“A wonderful vessel, but not what defines you”

Buster Posey, Kristen Posey

As his wife, Kristen, looked and listened, Buster Posey announced his retirement officially Thursday afternoon.

When Sandy Koufax first re-appeared in a Dodger uniform, joining the team as a low-keyed organisation pitching coach in spring 1979, Thomas Boswell profiled him for a Washington Post Sunday magazine feature. He’d dropped out of sight just to live life several years after leaving a gig with NBC’s old Game of the Week, returning almost as quietly as he’d slipped away.

The return, and Koufax’s introspection, led Boswell to conclude, “Koufax has seen through the veil of his game. A sport can be extremely difficult without being extremely important. Baseball could fascinate him, but not control him.” This week, the still-young man who may yet prove the second-youngest Hall of Famer to retire at or near his peak gave a similar impression.

Just as with Koufax over half a century ago, you can pull a pocketful of definitions out when Buster Posey’s name is mentioned. They can begin with knowing both, generations apart, played only twelve seasons of major league baseball until walking away before the game could walk, push, or shove them away.

You can pull out all the individual honours (from a Most Valuable Player award to two Comeback Player of the Year awards), three World Series championships, catching a perfect game and a few mere no-hitters. But you can also join Posey’s hand to Koufax’s for having the heart, soul, and presence of mind to pass it on before it was passed on for them.

As a pitcher, Koufax is frozen in time, the thirty-year-old lefthander still at the mountaintop, leaving the game before the extreme pain through which he pitched could throw him into a ghastly decline. As a catcher, Posey is liable to be frozen likewise, a 34-year-old still within his peak, leaving the game before the extreme pain through which he caught and hit could do the same thing.

These two fundamentally decent men put baseball away in order to rediscover things called living.

For Koufax, who played the game as a low-keyed bachelor, it was a time to get to know more about and live as the quiet man with more individual interests and self-education than many who played the game with and even after him. For Posey, it’s time to get to know more about his family and about the family guy he’s always been anyway.

When Posey made official Thursday what was first reported Wednesday, he didn’t so much reveal it as remind us of it.

His wife, Kristen, sat next to him at the podium. Their sixteen-month-old adopted twin daughters, Livvi and Ada, accompanied the couple’s ten-year-old fraternal twins, daughter Addison and son Lee.

His former manager, Bruce Bochy, accompanied the family to Oracle Park for the press conference. “He gets it. He gets it,” said the skipper with whom Posey and their Giants won those three World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014. “The game, the pitching side, everything. He was just born to play baseball.” But Posey gets an awful lot more than just the depth of his game.

“First of all,” he began, “I’d like to thank the woman sitting up here with me today . . . You know better than anybody how hard, sometimes, I would take not performing the way I wanted to. But your love and perspective about what was truly important helped me through those times . . . I’m so excited to continue sharing life with you and watching our kids grow.”

“He was there,” wrote Andrew Baggarly, the Giants writer for The Athletic who broke the story of Posey’s retirement, “to let go of a baseball life, to move forward with the next phase and to fully wrap arms around the only role that he ever allowed to define him: husband, father, family man.”

Like Koufax in 1966, it turned out Posey went to spring training 2021 intending it to be his final season, come what may. What came was staggering enough.

Koufax led his 1966 Dodgers to a World Series and won a third major league-version Cy Young Award. Posey helped lead this year’s Giants to a 107-win season; he posted his highest single-season slugging percentage since his MVP season; he was ten defensive runs saved above his league’s average for catchers; he landed that second Comeback Player award.

Koufax walked away from a six-figure income that was baseball’s highest for any player at the time. Posey left a $22 million option for 2022 that nobody believed the Giants would reject. There was a $3 million buyout in his contract, but Baggarly says Posey and the Giants are negotiating how to turn that into an as-yet determined role in the organisation itself.

The Georgia guy who grew up rooting for the Braves but plighted his baseball troth to the Giants wants to keep it that way, even as he returns to Georgia for a spell to re-connect with his roots.

As a catcher, Posey retired the way he wanted to retire, as a Giant. As a man, he wants to remain a Giant one way or another without putting his family behind him. Baseball’s arguable best all-around catcher of the 21st Century’s second decade, too, saw through baseball’s veil and accepted what he saw without regret.

When he thanked his parents at Thursday’s announcement, Posey made a point of saying they’d given him “the foundation of knowing that baseball is a vessel that can be used to create wonderful memories and impact people’s lives, but ultimately it’s not what defines you.”

Koufax told Boswell of playing the game, “You are part of an entertainment. But you are not an entertainer. That is unnatural. But I enjoyed doing it . . . probably even more than the fans enjoyed watching. I thank them for enjoying it with me.”

Posey was at once part and parcel of maybe the single greatest decade the Giants have known since moving to San Francisco in the first place and unable to call himself the common element. “To me,” he said, “this is what encapsulates baseball. “It’s a lot more than just winning or losing games, although the wins do feel a lot better.”

It’s about the time spent with family, the countless nights and days, pulling for your team, riding the emotions of the highs, riding the emotions of the lows, and ultimately enjoying the people you’re with along the way and making great memories together. I’m so very humbled to play a part in some of those memories.

