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Pinstripe Alley Top 100 Yankees: #18 Jorge Posada

The Yankees have a rich legacy of All-Star catchers, and the switch-hitting slugger Posada more than made his mark.

Pitchers and catchers at Yankees Spring Training at George M Photo by Corey Sipkin/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Full Name: Jorge Rafael Posada Villeta
Position: Catcher
Born: August 17, 1971 (Santurce, San Juan, Puerto Rico)
Yankee Years: 1995-2011
Primary number: 20
Yankee statistics: 1,829 G, 7,150 PA, 379 2B, 275 HR, 900 RBI, 1,065 RBI, .273/.374/.474, 123 wRC+, 42.7 rWAR, 40 fWAR

Biography

Jorge Posada spent his entire career in pinstripes, though on one occasion he could have defected to the cross-town Mets and on another he could have joined the hated Red Sox. He spent 17 seasons in the Bronx, though he did not become the club’s starting catcher until he was 27 years old, just in time for the legendary 1998 season.

Yet when Posada hung up his cleats after the 2011 campaign (again, despite interest from clubs other than the Yanks), his name littered the all-time leaderboards for catchers. When he retired, Posada was just the fifth catcher in MLB history with at least 1,500 hits, 350 doubles, 275 homers, and 1,000 RBIs. During the first decade of the 21st century, no catcher hit more home runs nor drove in more runs.

New York Yankees’ Jorge Posada connects for a two-run homer Photo by Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Posada’s career OPS is third all-time among American League backstops. He’s fourth in walks, tied for fifth in home runs, ranks sixth in doubles, sits eighth in RBI, plate appearances, and wRC+, and 10th in runs scored. He won five Silver Slugger awards and was selected to five All-Star Games, and of course, won four World Series titles (plus a fifth as the third-stringer in ‘96). Posada sits 11th among MLB catchers in Baseball Reference’s oWAR. Nine of those in front of him are enshrined, and the 10th, Joe Mauer, will almost certainly be in the Hall by the end of 2025 at the latest.

Despite all that, in a brutal turn of events, Posada spent only one year as a Hall of Fame candidate in 2017 after appearing on only 17 ballots. His 3.8-percent vote fell short of the 5-percent threshold to stay on a loaded ballot that included future 10 Hall of Famers in addition to Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Say what you will about his candidacy, but the Hall of Fame’s 10-vote limit effectively killed the possibility of at least further discussion. The Yankees at least showed their understanding of his importance to the franchise a couple of years earlier, unveiling a plaque in fabled Monument Park to honor Sado.

Hopefully a Veterans Committee one day rectifies the Hall’s oversight and at least gives Posada’s career the consideration it deserves. Until then, Jorge will have to be content with being one of the greatest catchers in the history of a franchise that knows a thing or two about iconic backstops.

Early Life

Jorge Posada was born on August 17, 1971, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. His father, Jorge Sr., worked in sales for a pharmaceutical company after fleeing Cuba to escape Fidel Castro’s communist regime. Jorge Sr. also spent four decades scouting for various major league teams, the Yankees among them.

Jorge Sr. had dreams for young Jorge that included being a ballplayer. When young Jorge was 12, his father gave him a task for the summer: use a wheelbarrow and shovel to move a huge pile of dirt on their driveway to the backyard and level it out for a baseball field. Jorge finished in two weeks. His usual reward for accomplishing strenuous tasks was hitting and fielding practice with his father, quite the score considering baseball was already Posada’s passion.

Young Jorge attended Colegio Alejandrino where he played multiple prep sports, including baseball, basketball, and volleyball. In the 43rd round of the 1989 MLB Draft, with Posada coming off an All-Star season at shortstop, the Yankees selected him. Posada opted for college, and attended Calhoun Community College in Decatur, Alabama, on a baseball scholarship.

New York tried again the next year. With scout Leon Wurth bullish on Posada’s bat and his attitude, the Yanks called Posada’s name in the 24th round. Jorge opted to play another year at Calhoun, where he put together an all-conference campaign. Finally, on May 24, 1991, Jorge signed on the dotted line with the Bronx Bombers.

Road to the Show

Wilmington Blue Rocks v Prince William Cannons Photo by Diamond Images/Getty Images

Posada debuted in the minors in 1991 in the New York-Penn League, where he hit .235 and smacked four home runs. The Yankees, worried about what they saw as a lack of speed, began preparing Posada for a move to catcher in 1992 at Low-A Greensboro. At the dish, Jorge showed improvement, hitting .277 with a dozen dingers. For his part, Posada was skeptical about a positional move, feeling catching did not best suit him.

