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the posada adventure
Tom Verducci
May 07, 2001
How Jorge Posada went from a too slow infielder to a starring role behind the plate for the Yankees
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May 07, 2001

The Posada Adventure

How Jorge Posada went from a too slow infielder to a starring role behind the plate for the Yankees

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PLAYER

FIRST FOUR FULL SEASONS

GAMES

AT BATS

AVERAGE

HOME RUNS

RBIs

SLUGGING PERCENTAGE

WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONSHIPS

Bill Dickey

1929-32

477

1,713

.325

36

292

.473

1

Yogi Berra

1947-50

475

1,774

.300

73

367

.497

3

Elston Howard

1955-58

408

1,301

.281

34

187

.425

2

Thurman Munson

1970-73

544

1,934

.284

43

215

.410

0

Jorge Posada

1997-2000

434

1,430

.266

63

231

.465

3

Hours after a game, the night long since dark and deep, New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada still sees pitches hurtling toward his mitt, most of them flirting with either danger or a corner. "That one was a strike!" he snaps as he runs the replay machine in his mind. Catchers are the station-masters of a baseball game. They can send the game down different tracks simply by calling a particular pitch. Action in a game begins with the catcher's signal, a responsibility Posada doesn't easily shed. "Ahh! Should've called the fastball!" he barks.

The outbursts continue with surprising frequency throughout the night. Still, there is something even more remarkable about this scene. Posada is asleep. "It goes on all night. All night!" says his wife, Laura, whose own rest is repeatedly interrupted by Jorge's self-criticism. "It's worse when the Yankees lose."

Adds Posada, "If I get up at four o'clock in the morning to go to the bathroom, that's what I'm thinking about—catching. Sometimes I'll take a nap in the afternoon. I swear, I'm more rested after napping for an hour, hour and a half, than I am after a full night of sleep. I can't let go of the game easily. I take it home."

The Yankees have an unmatched set of Ming vases in their starting rotation—Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina and Orlando Hernandez have a combined .641 career winning percentage (555-311), through Sunday, and $40 million annual income. Posada, 29, is the conscientious curator, cajoling, encouraging, counseling and, all right, outright provoking his pitchers in his waking and sleeping moments alike.

As if his stewardship weren't enough, Posada also is a keen-eyed, switch-hitting operative at bat. In 2000 he led major league catchers in on-base percentage (.417) while hitting more home runs in a season (26 at the position, 28 overall) than any Yankees catcher except Yogi Berra and being named an All-Star in his first year as New York's every-day receiver. This year he was off to a .289 start, with six home runs and 18 runs batted in at week's end. "All of this is a major surprise," says his father, also named Jorge, a scout for the Colorado Rockies. "A major surprise."

As a 24th-round draft pick in 1990 Posada was such an uncertain prospect that he signed with the Yankees only after his father had extracted a promise from New York not to cut him in his first three seasons in the farm system. Posada was a second baseman during his first minor league season, and his successful conversion from that position to catcher is thought by many baseball people to be unprecedented in recent memory. As if to heighten the difficulty of his journey, Posada survived a hideous home plate collision in 1994 in which he broke his left leg and dislocated his left ankle while playing for the Triple A Columbus Clippers. He also survived a three-year apprenticeship, from '97 through '99, behind Yankees catcher Joe Girardi and a humiliating defensive slump in '99 that prompted owner George Steinbrenner to order him to get his eyes checked. His vision was fine.

Nothing, though, tested Posada as harshly as the events of last Aug. 2, when he sat in his and Laura's apartment on Manhattan's East Side, having been secretly excused by manager Joe Torre from a game that day, while his eight-month-old son, Jorge Jr., lay on an operating table at a nearby hospital for eight hours. To correct a congenital condition known as craniosynostosis, in which the plates of the skull prematurely knit and cause the growing head to become misshapen, surgeons had to cut open Jorge Jr.'s head from ear to ear. While hospital officials gave the Posadas hourly updates by telephone, surgeons removed Jorge Jr.'s skull piece by piece and placed the parts on a table like a jigsaw puzzle. After breaking some cranial pieces apart to allow for normal brain and head growth, they rebuilt the skull and sewed up Jorge Jr.

As his parents stood over his bed two days later, little Jorge opened his eyes for the first time since the operation and a day earlier than doctors thought he would be coherent. He let out a little grunt. He would be fine. His father, having staggered through a 1-for-15 slump before and immediately after the surgery, broke free with four hits that night and two home runs the next afternoon. "I grew up real fast last year," he says. "Baseball always was everything to me. Don't get me wrong, it's still very important. But now I look at it in a different way. You gain perspective."

Born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, Posada played shortstop in high school, where he also dabbled in basketball, track, volleyball and, on one occasion, umpiring girls' softball. ("I thought the pitcher was cute," he says.) The Yankees drafted him out of high school, but his father wanted him to go Stateside to improve his skills and get an education before he turned pro. Jorge's hopes of attending a four-year school ended when he failed to score high enough on the SAT. Fred Frickie, the baseball coach at Calhoun Community College in Decatur, Ala., offered him a scholarship, sight unseen, on the advice of other coaches. Posada, who knew nothing about the school, accepted. "After my first night there I said to myself, What the hell am I doing here?" he says. "I called home and cried. My mother cried, but she told me I had to be strong. That first year I got into fights every week. There was some racism. I didn't speak much English, and guys made fun of me, this Puerto Rican drafted by the Yankees. I didn't like what they were saying, so I'd fight."

Leon Wurth, the scout who would eventually sign Posada, first saw him play in a 1990 game at Volunteer State, a junior college in Gallatin, Tenn. He liked his bat and his arm. "I didn't think he projected to be a major league shortstop, but I saw the tools and thought he could find a place," Wurth says. "One thing I saw in him was his energy and his enthusiasm on the field. I marked down Jorge as having a good attitude, and I thought that would serve him well. Looking back I realize I was wrong. His attitude is great. He's overcome a lot of things to be an All-Star catcher—switching from the infield, breaking his leg—and you don't do that without hard work."

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