If Posey like Koufax walks away as much because the pain of his profession within a profession—the hip, back, knee, ankle injuries, the concussions—makes that profession impossible to practise properly anymore, he had a Koufaxian way or referencing it.

“I don’t regret one minute of the last twelve years,” Koufax said at his retirement press conference, “but I might regret one season too many.”

“It was just getting to the point where things that I was enjoying were not as joyful anymore,” Posey said. And that was it.

“Thursday’s gathering was not about adulation,” Baggarly wrote. “Posey didn’t need anyone to give him his flowers. His ego didn’t demand it. It felt more like a graduation of sorts, an acknowledgment that one part of his life was ending and an eagerness to embrace the fullness of his family. It’s someone else’s turn to slap the lectern at City Hall and say, ‘Let’s go win it again next year’.”

What remains—beyond a wish of Godspeed to Posey, his wife, his children—is a brief fantasy. The fantasy of a fully-matured Sandy Koufax going into that once-familiar windup, broad leg kick, and elegant, forward-snapping delivery, throwing one of his elusive fastballs or voluptuous curve balls to Buster Posey behind the plate.

Even Giant fans who’d rather be dead than Dodgers, even Dodger fans who’d rather be dead than Giants, might agree that these two inviolable men, knowing better than most of their contemporaries where they belonged in the game, knowing sooner than most when the game no longer belonged to them, would make a transcendent battery.

Buster Posey retiring with no tour, just class

Buster Posey

Buster Posey’s two-run blast in Game One of this year’s NLDS with the Dodgers has proven the last blast of a Hall of Fame career.

On Memorial Day 2017, Buster Posey displayed a lot of what made him above and beyond a mere elite catcher. He hadn’t exactly lacked for credentials prior to that game, but he showed the measure of the man as well as the backstop for three World Series-winning Giants teams.

In the top of the eighth, Giants relief pitcher Hunter Strickland retired the Nationals’ Trea Turner and Jayson Werth with Bryce Harper coming to the plate. The righthander hadn’t seen Harper at the plate since the 2014 division series in which Harper tagged him twice for home runs.

The second of the two blasts might have been the more telling one. It was a high, parabolic bomb down the right field line that nobody—not Harper watching as he stepped forward, not Strickland turned around watching from the mound, not Posey still in his crouch—knew would be fair until it sailed past the foul pole and into McCovey’s Cove.

No one but a boring old artery-hardened “purist” or a moron would have accused Harper of showboating a blast he clearly didn’t know was fair or foul until it was seen passing the pole on the fair side. And who knew what crept into and out of Strickland’s head in the times to follow, since the scheduling to come kept the Giants and the Nats apart from then until this Memorial Day.

Strickland threw right into Harper’s right hip on the first pitch. Posey stood almost motionless behind the plate as the enraged Harper charged the mound. In fact, not a single Giant left their dugout until after Harper and Strickland traded a few punches. Posey looked as though trying to tell Strickland, You’re on your own, dude, I didn’t call for that pitch.

He never thought about restraining Harper. He waited until plate umpire Brian Gorman arrived near the mound as Harper and Strickland traded their first punches. It took almost ten full seconds after Harper started his mound charge before Posey finally strode toward the mound and the Giants began pouring out followed by the Nats.

Posey remained almost entirely on the periphery of the brawl once it began in earnest. While Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija and outfielder Michael Morse collided en route the center of the scrum, it took three more Giants—pitcher George Kontos, outfielders Hunter Pence and Mac Williamson—to get Strickland out of the crowd. Nats first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and third baseman Anthony Rendon got Harper away from damage.

Did Strickland tell Posey before the game that he planned to nail Harper if he had the chance? Did Posey answer him in the words his body language subsequently suggested? Some thought Posey was being cautious because of his history of concussions behind the plate. Some thought Posey was only too well aware that, if the Nats decided to retaliate, he’d be a target the next time he batted against them.

Others thought Posey simply had no taste for a temperamental pitcher exercising an almost three-year-old grudge for surrendering home runs in a series their team actually won. Still others saw it, as I did, as an exercise in just how much genuine class Posey brought to baseball and to the Giants.

And, how much class he carried to the end of his career. There’ll be none of that farewell tour jive for the backstop who still looks, somehow, as though he’s that friendly and boyish looking 23 year old Rookie of the Year who just anchored his Giants to the first of three World Series rings in five years.

Posey planned for Thursday what The Athletic‘s Giants writer, Andrew Baggarly, tweeted the day before, announcing his retirement at 34 after twelve major league seasons. It’s going to feel just as strange seeing the Giants without Posey behind the plate anymore as it felt at first seeing this century’s Red Sox without Dustin Pedroia manning second base.

He’d hinted toward it during the Giants’ brief postseason stay. “I’m definitely just going to take some time with my wife, talk with her, be able to be a full-time dad of four kids for the first time in a while,” he told reporters. “Yeah, just kind of take it slow and see how things progress.”