Posada began 1993 with the High-A Prince William Cannons (glimpsed in the photo above), but by the end of the campaign had moved up to Double-A. When 1994 rolled around, he found himself at Triple-A, on the verge of The Show. He spent basically the next two seasons at Columbus, growing more accustomed to near-MLB pitching and clubbing 45 extra-base hits in 108 games in 1995. On September 4th of that year, Posada finally debuted against Seattle, entering the game in the ninth inning, replacing Jim Leyritz and slotted into the seven-hole. He didn’t get a plate appearance, but he would soon get his first taste of playoff baseball when, on the ALDS roster as a third catcher, he tied it up in the extra innings of Game 2 as—amusingly—a pinch-runner.

In 1996, Sado made three brief cameos in April, May, and June, and on September 25th, was called up for the rest of the regular season. And that day, in the second half of a doubleheader against Milwaukee, he collected his first career hit.

Unlike Buck Showalter, Joe Torre opted not to use a third catcher in October. So while Posada traveled with the team and was there when they won it all against Atlanta, he did not play.

The Yankees bid adieu to Leyritz in ‘97 though, allowing Posada to solidify his spot in New York, backing up defensive specialist Joe Girardi. Jorge played 60 games and in his first extended action clubbed six dingers and drove in 25 runs with a 105 wRC+. Girardi got the playoff starts though, so Posada only got two ALDS at-bats as Cleveland upset New York.

In one of those inflection points that alters the course of franchises, after the ’97 season New York floated Posada as part of a trade package to Montreal that would have brought Pedro Martinez to the Bronx. The Expos opted for a package out of Boston that sent future Yankee Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. to La belle province. Someone run the simulation on how the futures of the Yankees and Red Sox would have played out in that scenario.

By the eve of the ’98 season, Jorge was impatient. Tired of hearing about being the catcher of the future, he wanted to be the catcher of the present.

Chicago White Sox v New York Yankees Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

“For me, the future is now,” said Posada. “I’ve been working hard all these years to win the job. My time is now. I don’t want to be too late. I’m going to be 27 in August. They keep saying I’m the future. By the time I get there, it’s going to be too late.”

Posada knew the key to unlocking more playing time rested with the pitching staff. “Joe [Girardi] is still the guy that the pitchers want. I’ve got to put them on my side and wipe away the question mark,” he remarked in an interview prior to the ’98 season.

The Core Four Years

’98 indeed saw Posada break through, as his playing time doubled. And Sado made the most of his opportunity, putting up an .824 OPS over 111 games, including a .475 SLG, an eye-popping number for a backstop. He also got have a moment in the sun in the field, as David Wells praised the 27-year-old’s game-calling during his May perfecto.

Posada struggled at the dish in the ALDS and ALCS, but came alive in his first Fall Classic. He went 3-for-9 with a dinger as the Yanks capped off one of baseball’s greatest team seasons by crushing San Diego.

Jorge struggled at the dish in ’99, although a strong second half of the season brought the back of his baseball card to respectability. Incredibly, his 93 wRC+ that season would be the worst mark of his career in a full season until his final campaign in 2011, when he put up a 92 wRC+. He would put together 11 consecutive seasons with a wRC+ no worse than 106.

But Posada was back behind the plate again in the playoffs, splitting time with Girardi. And again, the Yanks emerged victorious, this time versus Atlanta with Posada jumping into the unflappable Mariano Rivera to begin the dogpile.

Mariano Rivera #42...

Girardi departed New York via free agency after the ’99 campaign and, two years after Posada had impatiently wondered when the future would arrive, it did.

In his first season as the undisputed starting catcher of the New York Yankees, Jorge was more than up to the challenge. He appeared in 151 games, clubbed 28 dingers, and finished the regular season with a .943 OPS. By fWAR (6.1) it was the best season of his career. Among his rewards were his first All-Star Game and his first Silver Slugger — not to mention his first career walk-off bomb.

And, after the Yanks took care of business against the Mets, his third straight World Series championship. Although Posada was kept in the ballpark that postseason, his final plate appearance of the year was a big one.

The Yankees were trying to close out the series in Game 5 at Shea Stadium, and Al Leiter was pitching a gem for the Mets. A strike away from sending the game to the bottom of the ninth with the score tied 2-2, Posada managed to stay alive, working a walk off Leiter in a nine-pitch at-bat.

Posada moved to second on a Scott Brosius single and scored when Luis Sojo played pinch-hit hero, knocking the ball loose at home in the process to plate Brosius as well. Rivera closed it out, and that was that. Paul O’Neill’s 10-pitch battle with Armando Benítez was the most famous walk of this series, but Posada’s work was equally admirable against a gutsy foe in Leiter.

