There was a plan for where Buster Posey would play. And then the plan changed dramatically.
“The plan was for him to play short or third and pitch,” FSU coach Mike Martin Jr. recalled on Thursday. “And that was kind of what we were thinking. I think we had a kid sign on us that was more of a true shortstop than he was, so he had to play short his first year. We had Mark Hallberg come in the next year and Jason Stidham turned out to be a really good player, and so we had a gaping hole behind the plate. I went to him and he obviously he said, ‘Sure, whatever will help the team.’ He worked his tail off. And what a career.”
Nobody could have known what a career was to come, at FSU or in his 12 seasons with the San Francisco Giants. On Thursday, Posey announced his retirement at Oracle Park in a press conference as he wrapped up an MLB career in which he hit .302 with 158 home runs and 729 RBI.
He could have played any position in the field — and he indeed played all nine positions in one game at FSU — but he took to catching immediately and as a junior in 2008 was unquestionably the nation’s best catcher and arguably the top player regardless of position.
Posey hit .463 with 26 home runs, 21 doubles and 93 RBI as a junior. His on-base percentage was a ridiculous .566 and he won nearly every major college baseball honor, from the Golden Spikes Award to the Dick Howser Trophy and Johnny Bench Award. Posey entered the MLB Draft after his junior season and his Baseball America scouting report indicated what he may offer:
“His receiving, footwork and release are all advanced, and his athleticism is apparent,” BA analysts wrote ahead of the 2008 draft. “Posey’s arm strength (he reaches 94 mph off the mound) and accuracy are pluses as well. At the plate, Posey has above-average bat speed and makes consistent contact. He has power to all fields but will probably be known more for his batting average than home runs. … His projection as an offensive catcher with Gold Glove-caliber defense has boosted Posey’s draft stock as much as anyone’s over the weeks leading up to the draft.”
Posey was the No. 5 overall pick by the San Francisco Giants, although he didn’t spend long in the minors before being called up to the big leagues in 2009. Not bad for a guy who had never caught, with Martin Jr. recalling at first that Posey “didn’t even know how to put the gear on.” Martin Jr. also said the coaching staff wanted to have him available as a closer only when needed, so he taught Posey to block with his right arm behind his back.
“Made him a one-arm blocker because we couldn’t afford for that thing to get bruised up,” Martin Jr. said.
Posey had six saves and pitched 7.2 innings with a 1.17 ERA as a junior. But it was obvious he was a catcher and his bat had taken off over the course of his junior season, too. Posey hit for average in 2006 (.346, four home runs) and in 2007 (.382, three home runs) but he cranked out 26 home runs as a junior.
“And if you go back and look, he had like five or six home runs only in the first 25 games or something crazy like that,” Martin Jr. said. “And then he just went on an absolute tear. He carried us.”
Posey has stayed close to the program through the years and spoke to FSU’s players. Martin Jr. recalled an impact Posey had on James Ramsey, then an FSU standout and now an assistant coach at Georgia Tech.
“When he comes around, the way he treats the guys, the way he goes about his business and it’s just been kind of passed down,” Martin Jr. said. “It got passed down to (James) Ramsey. He’s meant so much to the program.”
Posey’s retirement announcement leaked on Wednesday night, touching off discussion of the impact on the Giants — who he helped to World Series titles in 2010, ’12 and ’14 — as well as claiming NL Rookie of the Year in 2010 as well as NL MVP and the batting crown in 2012. He is in rare company among MLB catchers, starting 1,000 games at the position and finishing with a batting average above .300 (according to ESPN.com, he’s one of just six to do so from MLB).
There will also be the question of whether he is a Hall of Famer. If baseball writers value how he played the position, how he came back from a season-ending injury when blocking home plate in May 2011, his lifetime average and being a part of three World Series titles, Posey’s resume stacks up favorably.
“They absolutely have to, what he’s endured and pushed through,” Martin Jr. said. “The foul tips and the blocks and there’s just the wear and tear on the body. To hit .300 for your career. That’s almost impossible. I think he’s a first ballot Hall of Famer.”