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Jorge Posada deserves more Hall of Fame respect

Being one of the best catchers in baseball for more than a decade? Not enough to guarantee a second ballot for the Hall of Fame. That’s more than a little strange.

Jorge Posada #20

Nobody breaks assumptions about what makes a Hall of Famer like Jorge Posada. He has so much going for him, at least when it comes to perception. He played for the same team his entire career. He excelled offensively at a position that’s almost exclusively filled with weaker bats. He played for a highly visible, marquee team. He enjoyed postseason success.

He might fall off the Hall of Fame ballot after exactly one appearance.

The case for Posada isn’t airtight. It’s definitely on the fringes, akin to players like Fred McGriff and Dale Murphy, filled with just enough flaws to make you understand why it’s probably not going to happen. But for him to fall off on the first ballot is ludicrous. It has a lot to do with a crowded ballot, but even so, it’s stunning that 95 percent of the voters aren’t casting a vote for a player who ...

  • Was one of the best hitters at his position for 13 seasons
  • Played for the Yankees the whole time
  • Appeared in 29 postseason series
  • Helped his team win four World Series
  • Did we mention that team was the Yankees?
  • Did we also mention that he was one of the best-hitting catchers in baseball?
  • Also, he played for the Yankees

I would have put money on an alternate universe with Yankees Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker getting into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, but with Posada struggling to get five percent (and Bernie Williams falling off his second ballot), I’m pretty sure that’s an egregious overstatement. Pinstripes are not a magic talisman. In the case of Posada and Williams, it might even have hurt them. When you’re the fourth or fifth banana on a championship team, it’s far too easy to focus on the biggest bananas. And I just realized that we missed an opportunity to give Derek Jeter a nickname like Big Banana, or No. 1 Banana or Señor Banana.

Of course, if Posada plays for the Brewers that whole time and wins exactly zero championships, it’s not like his argument gets stronger. Oh, this is a tangled mess.

Again, this isn’t to argue that Posada is a slam-dunk, no-doubt, c’mon-you-goons Hall of Famer like Tim Raines or Jeff Bagwell. He’s 17th all-time in catcher WAR according to Baseball Reference, and 18th all-time according to FanGraphs, with several catchers who aren’t in the Hall of Fame above him. He’s behind Ted Simmons, Gene Tenace, and Thurman Munson, all of whom have their supporters, but certainly have never had anything like a tidal wave of support.

This all brings me to the Jorge Posada and Ted Simmons Unified Theory of Hall of Fame Catchers, which goes like this:

Hall of Fame voters are incredibly weird when it comes to catchers

Write it on an index card and refer to it often. Here’s the breakdown of Hall of Famers by position since 1900:

SS - 19
2B - 18
CF - 18
RF - 18
LF - 17
1B - 16
C - 14
3B - 11

We’ll revisit this theory when Scott Rolen falls off the first or second ballot, but for now focus on the catchers. There just aren’t that many of them, certainly not compared to other positions.

But don’t just blame the voters. It’s all of us. You, there. Conventional Baseball Thinker.

Yes?

I have some questions for you. Can you describe to me what you think the importance is of a catcher to a baseball team?

Oh, certainly. He’s the field general. He has to handle the pitching staff and control the running game to the best of his ability. He’s the leader of the team, really. It’s so easy for a catcher to be a key component of his team, even when he doesn’t hit. It’s the most important position in baseball, really.

Now what if you had a catcher who did just that, managing 14 different pitching staffs that made the postseason?

Remarkable.

And was an above-average hitter most of the time, unless he was at his best, when he was a fearsome presence in the middle of the order?

Stellar.

Someone who could stay healthy enough to allow his team to worry about literally any other position other than catcher, an absolute fixture for a decade-plus?

Amazing. Catchers usually don’t do that. They usually can’t do that because of the physical demands of the position.

Someone who controlled the running game at a league-average rate and generally graded out well according to defensive metrics?

Hey, league-average for a catcher isn’t easy to find.

What do you think about Jorge Posada for the Hall of Fame?

Eh, he needed an MVP or two. Maybe three or four more great seasons. Pretty lackluster for a career for a Hall of Fame catcher, when you think about it.

It makes absolutely no sense to have these strange, elevated expectations of what a catcher should be, then. They can’t be a) the most important players on their teams and b) have fewer representatives in the Hall of Fame than almost any other position. They can’t be a) expected to play a position that swallows a person’s body whole like a pelican but b) be considered for the Hall of Fame only if they hit like a first baseman and play at their highest level for more than a decade.

There should be more catchers in the Hall of Fame. When you consider the importance of the position and how rare it is to find a player with any kind of longevity and sustained success, there needs to be a harder look taken at players like Posada. When I filled out the only correct Hall of Fame ballot, I didn’t include him. While I’m still not sure if he’s a Hall of Famer, I regret that. It’s pretty clear that we have no idea just how to evaluate catchers yet, with WAR doing a lousy job and leaving out pertinent information.

Long rant short: It’s almost impossible to have a better career as a catcher than Jorge Posada, and yet he’s getting zero support for the Hall of Fame. Maybe we should reevaluate our expectations for catchers just a bit. Because when an ultra-rare, ultra-successful career like this can be dismissed after one ballot, there’s probably something wrong with the conventional wisdom.