words_Nick Engvall

As far as catchers go in the game of baseball, there are only a handful of names that have had what it takes to become legends in the history of the game. Even fewer that seem to have what it takes to excel offensively, defensively, and in the leadership role that the position requires. The first few that come to my mind are Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra and Carlton Fisk. In more current times, Ivan Rodriguez, Mike Piazza and Jorge Posada could be in the running, but it would likely be a stretch. Unlike any other position on the field, being behind the plate and calling pitches requires more than just skill. Playing catcher requires an understanding that the battle that exists between the pitcher and opposing batter is far closer to a game of chess than a game of checkers. Someday soon you’ll be able to add another name to that short list, San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey.

Buster Posey - More Than Rookie of the Year (Photo Courtesy Yahoo)Although each of those catchers were well above the cut in all the on-field categories, most were equally known for the quality of person they were off the field as well. In this aspect, baseball fans as a whole got to witness his good nature throughout the 2010 World Series, so even fans outside of the San Francisco Giants and outside of his hometown region of Leesburg, Georgia, can attest to his genuineness and sportsmanship.

In the history of Major League Baseball there have been just 10 catchers to lead their team to the World Series in their rookie season. From the above list of stars that played the position, only Yogi Berra was able to lead his team to a World Series title in his first year. Not to discredit Berra in any way, as he is nothing short of legendary and in my mind one of the two greatest of all time alongside Johnny Bench, but keep in mind his time with the Yankees was in the middle of the greatest 25 years in the history of the team.

Twenty-three-year-old Buster Posey became the 11th on that list this year for the San Francisco Giants. On top of that, Posey became the first catcher to ever lead his team into the World Series and bat in the cleanup position in the 106-year history of the World Series, a place that became his regular spot in the batting order thanks to his incredible start.

When Posey was called up in May of 2010 from the minor leagues and subsequently becoming the starting catcher for the Giants at the end of June, Buster became a fan favorite. Posey took the National League by storm. In early July, he earned Player of the Week honors. His July would continue to impress all the doubters with a 21-game hitting streak and a batting average in the mid .400 range. By the time July was over, Major League Baseball awarded Posey with not only the Rookie of the Month Award, but also the Player of the Month Award. Posey finished the regular season with a batting average of .305, 18 home runs, and 67 runs batted in.

Some might say that Posey is still young and shouldn’t be compared to some of these legendary players as he has yet to prove himself over the years. However, with defensive skills that rival his offensive performance, it’s easy to see that Buster Posey’s potential is beyond greatness.

Defensively Ivan Rodriguez and Johnny Bench are the best to ever play the position of catcher. The 23 Gold Glove Awards between them are solid evidence of that. Bench had a rifle arm and hands big enough to stop nearly every pitch that came to him. “Pudge” was nearly as impressive at catching would-be base stealers, and possibly better at digging balls out of the dirt, arguably the best. When it comes to gunning down runners, Giants fans already know Buster ain’t having that.

Posey’s .371 caught stealing percentage lands him behind only Miguel Olivo and Yadier Molina for the 2010 season. However, if you take into account that three of the Giants pitchers have some of the slowest deliveries in the league, those numbers might not tell the whole story. Another story that might not be told when it comes to Buster’s defensive abilities is the number 1. Posey allowed just one passed ball this season. Taking into account the number of strikeout pitches that are thrown in the dirt from guys like Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez and Matt Cain, Posey was hardly short of perfection when behind home plate.

Even if Buster Posey doesn’t join names like Bench, Fisk, Piazza and Benito Santiago as one of the few catchers to ever be named Major League Baseball’s Rookie of the Year next week when the winner is announced, he’s got a nice jump on meeting them in Cooperstown when his career comes to an end.