It’s not simple business to move forward when a franchise face, its arguable heart and soul, steps away from the game at all, never mind when he’s still either at the top of it or somewhere within reach of it. Posey anchored this year’s Giants and their somewhat surprising run to a 107-win regular season and the National League West title.

When he smashed a two-run homer off Dodgers ace Walker Buehler to open this year’s National League division series scoring between the two lifelong rivals (it bounced off a pillar into McCovey Cove), Giants fans hoped it meant the beginning of a run to the World Series. The Dodgers went on to win in five, only to be shoved to one side by the upstart Braves in the National League Championship Series.

Catching may be baseball’s most dangerous profession within a profession. Posey himself has evinced it. He’s incurred more than his share of concussions. He’s had surgery to repair a torn labrum. He got blasted so violently on a May 2011 play at the plate that a) he missed the rest of the season; and, b) baseball’s rulemakers augmented the rules to bar baserunners from leaving the baseline trying to score and to bar catchers from blocking the plate without the ball in their hands first.

He also sat out the pan-damn-ically shortened 2020 season voluntarily; the decision made as much for his adopted twin daughters born prematurely that summer as for the sake of his and his family’s health. (Posey and his wife, Kristen, are the parents of two pairs of twins; their fraternal twins, daughter Addison and son Lee, turned ten recently.)

In fact, Posey calling it a career after a mere twelve Show seasons at or near the top of his game lures a comparison to another great who once did likewise but at three years younger. “This is Koufaxian stuff,” writes The Cooperstown Casebook author Jay Jaffe at FanGraphs, “a player retiring despite still performing at an elite level.”

The parallel between Posey and Sandy Koufax isn’t perfect, though both played just twelve years in the majors, accumulated numerous individual honors and reached the pinnacle of their respective positions in helping their teams win three championships, then departed abruptly. So far as we know, Posey isn’t playing through anything as debilitating as the three-time Cy Young winner’s chronic arthritis, but the long-term effects of multiple concussions are nothing to trifle with, and Posey, already a father of two before the adoption, has two new reasons to want to make sure he enjoys his retirement years.

There were those who couldn’t understand Koufax walking away from the mound at his peak because the idea of crippling himself for life was not an option for a 30-year-old man. There may be those who can’t understand Posey walking away from his station behind the plate at or near his peak because the idea of one more shot in the head meaning the difference between keeping all or about an eight of his marbles isn’t an option for a 34-year-old man.

Playing in an era that produced extremely few truly elite all-around catchers, Posey is number eight all time for the runs saved he’s worth above his league average behind the plate (+76). In 2021 he was still worth 10 runs saved above the league average for catchers.

At the plate, as opposed to behind it, Posey was still a force, perhaps an above-average force considering his injury history and the normal wear inflicted upon catchers in their prime. The traditionalists will point to his .304 “batting average”; his fourteen home runs were solid power production for a 34-year-old catching regularly still; his .399 on-base percentage wasn’t top ten in the league but brilliant for a catcher at his age.

He didn’t qualify for the “batting title,” his 454 plate appearances falling 47 short of qualifying. But my Real Batting Average (RBA) metric—total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances—shows this for Posey’s 2021 at the plate:

PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Buster Posey, 2021 454 197 56 2 3 1 .570

In other words, Posey was a better batter by a single point this year than Mookie Betts (.569) and a single point below Paul Goldschmidt (.571).

If you were to put Posey’s career RBA into the pack of Hall of Fame catchers who played all or most of their careers in the post-World War II/post-reintegration/night-ball era, you might think a lot more kindly toward his Hall of Fame case—he lands smack dab in the middle:

Catchers PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Mike Piazza 7745 3768 759 146 45 30 .613
Roy Campanella 4815 2101 533 113 50* 30 .587
Johnny Bench 8674 3644 891 135 90 19 .551
Yogi Berra 8359 3643 704 91 95* 52 .549
Buster Posey 5,607 2,285 540 67 53 43 .533
Carlton Fisk 9853 3999 849 105 79 143 .525
Ted Simmons 9,685 3793 855 188 100 39 .514
Gary Carter 9019 3497 848 106 99 68 .512
Ivan Rodriguez 10270 4451 513 67 76 58 .503
HOF AVG .543

Think about that. Think about how much worse you could be than pulling up fifth behind Mike Piazza, Roy Campanella, Johnny Bench, and Yogi Berra.

We’ll never know how he would have shaken out had he continued his career, particularly since there’s been talk aplenty that the Giants planned to transition him toward playing first base more frequently. Posey’s short career may sway voters away from him, at least those who still don’t grok that the Hall of Fame should be about greatness, not arithmetic. (Shut the hell up about his lack of 2,000 lifetime hits, you boring old fart purists, you social media slop heads, you sports talk radio runts.) Greatness, not the gold watch.

There are Hall of Famers with quarter-century careers who don’t belong except as visitors. (Good evening, Harold Baines.) There are some not yet in Cooperstown whose careers weren’t half that long. (Be well in the Elysian Fields, Thurman Munson.)

Yadier Molina has had a third more career length than Posey, and he’s kept Posey from winning a couple more than one Gold Glove. He’s the superior defensive catcher by a wide enough margin; his Hall of Fame plaque will come primarily and appropriately because of his work behind the plate.

