When you’re called a Buster, you meet dozens and dozens of dogs and cats who share your name. But the only adult I’ve met with the same name as my country is Buster Busy, who contacted me in 2010, at the request of his agent, for a story I was working on.
“Hey, Buster…it’s Buster,” he said.
“Buster, how are you?” And you answered. He doesn’t show it much, but Posey has a pretty dry sense of humor, and so we’ve continued to awkwardly greet each other in this way ever since. (Although this first name has been passed down in his family, I suspect that he, like me, may have received more Buster pets than people.)
Fortunately, even though we’re both baseball busters, the realities of our jobs and lives were different enough that we’re not often confused. Sure, there have been many times it has been presented on TV or radio as Buster Posey – including by Scott Van Pelt at SportsCenter – but it has gone no further than an obvious misidentification. Posey is one of the best athletes in his sport, a former college student turned hunter whose nomination to Cooperstown may lead to a broader reassessment of Hall of Fame credentials for the job, and I—well—me.
At least until five or six years ago, when the hardest podcast interview ever happened. A really famous star – whose name is not mentioned here, to protect the innocent – has enthusiastically (and surprisingly) agreed to join the show. And on a question or two in our conversation, I realize this really popular star thought he was talking to podcast host Buster Posey, the champ, not Buster Olney, the sports writer from Schlub.
The really famous star grew up too early to talk to Buster, and I didn’t want to embarrass him telling his stories. So I designed my questions very carefully so as to make it far from referring to Buster Posey. It was an exhausting 15 minutes, but the big bonus was telling Posey that story the next time I saw him. Laughed aloud. The biggest irony was that given Posey’s dedication to spending time with his family and his personality, he’s probably the least likely ball player to ever host a podcast.
Partly because of the importance he places on his home life and the devastating injuries Posey has suffered in his career, he is expected to announce his retirement today during a press conference at 6 p.m. ET, even at a time when he may play another role. Two or three years with some counting stats on his resume.
Posey finished with exactly 1,500 career hits, 158 homers and 663 hits, a number well below many current Hall of Famers. His career WAR 44.8, by baseball reference, is lower than that of Mane Machado or Andrew McCutchen. But for five to seven years, he was either the best in his position (or second best, depending on how you calculate his importance Molina runshis defense in this position), and Posey checks several chests.
Rookie of the Year Player of the Year in 2010. Player of the Year in 2012, after leading the league with a batting average of 336. All-Stars seven times. The catcher for three tag team championships, in 2010, 2012, and 2014. In the seven years from 2012 to 2018, he averaged 165 hits and 33 hits, while hitting 0.311 with an average of 0.380 in base. For most of his career, Posey would fight for third or fourth place for San Francisco, with the same very simple batting technique he followed in college: He would mostly hit fast balls on the opposite court and pull out broken balls.
“It’s very rare for your best hitter to be a catcher,” Bruce Bushie, the former manager of the Giants wrote in a text message Thursday morning. “It’s the hardest place to find offensive help from the squad, so it was a huge advantage for us. It’s much easier to find this attack than other positions.”
Bochy wrote that he didn’t hit-and-run with Posey as much as he did with Tony Gwynn when he succeeded in that late, Hall of Famer, “but he was there with Tony in a hit-and-run with his ability to connect.”
He was an excellent hunter and a beloved team leader. One of the stories that follows him is how he watched the Giants go through a slow field drill early in the morning in spring practice, and he turned to a teammate nearby and said, “Watch this.” With that, Posey whipped up a throw-in for the player, a message related to the extra speed he put on the ball: We need to do this as quickly as possible. With that, the metabolic rate at work of the giants that day immediately rose. He worked with a particular attention to detail that undoubtedly aided his work in the post-season, when he earned 14 closings — six more than any other catcher in MLB history, as MLB’s Sarah Lang notes.
“His leadership was there daily in how to prepare for the game,” Bushy wrote as he headed to San Francisco for Bussey’s press conference. “He had a game plan for the bowler who was catching him that night – he developed a lot of confidence with his bowler. If he felt there was a need, he would call up a player or team, but he would do it professionally.”
Posey’s best historical parallel may be Sandy Kovacs, who struggled for control of his fastball for much of his career before amassing an impressive six seasons from 1961 to ’66. An elbow problem forced Kovacs into retirement at age 30, with 165 wins and 2,396 career strikes, numbers that don’t seem unusual when cast against other bowlers in the hall.
But Kovacs was so good early in his career—he was the most dominant player in his position—that he was easily elected in his first year on the ballot, with 86.9% of voters supporting him in that first year. Posey may be on a similar path for similar reasons.
Only 16 Hunters were inducted into the Hall of Fame, the second lowest of any location; 15 third base players were honored at Cooperstown, although Adrian Beltre will likely be elected once his name appears on the ballot.
If Posey were elected to the Hall of Fame (aside: his speech would be one of his lowest ever), he would likely provide voters with a different context for the captured nominations. It would be an induction that could help Thurman Munson, Jorge Posada, and others. Monson produced numbers and accolades very similar to Posey’s — 1,558 career hits, Rookie of the Year, MVP, post-season success — before he was killed in a plane crash in 1979.
Posada was a victim of the Hall of Fame rule of 10 – only 10 players could be named on any ballot, and Posada quickly crossed the ballot due to the predicament of the steroid era candidates. Posada’s career totals are 275 penalties, 900 points and 1,065 RBI penalties dwarf those of Posey, and he, like Posey, gave the Yankees an advantage because he was an outstanding offensive player in a position usually filled with light-hitting defenders.
It wouldn’t be the first shift in how the voting body evaluates situations, and Posey may become for hunters what Bruce Sutter means to mitigators. Prior to Sutter’s introduction, voters seemed to struggle to balance the importance of cutting the bulls. In his first year on the ballot, Sutter received 23.9% of the vote. But after 12 years, it reached the 75% threshold as voters gradually recognized the emergence of painkillers as critical to employee promotion. They were followed by Mariano Rivera, Jose Gossig, Lee Smith, and Trevor Hoffman.
The same may be true with Posey, who will vote on the ballot after Joe Mauer and ahead of Yadir Molina. They were the best among the best in their position – and perhaps the last of the great hunters before the E-zone was implemented and allowed teams to fill the place with good hitters instead of super pitch builders.
His parents told me years ago that when Posey was in elementary school, he told them he’d rather be called Dimp – another family name. His parents politely said no, you’re Buster, and that was the end of that conversation.
This is why Buster’s name is engraved on the Hall of Fame plaque.
“Prone to fits of apathy. Introvert. Award-winning internet evangelist. Extreme beer expert.”