The Yankees drafted Posada again in the summer of 1990, but he decided to play another season at Calhoun. After his sophomore season he was with a summer league team in Alabama when Wurth asked him to catch one game. "He didn't flinch back there," Wurth says. One week before Posada would have gone back into the draft, the Yankees assured his father that they would not cut young Jorge in the next three years, and he signed for about $30,000.
Posada hit .235 at Class A Oneonta in 1991 and led New York-Penn League second basemen in double plays. It was after that season, in the Fall Instructional League, that the Yankees moved him to catcher, mostly because he lacked a middle infielder's speed. "If I hadn't been switched, I'd probably be working some job in Puerto Rico right now," Posada says. "I'd have been one of those guys who was out of baseball after two or three years."
Posada needed seasoning—he turned 26 in his first full year in the big leagues, 1997, and even then appeared in only 60 games—but other organizations noticed his skills. The Seattle Mariners asked for Posada in a trade as far back as '95, in the five-player deal in which New York obtained first baseman Tino Martinez. The Montreal Expos twice tried to get him in '97 while shopping Mike Lansing and Pedro Martinez. The Texas Rangers asked for him in 1998 while exploring the possibility of trading Ivan Rodriguez. The Florida Marlins asked for Posada twice that year while attempting to deal first Mike Piazza and later Luis Castillo. The Yankees refused to trade him.
"He's a high on-base percentage guy [his combined career on-base and slugging percentages, .839, exceeds Ivan Rodriguez's .822], and I always liked having lefthanded bats in Yankee Stadium," says Yankees scout Gene Michael. "I thought he could have been the regular catcher earlier, but the pitchers expressed a desire to pitch to Joe Girardi. They just didn't know Jorge."
Then, in something of a graduation ceremony, Torre started Posada, not Girardi, with Clemens pitching in the clinching game of the 1999 World Series, a 4-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves in which Clemens threw 7? innings of one-run ball. "We had no doubts Jorge was ready," general manager Brian Cashman says.
Posada's expert caretaking of the Yankees' pitchers is all the more remarkable, given that he began in pro ball as an infielder. "I've talked about it with other scouts, and nobody can come up with another catcher who started out as a middle infielder," Wurth says.
Says Clemens, "Whether I call 80 percent of the game or he calls 80 percent, we work real well together. Some games I don't have good life on my fastball, and I want him to tell me that. Some guys will say it's good when it's not. But Jorge will say, 'It's going to be a scuffle today. Stay with me.' "
With Pettitte, Posada must be a conciliator. "His problem is he's a perfectionist," Posada says of Pettitte, who will scold himself aloud on the mound for poor pitches—the cue for Posada to visit the mound to deliver a reassuring message.
Mussina, the new Yankee, is a bit of a mystery to Posada. "Mike doesn't say much," he says, "so I'm still trying to read him. But he's easy to catch because he can throw any pitch in any count for a strike."
Posada's relationship with Hernandez is easily the most flammable. They regularly argue in the dugout and on the mound. "It's like we're going to fight sometimes," Posada says.