, I think it’s because I’m disappointed in Posada. I was, believe it or not, a kid not too long ago. And while the Yankees haven’t been my heroes for some time now, some of them remain familiar faces from my younger days. As much as I’d like to erase it, that familiarity has inevitably created one-way attachment. I subconsciously hold Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada to a higher standard because of their connection to teams of greater achievement. Tonight, watching Posada jog to first didn’t elicit my usual feelings of incredulity or frustration when I watch the Yankees mess up. Instead, I was overcome with disappointment, and I found that feeling much harder to cope with than anger.