Yet the pair are almost exactly the same catcher when it comes to the position’s number-one job: handling a pitching staff. As of the end of the 2021 seasons, the pitchers throwing to Yadier Molina have posted a 3.70 earned run average . . . but those throwing to Buster Posey have posted a 3.68 ERA.

I don’t think you could find that many more tight similarities between two individual catchers playing their entire careers with two different teams. That’s without throwing in that Posey was the one who shepherded his pitchers to three World Series rings including Madison Bumgarner’s electrifying 2014 postseason performance. Molina has shepherded his pitchers to a pair.

But Posey’s been the better all-around catcher, and it isn’t even close. There’s no contest between Posey’s 129 OPS+ and Molina’s +97. RBA doesn’t do Molina any favours against Posey, either. (Do I have to say outright that, when he’s elected to Hall of Fame, Molina’s RBA will put him tenth in a class of ten?)

PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Buster Posey 5,607 2,285 540 67 53 43 .533
Yadier Molina 8284 3039 537 50 74 74 .456

That’s some difference in plate discipline there—Posey in twelve seasons taking three more walks than Molina has in eighteen seasons. It’s also taken eighteen seasons for Molina to draw seventeen fewer passes on the house. The bottom line there is that Molina’s greatness doesn’t include too much fear factor when he checks into the batter’s box but Posey’s does.

If you want to go the route of wins above replacement-level player (WAR), there’s only one player at any position with more WAR from 2012-2017 than Posey’s 43.0, a figure Jaffe says includes his isolated value as a pitch framer behind the plate. Hands up to everybody who guessed (correctly) that it’s Mike Trout.

Posey may not be quite the best all-around catcher who ever strapped it on in all major league baseball. But he’s no questions asked the best all-around catcher in the history of the Giants’ franchise. He wore the uniform with class, he played the game with class as well as greatness. He deserves both a pleasant and fulfilling baseball retirement and a plaque in Cooperstown.

—————————————————————

* – What’s with the asterisk next to Yogi Berra’s sacrifice flies? Simple enough: The sacrifice fly wasn’t an official stat until 1954. Berra played about half his major league career before that. So I needed a way to calculate the sac flies he might have hit if the rule took effect when his career began.

I took his number of recorded sac flies, divided that by the seasons he played under the rule, then took that result and multiplied it by the number of major league seasons he really played. The formula: Sac flies (SF) divided by sac fly rule seasons (SRS), multiplied by total MLB seasons. SF / SRS x YRS.

It was the best I could come to a total number of sacrifice flies you could have expected Yogi to hit all career long.

“Remember 1951?” OK, you asked for it.

The Shot Heard 'Round the World

No, Giants fan, you do not want anyone  remembering the Mugging at Coogan’s Bluff.

This one’s for the Giants fan[s] who hoisted a large, stylish enough sign showing a flying baseball and the words, “Remember ’51,” in Oracle Park Friday night. Whomever you are, allow me to assure you that the last thing you want anyone remembering is 1951.

I get it. You’re remembering the Giants mounting a staggering pennant race comeback from thirteen games out of first place around mid-August to force a playoff against the Dodgers for the 1951 National League pennant.

You’re remembering Ralph Branca relieving Don Newcombe and pitching to Bobby Thomson. You’re remembering, especially through that flying baseball image, Thomson turning on Branca’s 0-1 fastball and depositing it into the lower deck of the Polo Grounds’ left field seats.

You’re remembering The Shot Heard ‘Round the World. You’re remembering Giants broadcaster Russ Hodges going out of his mind screaming The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!

In the thrill of history’s hour Friday night, the 107 game-winning National League West champion Giants and the 106 game-winning National League wild card Dodgers finally met in a proper postseason for the first time ever in their long, ancient, rivalrous history together.

That was then: A pair of pennant playoffs between each other, under the ancient baseball regimes, in 1951 and 1962, both won by the Giants. This was Friday night: The Giants won division series Game One, 4-0, in which the Dodgers weren’t even a quarter of the kind of tenacious and energetic they’d been in beating the Cardinals at the last minute in the wild card game.

Giants second-full-season starter Logan Webb out-pitched the Dodgers four-full-season veteran Walker Buehler. Webb deployed his impressive collection of breaking balls and changeups to catch the Dodgers off-balance, sometimes asleep. Buehler struggled to find a handle but managed to endure after Buster Posey—the last Giant standing from their 2010, 2012, and 2014 World Series winners—sent a two-run homer ricocheting off the back of a Levi’s Landing column into McCovey Cove in the bottom of the first.

By the time Buehler found his handle, he got to exercise it only long enough for another former World Series champion, Kris Bryant (2016 Cubs, a Giant since this year’s trade deadline), to park one into the left field seats to open the bottom of the seventh. With Buehler out of the game after one out in that inning, Brandon Crawford hit one into the center field bullpen with two outs against a second Dodger reliever, Alex Vesia, in the bottom of the eighth.

