Do the Right Thing By Jorge

Good afternoon, folks. Still getting over whatever I did to myself, but I was reading this Joel Sherman bit on the persistence of Jorge Posada and was reminded of this: in late August, 1956, Yankees manager Casey Stengel and General Manager George Weiss called aside the then-38-year-old Phil Rizzuto for a private conversation. The Yankees had roughly a 10-game lead on the league with about a quarter of the season to go, and it seemed a sure thing they were going to the World Series, or as we call it today, "the postseason." Weiss and Stengel told Rizzuto they wanted to find a way to get the recently reacquired pinch-hitter Enos Slaughter onto the roster, and asked if he had any suggestions as to who they might cut.

Even if you already know the story, you can probably see where this is going. Stengel and Weiss could be cold men.

Rizzuto made a few suggestions, but there was always a reason why that player couldn’t be spared. It dawned on Rizzuto that the conversation was inexorably coming around to his own release. The Scooter stormed out, never to return—at least, not until he found his way into the broadcast booth soon thereafter.

This was a tough and perhaps unnecessarily cruel ending to a great Yankees career, but while the method was wrong, the timing was right. Rizzuto hadn’t been a regular since 1954. The Yankees were so deep in shortstops, including All-Star Gil McDougald, that Rizzuto had started just 15 games, this just a few days from September. They would have had no use for him in October unless Stengel had pinch-hit for the defensive replacement of the defensive replacement of the shortstop. The way Stengel worked, this was not out of the question, but as with most third catcher scenarios, it really wasn’t a contingency worth planning for. If your starting catcher pulls a hamstring and your reserve catcher chokes on a chicken bone in the same game, the gods of baseball just didn’t want you to win that day. Tip your cap, say a prayer, and call someone up for tomorrow. In any case, while the Yankees may have owed Rizzuto a more respectful release, they did not owe him a roster spot just for being a nice guy. That would have been more of an insult than his release.

Posada was a great player in his way, a better player than some catchers in the Hall of Fame, and I’m not just talking about Rick Ferrell. Regardless, whether you’re Posada or Yogi Berra or Bill Dickey, you have to have a functional purpose on a 25-man roster. As a DH who doesn’t hit, Posada doesn’t have that. What is most painful about the situation, though, is the misplaced sentimentality. If the Yankees believe, at this late August date, that Posada’s bat is not going to wake up again, then keeping him on as a kind of player emeritus really is more of an insult to Posada than simply letting him move on. If they are secure in their own judgment, then let him move on. Posada has hit well in his few games playing the field; maybe someone has a spot for him as an occasional catcher and first baseman. If the Yankees are right, he won’t hit for them either. If he does, good for the ol’ player emeritus! We knew you still had it in ya, old fellow!

The current option, neither, doesn’t do anyone any good. It puts Posada in the embarrassing position of having been fired but still needing to come to work. It doesn’t let the Yankees get on with shaping their rest-of-season roster. It doesn’t let Posada prove to himself that he has anything left. To release him now would not be disrespectful. If anything, it would be the complete opposite.

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