The most important factor in the Posada Madness pandemic that erupted over the weekend in New York is the ongoing viability of Jorge Posada—both as an everyday player or even somebody meritous of a roster spot.
The big picture will likely be sorted out in short order. Aging and ineffective performers—even those as vital to their teams’ recent history as Posada—are rarely granted much leeway.
More interesting to the purposes of this blog is how it played out. Both sides—Posada on one and the Yankees (particularly GM Brian Cashman) on the other—set about shredding standard decorum under the increasingly gleeful glare of the New York media. A quick recap, in case you were taking your five-year-old daughter on her first ski trip, like me, and missed the entire thing:
- Saturday night: Joe Girardi pencils Posada, New York’s designated hitter, into the No. 9 spot in the order—the first time the 39-year-old has been positioned so low since 1999.
- An hour or so before first pitch Posada asks out of the lineup.
- According to New Jersey Record columnist Bob Klapisch, Posada doesn’t explain himself, and Girardi doesen’t press him. Accounts differ about what is said, but multiple sources tell multiple media members that Posada feels insulted. The term “hissy fit” was used at least once to describe the encounter between player and manager. Considering when the request came—prior to a nationally televised game against the Red Sox—and who it came from—Girardi, a guy Posada has reportedly not much liked since their days together as co-catchers on the Yankees—perhaps this should not be surprising.
- Cashman intervenes, urging Posada to reconsider his decision. Posada does not reconsider.
- Cashman takes the audacious step of meeting with reporters in the press box during the game, to clarify that Posada is healthy, and that management has nothing to do with his absence from the game.
- With timing that one can only assume is in response to Cashman’s impromptu press conference, Posada’s wife, Laura, counters that claim, tweeting that Posada’s back is too stiff to play.
- After the game, Posada downplays his physical ailments (he hadn’t, after all, previously raised the issue with Girardi or team trainers), and says he just needed time to “clear his head.” He then sets his sights on Cashman, saying, “I don’t know why he made a statement during the game. I don’t understand that. That’s the way he works now.”
- On Sunday, Posada apologized to both Girardi and Cashman, saying, “All the frustration came out. It was just one of those days you wish you could take back.”
- The Yankees, in turn, decline to discipline their former star, who in the three games since has appeared only once, as a pinch-hitter.
Ultimately, nobody came out looking too good. Girardi, by way of essentially staying out of it (Everybody needs a breather now and again, he told the press, rather than justifiably lighting into his catcher), is the least scathed. Posada and Cashman: not so much.
Posada: An unwritten rule mandates that managers refrain from removing position players from the middle of innings except in cases of injury. The counter to this rule holds that players not remove themselves from the lineup while at the wrong end of a hissy fit.
Big league clubhouses are rife with what is commonly referred to as a “warrior mentality.” The term isn’t particularly accurate in this case, in that warriors go to battle against opponents. In this case, Posada needed to be in the lineup to prove his allegiance, not his ability, to his teammates—not the Red Sox. For a veteran, a proven winner, to turn his back on his teammates in a key game for reasons that can only be construed as personal is inexcusable. Posada is no different than any other ballplayer in this regard; his ego will never be as important as the success of his team. His teammates know it, and his position in the clubhouse hierarchy depends upon it.
A reader asked how Posada’s move compares to Cal Ripken removing himself from the Orioles’ lineup in 1998. Ripken was, like Posada, in the late stages of his career. Ripken’s consecutive-games streak had grown so mountainous by that point that it trumped any move manager Ray Miller could have made that involved his star shortstop spending a game on the bench. Ripken was hampering himself and his team by staying in the lineup every day. He ended his streak for the greater good, and was lauded for it.
Another example, from earlier this season, saw Giants outfielder Pat Burrell ask out in the middle of a game. His reason: Tim Lincecum was throwing a no-hitter, and Burrell didn’t want his sub-par glove and lack of range to be the reason Lincecum gave up a hit. Like Ripken, he did it for the greater good. (Lincecum did indeed give up a hit in the seventh inning—the same inning in which Burrell was removed. This brings up the topic of changing nothing during the course of a no-hitter, including defensive players, but that’s a topic for another post.)
The primary guy to have Posada’s back through his ordeal has been Derek Jeter, who told the New York Daily News that he “didn’t think it was that big a deal. If you need a day, you need a day.”
Whether or not the captain actually believes this is incidental. Perhaps he’s sticking up for Posada because that’s what teammates do, but it’s hard to imagine that Jeter picturing his own neck on the chopping block didn’t play a part.
Cashman: The guy is a veteran, and no matter how well he does his job, he probably puts up with more grief from the New York media than the next several most second-guessed GMs combined. He, of all people, should understand the machinations of communication in the big leagues, and that going through the media for any of it rarely turns out well.
On one hand, Cashman’s method of delivery added layers of importance and urgency to his message. Short of suspending Posada or releasing him outright (both of which would have brought their own headaches), there was no less equivocal way for Cashman to inform the veteran that he was not messing around.
Wrote Buster Olney on ESPN.com Insider, Cashman “is not only willing to be the instrument of change with the team’s older players, he views it as his responsibility to the Steinbrenners.”
That has to be a particularly difficult place to inhabit, especially when it comes to icons like Posada and Jeter, and Cashman is taking a hard-line approach. (Telling Jeter to test the waters during off-season contract negotiations was a clear step in this direction.) To do it the way he did it, however—not just publicly, but in a manner so unusual that the delivery itself brought attention, independent of the message delivered—was to ignore the service and success that Posada has given the organization over the last 17 years.
Even the enemy was motivated to chime in, with David Ortiz telling the Boston Herald that “they’re doing (Posada) wrong.”
Ultimately, Posada’s actions amounted to nothing more than a really bad day. Holding him accountable is reasonable. Benching him for lack of production is also reasonable. From a baseball (if not contractual) standpoint, giving him his outright release would be entirely justified.
From former GM Jim Bowden, on ESPN.com: “Until you are ready to . . . ask Posada to step aside, and keep him out of the lineup for good, you PROTECT HIM! He’s a Yankee, a five-time world champion Yankee who is known for his class and dignity. Show him the same.”
Taking it public like Cashman did serves only one purpose. It tells the rest of the aging roster—Jeter in particular—that when it’s time to go, they better not mess around.
Time will tell if the ends were worth the means, but as of right now it’s not looking too good.