So, yes, the Giants opened decisively enough and impressively enough Friday night. Now, back to you, Giant fan with the “Remember ’51” sign. I saw the sign, in a brief moment on the TBS telecast early in the game. They didn’t show it again all night but it stuck in my head well into Saturday morning.

You don’t really want the rest of baseball world to remember what you might actually hope the thrill of history’s hour now might compel it to forget. Here’s a hint: The Giants stole the pennant! The Giants stole the pennant!

The 2017 Astros weren’t baseball’s first cheating champions by a long Shot. Come to think of it, neither were the 1951 Giants. But since you brought it up with that stylish-looking sign, gather around and allow me to ask.

Do you really want us to remember again what ’51 Giants manager Leo Durocher hatched after he discovered his recently-acquired spare part, Hank Schenz, owned a hand-held Wollensak spy glass—and had used it to steal signs from the Wrigley Field scoreboard behind that park’s bleachers when he was a Cub?

Do you really want us to remember again that Durocher called a team meeting to announce he’d cooked up a plot to start stealing signs from the Polo Grounds clubhouse above and just beyond center field? With catcher-turned-coach Herman Franks wielding the Wollensak and tapping codes for the stolen signs to the Giants bullpen, from where the purloined intelligence would be flashed to the batter?

Do you really want us to remember again that, when Durocher asked his players who wanted the stolen signs, his Hall of Fame left fielder Monte Irvin refused stolen signs? Meaning his rookie Hall of Fame center fielder Willie Mays wouldn’t take them, either? Much as Mays felt beholden to “Mister Leo,” he felt even more beholden to Irvin as a big brother figure, and he’d assuredly follow Irvin’s lead.

Do you really want us to remember again how, while the Dodgers went a very solid 33-26 down the stretch in August and September 1951, the Giants with their little furtive intelligence operation cheated their way to shooting the lights out—going 40-14 down the same stretch, including a sixteen-game winning streak that included thirteen home wins—to end that season in the first-place tie?

Do you really want us to remember again the day Dodger coach Cookie Lavagetto smelled enough of a rat to bring a pair of binoculars into the Dodger dugout in a bid to catch the Giants in the act—but had them confiscated post haste by an umpire?

As now-retired Thomas Boswell snorted in 2001, after The Shot Heard ‘Round the World was chosen baseball’s greatest moment by The Sporting News and second-greatest sports moment by Sports Illusrated, “Why, it would be unfair for the victims to use binoculars to expose the telescopic cheaters!”

Do you really want us to remember Bobby Thomson telling Joshua Prager, the Wall Street Journal writer who affirmed the Durocher plot at last in 2001 (turning it into a splendid but troubling book, The Echoing Green), “I guess I’ve been a jerk in a way. That I don’t want to face the music. Maybe I’ve felt too sensitive, embarrassed maybe.”

Maybe you don’t remember that Ralph Branca never blamed anyone beyond Durocher directly when talking about it for publication. Branca always said of Thomson (who became his friend in later years), “He still had to hit the pitch.” He carried the weight of surrendering that pitch and that loss with uncommon grace for the rest of his and Thomson’s lives. (Thomson died in 2010; Branca died in 2016.)

“Over the years, when interviewing Thomson and Branca,” Boswell wrote, “I’ve been struck that Thomson seemed a bit ambivalent about his Moment while Branca never seemed the least ashamed. I took it that Thomson felt apologetic because he’d caused Branca a lifetime of nagging questions.”

You, Giant fan(s) hoisting “Remember ’51” Friday night. Before you bring that sign back Saturday night, rooting for the team that stunned this year’s National League by winning the West despite everyone else trying to write them off as a fluke phenomenon, think it over. Hard.

You don’t really want everyone else remembering the greatest shame and sham in Giants history. You don’t really want us remembering the Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff long exposed as the Mugging at Coogan’s Bluff. You don’t really want us to remember all over again that the Giants stole the pennant! The Giants stole the pennant!

Do you?

Short of the track, short of the Giants

Fernando Tatis, Jr.

Tatis destroyed a hanging slider for homer number 40 in the seventh Wednesday night, but he couldn’t quite walk it off in the ninth, though not for lack of effort . . .

Fernando Tatis, Jr. started the Padres’ Wednesday night comeback attempt when he hit one out with one out in the bottom of the seventh. Why shouldn’t he have wanted to finish it by way of a game-winning blast with two on in the bottom of the ninth?

The National League’s leading home run hitter this year so far gave the Giants’ righthanded submariner Tyler Rogers’s climbing slider a high ride to Petco Park’s deep left. Even Giants broadcasters Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow thought it was likely to go and the Padres were likely to win.

Except that it didn’t, and they didn’t. That’s been the Padres’ story in the season’s second half. Minutes late and dollars short.

The drive hung up just enough to fall short enough and into the waiting glove of Kris Bryant, playing left near the track for the Giants, snapping the ball shut to end an 8-6 Giants win that looked like a blowout in the making after six and a half innings.

“I wish I could celebrate in a different story,” Tatis said post-game, “but it’s been a long year, a lot of ups and downs, especially coming back from those injuries. At the end of the day, I’m pretty happy with the results and how I bounced back and this is history. It’s something to celebrate.”