2001 was a mixed bag for Jorge, and ultimately for the Yankees for that matter. At the dish, Posada was his usual self, putting together a strong campaign offensively. But behind the plate, it was another story. His 18 passed balls and 11 errors “led” the American League.

It’s worth spending a minute here on Jorge’s defense. My memory goggles keep trying to convince me that Posada was a perfectly average defensive catcher, albeit no Yadier Molina behind the dish. Unfortunately, one look at Baseball Prospectus’ defensive metrics destroys my nostalgia-tinted remembrance. Whether it is Framing Runs, Blocking Runs, or Throwing Runs, there is a ton of red ink on Posada’s legacy page. His strong arm behind the plate could only do so much. Seasons like 1998 when he was in the black in all three metrics are few and far between. At the end of the day though, he was good enough to be behind the plate for four World Series championships, so who am I to judge.

Anyway, back to 2001. His name also came up in trade rumors that season. Rangers’ (and future Yankees’) catcher Ivan Rodriguez was on the verge of free agency after 2002 and Buster Olney reported in May ’01 that Posada had come up as a trade match, alongside either Andy Pettitte or Roger Clemens. Brian Cashman though rather firmly denied that Posada was going anywhere. “I’m always going to listen if somebody has something to offer,’’ Cashman said, ‘’but it probably wouldn’t fit at all. We’re very happy with Jorge Posada. You look to tinker in areas that need improvement, and that’s not one.”

Jorge obviously stayed in pinstripes, and the Yanks made their fourth consecutive World Series. The catcher’s homer in a 1-0 ALDS Game 3 made iconic by best friend Derek Jeter’s flip play kept the season alive, and New York outlasted both Oakland and Seattle to win the pennant. The Yankees were down two games to none to Arizona in the Fall Classic, but Jorge got the Yanks on the board with a solo jack in a must-win Game 3. To that point, it was one of the biggest hits and home runs of his career. Unfortunately, New York fell to Arizona in a seven-game classic that ended the Yankee dynasty.

That offseason, the Yankees and Posada agreed on a five-year, $51 million contract extension (with a $12 million sixth-year option) that kept him in pinstripes through the 2007 season. It was an excellent decision by the Yanks, and Erin McGarvey wrote about it as part of PSA’s “Smartest 25 Moves of the Past 25 Years” series in 2022.

Posada immediately went to work justifying the extension. Though he again paced all AL backstops in errors in ’02 with 12, at the dish he was good for 20 round-trippers and put up a 123 wRC+. The following year was perhaps the best of his career. A career-best 30 home runs, another 6 fWAR season, and a 145 wRC+ that was to that point the pinnacle of his career. He was just the second Yankees catcher to club 30 dingers in a season, joining Yogi Berra. In the process, Posada made his fourth consecutive All-Star Game, won his fourth straight Silver Slugger, and finished third in AL MVP voting behind soon-to-be teammate Alex Rodriguez and Toronto’s Carlos Delgado. It’s as close as he ever got to an MVP.

In that year’s playoffs, Posada struggled against Minnesota in the ALDS and against the Marlins in the World Series as the Yanks fell in six. But in between, he was instrumental to taking down Boston in the ALCS. By championship Win Probability Added, it was the best playoff performance of his career. For the series, he was 8-for-30, with a home run and four doubles, one of which brought the Yankees all the way back against Pedro Martinez in Game 7, a game they ultimately won after Aaron Boone’s iconic walk-off home run.

With one out in the eighth inning, Sado stepped to the dish with runners on second and third and the Yankees down two. With the count 2-2, Pedro threw his 123rd and final pitch of the night, a 95-mph fastball that Posada dunked into the outfield to knot the game, end Pedro’s night, and send Yankee Stadium into a state of frenzied euphoria.

The rest of Posada’s extension years were similarly valuable for the Yankees, though they endured some brutal postseason losses in that time as well. Still, the backstop provided his share of memorable moments, like the time he survived a painful collision at the plate with future teammate Mark Teixeira, stayed in the game, and walked it off for good measure.

Posada capped off this new contract with a 2007 campaign that can stake a claim to being his finest. That year, Posada, now 35 years old, hit a remarkable .338 with 20 home runs and a career-best 157 wRC+. He collected his fifth and final All-Star Game nod and Silver Slugger award, and finished sixth in Junior Circuit MVP voting, with A-Rod taking home the honors again.

The Final Seasons

Jorge hit free agency after the ’07 season. After initially offering their backstop a three-year deal, the Yanks tacked a fourth year on and Posada signed on the dotted line for just over $52 million. Interestingly though, Posada almost left the Bronx… for the cross-town Mets. “I didn’t want to (play on another team). We were looking,” Posada told Michael Kay years later. “The Mets were really, really tough. We didn’t hear the offer because obviously that would have been tampering. But they were in it. I’m telling you, they were in it—and it was close.”

