Esteban covered Luis Arroyo last week, and Pinstripe Alley continues today with the second feature of Hispanic Yankee Greats of Days Past. This week’s edition will cover a player more well-known among anybody who knows anything to do with baseball and the Yankees.
The man of the hour is Jorge Posada. The switch-hitting catcher out of Santurce, Puerto Rico against all odds went from being a 24th-round draft pick into one of the all-time greats, spending all of his 17 seasons as the Yankees’ back-stopper. Posada was born in Puerto Rico, but he’s actually the son of a Cuban father, Jorge Posada Sr., and a Dominican mother. His dad left Cuba in a successful attempt to escape Fidel Castro’s regime.
From a very young age, Posada learned to love the game of baseball thanks to his father’s job as a major league scout for over 40 years, working for the Rockies, Blue Jays, Braves, Astros, and Yankees. The elder Posada had a tough-love relationship with his son that encouraged him to work hard to accomplish his goals, and one of his rewards was getting a chance to go to the ballpark to hit and field balls.
The Yankees actually drafted Posada twice in back-to-back years, as they first selected him in the 43rd round in the 1989 MLB Draft, but Posada opted to go to college on a baseball scholarship to Calhoun Community College in Decatur, Alabama. The Yankees wouldn’t be denied twice, and they took him in the 24th round of the 1990 Draft. Under the “draft and follow” practice of the time, Posada waited a year before agreeing to sign with New York on a $30,000 bonus.
Originally a middle-infielder, Posada reluctantly moved to the catcher position early in his career in the minors. After cups of coffee in New York during both the 1995 and 1996 campaigns, he established himself as a full-time big-leaguer in 1997 by backing up the man who eventually become his final MLB manager, Joe Girardi.
Posada supplanted Girardi as the primary catcher in 1998, and from then until 2011, he made history as a key piece of one of the more successful periods in Yankees history. He might not have had the flashiness of Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera, but he was extremely important for those four World Series titles. Posada made his first splash on the national stage in 1998 by catching David Wells’ perfect game and then homering in the championship-clinching sweep of the Padres.
From 2000 through 2003, Posada had one of the more prolific stretches for a catcher in this century. He belted 100 homers and 132 doubles while notching a 132 wRC+ as the Yankees regularly topped the AL East and won three pennants in the process. In each of those four seasons, Posada earned All-Star honors and Silver Slugger Awards.
Posada capped it all off with a top-three MVP finish in ‘03, and that year, he recorded perhaps his most memorable playoff moment. It was Posada who tied Game 7 of the ALCS against Pedro Martínez, flaring a hustle double in the eighth and setting the stage for Aaron Boone to walk it off three innings later.
Not many people remember this, but following a 2007 season in which Posada had his best-hitting campaign with a .330 batting average and .970 OPS in 598 at-bats, he actually turned down a more lucrative deal from the New York Mets to remain with the Yankees. That last contract only included one more moment of playoff glory in 2009 though, and due to the emergence of Russell Martin in Posada’s final season in 2011, he did run into some public disputes with then-manager Girardi over his reduced role.
Regardless, any Yankee fan has to feel incredibly proud and grateful for Jorge Posada at the end of the day. He finished his career as one of the all-time greats to ever put on this uniform, and ranks 11th on the all-time Yankee list for total bases with 2,888, second among catchers behind only the legendary Yogi Berra. His No. 20 was retired in 2015 and he’ll always remain a beloved Yankee from those dynasty teams.
Thanks to SABR for research assistance.