He’d had to recover from a couple of shoulder injuries to become only the tenth man in Show history to hit forty homers or more in a season before his 22nd birthday. He might celebrate history, but he probably would have celebrated a Padres win more.

Every Giant fan in the house—there were plenty making the trek to San Diego, especially the group of orange-clad elders known as the Game Geezers—should thank Rogers for delivering the narrow escape. They should thank rookie Giants reliever Camilo Doval even more profoundly for the one he delivered in the bottom of the fifth.

One of the Giants’ soon-to-be-fabled retreads, lefthanded starting pitcher Scott Kazmir, ran into big trouble after delivering four innings of one-run ball that weren’t exactly on the virtuoso side but weren’t exactly on the weak side, either. But he walked Victor Caratini on a full count, surrendered a base hit to pinch-hitter Jake Marisnick, and walked Tatis on four straight.

Then Giants catcher Buster Posey made a might-have-been grave mistake. He got his glove out far enough to catch a piece of Jake Cronenworth’s bat as Cronenworth slashed a foul down the left field line. The interference call brought Caratini home, kept the bases loaded, and told manager Gabe Kapler Kazmir had had it for the night.

He brought Doval into the impossible nightmare. Ducks on the pond, nobody out, and Manny Machado checking in at the plate. This can be something comparable to trying to bring a Boeing 747 home without a scratch, bump, or crash after three of the four engines blow.

Doval attacked Machado as though he was just playing catch with Posey. Three hard, quivering sliders that didn’t get anywhere near the middle of the plate. Three hard, hell-bent swings on each of which Machado looked as though he wanted to send his mates on the bases around the horn twice on one drive. Then, Doval wrestled Tommy Pham into dialing Area Code 6-4-3 for the side.

Even the Padres’ faithful had to appreciate that kind of narrow-escape, safe landing, which Kapler called “one of the gutsier performances of the year from anybody in our pen.”

The irony of Caratini scoring on catcher’s interference wasn’t necessarily lost on anyone. It was Caratini’s glove touching Tommy La Stella’s bat, as LaStella fouled one high down the left field line opening the game, that put La Stella aboard and began Padres starter Vince Velasquez’s three-run nightmare, giving the Giants the extremely early lead in the first place.

Velasquez wasn’t exactly sharp in the first place. Not after starting Brandon Belt 0-2 and finishing by walking him, then throwing a 1-1 jammer that Posey somehow fisted into a balloon shot into short right center to load the pads.

He might have wrestled Lamonte Wade, Jr. into an eight-pitch strikeout, but Bryant nailed him for a bases-clearing double off the right center field wall, before Brandon Crawford pushed Bryant to third with a fly out to the back of center and Evan Longoria struck out swinging for the side.

La Stella’s no stranger to catcher’s interference. It happened to him twice in one game, as a Cub, on 7 June 2018, making him only the seventh player to benefit thus. Then-Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp’s mitt touched his bat twice—in the first, when he grounded one back to pitcher Nick Pivetta; and, in the eighth, against reliever Adam Morgan, when Knapp’s mitt hit the bat as La Stella fouled one off. But neither one figured in that game’s scoring, the Cubs beating the Phillies by a run.

The game ended up thickening the Giants’ National League West lead to two games with the Dodgers getting slapped silly, 10-5, by the Rockies in Coors Field. The Rockies’ season burial isn’t wholly official yet; the Padres still have a very outside, very slim wild card hope.

Kazmir, last seen among the silver medalists on the U.S. Olympic baseball team earlier this summer, pitched like an elder looking for one more season in the sun and finding various ways to justify it. He pitched into and out of trouble in the bottom of the second, turning a one-out single (Eric Hosmer), a two-out ground-rule double (Trent Grisham), and then offered evidence for the defense in favour of making the designated hitter universal.

Caratini came to the plate with Padres relief pitcher Ryan Weathers due to bat next. DH partisans often cite the frequent National League pitchers’ cop-out, described best by Thomas Boswell when recalling the “thousands of rallies I’ve seen killed when an inning ends with one pitcher working around a competent No. 8 hitter so he can then strike out the other pitcher. When you get in a jam in the [American League], you must pitch your way out of it, not ‘pitch around’ your way out of it.”

Kazmir threw Caratini two so-obviously weak changeups, then handed Caratini first on the house. Then he got Weathers to ground one to Crawford at short for the inning-ending force out. Exactly why the Giants thought that dangerous .215-hitting Caratini was liable to tie the game with one swing—he’s hit as many home runs over five years as Tatis hit by 15 June this year—escapes.

And exactly why the Padres didn’t think to pinch hit for Weathers escapes as well, particularly with known Giant-puncturer Adam Frazier (he’s hit .365 against them this year) on the bench for the evening. Casey Stengel once believed that when you have an opening, you shove with your shoulder. Padres manager Jayce Tingler forgot he had a shoulder (and enough decent bullpen still) with which to shove.

Until Kazmir ran into that fifth inning trouble, he kept the Padres mostly off balance from there, while Weathers and his successor Ross Detwiler kept the Giants mostly quiet until yielding to converted-from-shortstop Javy Guerra for the top of the sixth.