’08 was rough for Posada. Injuries limited him to 51 games the Yankees missed the playoffs, the first time in his career they suffered that indignity. This time, the Yankees did pull the trigger to bring in Pudge Rodríguez, but he was past his prime and could not capably fill the short-term void that Posada left. The latter bounced back in ’09 though, and on April 16th, put his name in the history books by hitting the first home run at the new Yankee Stadium.

That fall, he hit a pair of postseason home runs, caught all six games of the World Series, and won his final championship.

Posada achieved some personal milestones in 2010, collecting his 1000th RBI, catching his 11th consecutive Opening Day, and becoming the first Yankee since fellow catcher Bill Dickey in 1937 to hit a grand slam in back-to-back games. All told though it was a rough campaign as his batting average fell to .248. That offseason, he had surgery on his left knee to repair the meniscus. With injury ailing him and his defense falling off, Joe Girardi moved Posada to designated hitter for 2011, handing the catching reins to Russell Martin.

Posada, who many years earlier was skeptical about moving to catcher, was not thrilled about moving away from the position. “When you take me out from behind the plate, you’re taking my heart and my passion,” Posada wrote in his 2015 book, The Journey Home: My Life in Pinstripes.

Sadly, that was not the last acrimonious moment for Posada in his final season. In May, with Posada mired in a slump, Girardi moved him down to ninth in the order. Posada, viewing the move as an insult, asked to be taken out of the lineup. He later expressed his regret for how he reacted. He bounced back in June, but by August was only hitting .230 and found himself out of the everyday starting nine.

In his final playoff appearance as a Yankee, Jorge hit .429 in a losing effort against Detroit in the ALDS, but the writing was on the wall. Once again a free agent, multiple teams expressed an interest in his services. Arch-rival Boston was among them. Ultimately though, Jorge opted to retire as a Yankee.

Post-Playing Career

Jorge was back at Yankee Stadium for Opening Day 2012. But instead of taking up his accustomed catching gear and getting behind home plate, the Yankees had invited him to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Jorge’s father caught the toss. Sado later recalled that “in that moment things were back to how they had been… Just my dad and me, tossing a ball around, both of us sharing a dream.”

In August 2015, the Yankees retired Posada’s number 20 and dedicated a plaque to him in Monument Park.

Jorge and his wife Laura, whom he married in 2000, moved to Florida after his playing days were finished. The two of them established the Jorge Posada Foundation to research craniosynostosis, a birth effect that afflicted their son. The foundation also provides grant funding and emotional support to families affected by the condition, which occurs in roughly 1 in 2,000 babies.

I think I made it pretty obvious at the start that I think Posada’s Hall of Fame candidacy got short shrift. And I do hope the Veterans’ Committee revisits it in the future and does their due diligence.

But even if Posada never gets into Cooperstown, he had a spectacular career that featured team and individual success most can only dream of. A switch-hitting catcher who could hit for average and power, and who had a keen eye at the plate, Sado gave the Yankees elite production for over a decade at a position whose physical demands make continued offensive success difficult. His career places him in a spectacular pantheon of Yankee catchers who rank among the best to ever don the “tools of ignorance.”

Staff rank: 17
Community rank: 22
Stats rank: 24
2013 rank: 21

References

Baseball Reference

Bodig, Chris. “Does Jorge Posada Deserve a Closer Look for the Hall of Fame?Cooperstown Cred. August 16, 2021.

Curry, Jack. “Baseball; Posada Wants Career to Enter Present Tense.” The New York Times. January 28, 1998.

Dominiak, Scott. “Jorge Posada.” SABR. April 19, 2023.

FanGraphs.

Giglio, Joe. “Jorge Posada nearly left Yankees for Mets in free agency.” NJ.com. June 14, 2016.

Hoch, Bryan. “Posada drops off HOF ballot after one year.” MLB. January 18, 2017.

Kepner, Tyler. “Now Batting, the Best Deal the Yankees Never Made.” The New York Times. March 2, 2008.

McGarvey, Erin. “25 Smartest Moves of the Past 25 Years: Yankees extend Posada.” Pinstripe Alley. January 24, 2022.

Olney, Buster. “Baseball: Yankees Notebook; Posada a Keeper, Thank You.” The New York Times. May 18, 2001.

Posada, Jorge and Gary Brozek. The Journey Home: My Life in Pinstripes. New York: HarperCollins, 2015.

Yankees and Posada agree to $52.4 million, 4-year contract.” The New York Times. November 13, 2007.

Yankees Retire Posada’s No. 20 In Monument Park.” CBS New York. August 22, 2015.

Previously on the Top 100

19. Willie Randolph
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