The “going out on top” card rarely gets played. Mostly, it’s just because there’s too much money to be had for any player that was once great. There’s too much money for really any player to play a game for a living, no matter how physically taxing. Which you can’t blame them for. Unlike most every other job in the world, there’s only a 20-year window or so for athletes to make the most they can.
It’s something more than money, though. The yearning they could never quiet, the fear of what they will do or what they will be when they can’t play anymore, the confidence that they still have something to give. I suppose a lot of athletes fear hanging it up and the days or months or years later wondering if they couldn’t have squeezed one more year, one more run, one more shot at it. That wondering must be hard to live with.
So when an athlete, and a great one at that, decides to step aside when they clearly have a lot of years left, it gives us pause. Probably because it speaks to a comfort, a satisfaction, a lack of that wondering that gets all of us late at night that we can only marvel and envy. To feel that there’s nothing left to do, nothing left to prove even to oneself, that must be a serenity that only a few know.
Buster Posey will go out on top. His last season was near MVP-level, a 5.0 fWAR season with a 140 wRC+, and still among the best defensive catchers in the game. He was the heartbeat of the best Giants team in history. And while that may sound strange given the team didn’t end up with a ring, no other team in the orange and black had ever won 107 games. Sure, the environment is different now, with so many teams essentially existing merely to be shaken by their ankles for the wins to drop out of their pockets. But 107 wins is 107 wins.
Posey is only 34, and assuredly could have played a few more years. He’ll leave a $22 million option on the table, which the Giants would have happily picked up if he desired. Especially with the DH likely coming to the NL, he could have spent less and less time turning his knees into cheese-whiz as a catcher.
But really, what does he have left to do? A Rookie Of The Year, an MVP, three championships, the backbone of a 107-win team. More than that, he’ll be the first name in the memories of every baseball fan when they think about this era of Giants baseball, the most successful they’ve ever known in the Bay. He’ll have a statue outside the park one day. And to get ahead of the very annoying discussion that will soon follow, he’s a shoo-in for Cooperstown. Or at least he should be.
Posey ranks eighth all-time among catchers in fWAR, and all seven ahead of him are in the Hall. Except that Posey accumulated his total in at least 600 fewer games than any of the catchers above him. If I had to listen to all the Yadiier Molina bullshit for the past two decades, and I have, and Posey dusted him yet played nearly five fewer seasons worth of games, he’s a Hall of Famer.
There still should be an ineffable quality to who goes into the Hall. Something you can’t quantify. When you watched Posey play, you sensed it. Someone who made the game look that easy. Someone on championship teams, or just even good teams, pivoted around. Someone who had an aura when you saw them step into the box. Posey checked those boxes.
But that’s ancillary. Posey is the face and definition of a dynasty, as weird as the Giants’ one might have been. Before everyone knew about everyone else’s prospects, Posey was the one you’d heard about with the Giants before he arrived. The Giants had something of a lean time before Posey made it. Six playoff-less years, only two of which were even over .500. Barry Bonds had exited the scene, and most did their best to make him a pariah once he did. Not only were the Giants not very good, they were basically faceless.
Posey changed that immediately. He showed up, and the Giants won. It was pretty much that simple. Sure, there was a lot around that helped, namely Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, etc. But Posey was billed as the glue to keep it all together and humming, and that’s exactly what he did from jump street. He was the standard-bearer.
Posey took 2020 off for family concerns during the pandemic, which probably gave him a good view of what life would be like after baseball. And then he came back, showed everyone that he could still do it, and then showed everyone that he didn’t need it, at least not anymore. Not many get a chance at that freedom, fewer still use it.