Oops. Posey lined the first pitch down the right field line, falling in fair to lead off with a double. Wade swatted a full-count sinker up the middle for first and third. Bryant grounded out to Hosmer playing first, but Crawford slapped an opposite-field single to left to send Posey home.

One Longoria strikeout and pitching change to Nabil Crismatt later, Mike Yastrzemski singled Wade home with a base hit right back up the pipe, before pinch hitter Wilmer Flores flied out to right to keep things 5-1, Giants.

Crismatt ended up really taking one for the team in the seventh. He handed La Stella a four-pitch leadoff walk, and Belt promptly hit the first pitch he saw for a line single into right. Then Posey lined a 1-2 changeup the other way down the right field line again, sending La Stella home. Wade doubled Belt and Posey home before going down trying to steal. Bryant grounded out to first, but Crawford shot a single past third before Longoria struck out for the third time on the night.

That made it 8-1, Giants. Then, with one out against Giants reliever Jarlin Garcia, Tatis fought back from 0-2, caught hold of a hanging slider on 2-2, and drove it into the left field seats. Cronenworth promptly doubled to the back of right field and Machado sent a hard liner over the hole at short to send Cronenworth home.

Exit Garcia, enter Domonic Leone, and Pham’s first-pitch liner the other way to right loaded the pads for the Padres again. But all they had to show for that was Hosmer poking a single up the middle to send Machado home, before Wil Myers struck out and Grisham slapped his way into an inning-ending force out at second.

Going 3-for-12 with men in scoring position wasn’t exactly the way to overthrow the Giants. Things weren’t helped any for the Padres when Crawford made an acrobatic spin and grab of a Myers grounder that had one-out base hit stamped on it, Crawford throwing Myers out off balance but right on the button for the second out of the fourth.

Against the submarining Rogers in the ninth, Pham worked a leadoff walk and Hosmer hit a ground-rule double to send him to third. Finally the Padres sent Frazier to the plate to pinch hit, and he pushed Pham home while grounding out to second, before Grisham singled Hosmer home with the sixth Padre run.

After Caratini flied out to left, up came Tatis. He wanted to hit that three-run homer so badly the entire ballpark could taste it. Especially after he opened with a foul out of play to the right side. Then Rogers’s slider climbed up to the middle of the zone somewhat away from Tatis. Tatis swung as if his and the Padres’ lives depended on it.

It wasn’t enough.

Things haven’t been enough for the reeling Padres since the middle of August. And just as they were about to lose their fifth straight and eleventh in fourteen games, general manager A.J. Preller continued an apparent organisational shakeup—shuffling assorted farm system roles two days after firing seven-year farm director Sam Geaney.

The Padres have gone from Preller’s inability to fortify a decimated starting rotation (they failed spectacularly at the trade deadline after the world only thought they’d bag Max Scherzer) to Tingler’s apparent inability to keep his clubhouse consistently steady. They’re already thinking wait till next year in San Diego. Next year, and maybe a new manager.

For the Giants the season’s going to end up with them finishing what they started, taking hold of their division and holding on no matter the overqualified Dodgers snapping at their heels. Those two antagonists could end up squaring off in a postseason set that’s liable to do what earthquakes can’t—blow the Richter scale to bits.

Rank desertion? Don’t even go there.

2020-07-11 BusterPosey

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey has opted out of playing this year for the sake of his children—an incumbent pair of twins and a pair of twin newborns freshly adopted. Some dare call it desertion—erroneously.

Whatever else you think about those major league players who have opted out of playing in 2020, or who think about doing so, here’s something that shouldn’t come into play: someone snarking about such players committing “rank desertion.” (So help me, that’s how someone phrased it in one online baseball forum.) Ignore them. Let them rant their heads off, but you’re under no obligation to listen.

That’s one of the beauties of free speech, what’s left of it. You can rant your head off any old time and place it strikes you to rant. You also bear no known mandatory obligation to listen to any particular ranter for any particular reason.

Militarily, of course, “rank desertion” equals one soldier, sailor, marine, or airman, or a group of them, walking away from their units or posts without call, usually but not exclusively in wartime. In civilian terms, “rank desertion” implies someone or a group of someones walking off the job where there’s no known option aside from a labour strike or formal resignation to do it.

The players were given the opt-out option after all those weeks of haggling between the owners trying to game them out of agreed-upon-in-March pay protocols before they finally agreed to give what remained of a 2020 season a try. Handed that option, those players exercising it cannot be accused credibly of rank desertion.

There’s a coronavirus still on world tour, to various extents, and baseball players play and sojourn in places that still present exposure risks they’re not entirely anxious to bring home. Especially when they have loved ones considered in the high-risk category.

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey may be the highest-profile player to opt out of the season to date. There but for the curse of injuries might he be in the Hall of Fame conversation; maybe two or even three more injury-free seasons on his jacket might keep him there. He could still get those seasons beginning next year.

As was his right under the current protocols, Posey thought more than twice about the twin babies he and his wife, Kristin, are adopting. They were born prematurely last week and at this writing remain in neonatal intensive care. The San Francisco Chronicle says the little girls are doing well enough in the circumstance.

Already the father of incumbent twin children, Posey weighed the risk and pondered the opt-out option that has yet to be rescinded. Then, he made his decision for the sake of his children’s health. The same decision Los Angeles Angels demigod Mike Trout continues weighing as the birth of his first child with his wife, Jessica, looms next month.

Trout isn’t exactly on poverty row so far as major league baseball players are concerned. Neither is Posey, even if Trout is above and beyond his and any other player’s pay grade. Atlanta Braves outfielder Nick Markakis has a family to consider as well, and he’s not exactly going to be among the poor by opting out of 2020, either, as he did during the week now past.

Two factors moved Markakis to opt out, the risk to his family and the very real COVID-19 infection incurred by his franchise co-face face teammate Freddie Freeman. (Braves fans have a case to make that Freeman now shares the distinction with Markakis’s fellow outfielder Ronald Acuna, Jr. Markakis also admits playing with no audience at first doesn’t exactly pose a thrill.)

Markakis spoke to Freeman by phone and learned fast enough. “Just hearing him, the way he sounded on the phone, it was tough,” he told reporters last Monday. “It was kind of eye-opening. With everything that’s going on, not just with baseball but all over the world, it makes you open your eyes.”

Felix Hernandez, the longtime Seattle pitching bellwether now trying to resuscitate his career with the Braves, has also opted out of 2020. So has Michael Kopech, the Chicago White Sox pitcher who’d otherwise hoped to begin his return from his 2018 Tommy John surgery. So has Colorado Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond, whose teammate Charlie Blackmon was hit with COVID-19 and who has alarms about equal to health alarms for doing so.

On health terms, Desmond and his wife, Chelsey, are already parents of four young children and Mrs. Desmond is pregnant with their fifth. That’s the immediate reason Desmond exercised his opt-out option. But it provided him a chance to speak publicly enough on social and even spiritual terms.

Desmond—who is bi-racial—laments what the George Floyd murder at police hands in Minneapolis re-exposes of society in general and, from his perspective, the game he loves otherwise. “Think about it: right now in baseball we’ve got a labor war,” Desmond began in a round of jolting but thought-provoking Instagram posts.

We’ve got rampant individualism on the field. In clubhouses we’ve got racist, sexist, homophobic jokes or flat-out problems. We’ve got cheating. We’ve got a minority issue from the top down. One African American GM. Two African American managers. Less than 8% Black players. No Black majority team owners.

Perhaps most disheartening of all is a puzzling lack of focus on understanding how to change those numbers. A lack of focus on making baseball accessible and possible for all kids, not just those who are privileged enough to afford it.

If baseball is America’s pastime, maybe it’s never been a more fitting one than now . . .

Other opt-outs, also for familial health concerns, include Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher David Price (who has yet to throw a pitch in regular-season competition for them), and three Washington Nationals: first baseman and elder statesman Ryan Zimmerman, relief pitcher Joe Ross, and catcher Welington Castillo.

Baseball’s coronavirus testings have not exactly proven the epitome of consistency or coordination. Teams like the Giants, the Nationals, the Houston Astros, the St. Louis Cardinals have postponed several “summer camp” workouts over them. Astros third baseman Alex Bregman skipped a subsequent Astros workout when his test didn’t arrive back on time. That had a few of his teammates more than a little shaky.

“We want to know how these test results are going to work out for us,” said outfielder Michael Brantley. “Not having Alex here today was just another day he didn’t get to prepare. As I read around the league, a lot of players are voicing their opinions that we need our test results back faster.”

You can say anything you wish about those players opting out and others yet to come who opt out of 2020 for their health’s sake first. If baseball’s testings continue being that inconsistently performed and handled, would you really be shocked to see more players deciding their health and their families’ health just can’t be entrusted to that? Regardless of their salaries?

You can also say as you wish about Desmond’s not-to-be-dismissed-out-of-hand thoughts regarding the first American team sport to end segregation officially while still having issues 73 years later accepting and assimilating non-white personnel on and off the playing field. You don’t need to demand a quota system to say baseball can, should, and must do a better job of it.

Much as we’ve missed a major league season thus far, we seem to need reminders more often than comfortable that certain things cut both ways. Things like the “human element,” for example. The traditionalists screamed blue murder over technological advances they thought (erroneously) would erode the “human element.” But it isn’t just traditionalists dismissing the opting-out as rank deserters.

That dismissal is a plain, no-further-discussion-necessary false dismissal of, what do you know, the human element. The element that says baseball players are not invincible androids who can’t be felled by or transmit disease but mere human men, prone to all manner of incurring and transmitting affliction, particularly during a pandemic that’s become as much a political football as a challenge to medicine.

The rank desertion accusers should be asked how swiftly they’d step in and take the risk for the sake of playing a game much beloved but not without risk. When they answer, “five minutes ago,” they should be asked just as promptly whether they’d like to bring an infection back to their loved ones.

The crickets should be heard playing the entirety of a classic jazz album—In a Silent Way.