Nevius: Buster Posey’s bold decision to sit last year paying off for Giants
At some point in this astonishing Giants season, everyone writes the same story.
It begins with the fact that a number of the players the team picked up were largely unknown and unregarded. (In our house we call them the “Who is This Again?” Giants.)
And then the narrative moves on to part two. It’s the veteran core, the “B” squad of Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Buster Posey. They are older, longtime Giants having terrific years. (At least Belt was before he was hurt.)
It’s a comfortable, familiar tale. The old guys carrying a bunch of enthusiastic upstarts. Throw in a few references to Crawford’s magical fielding and Belt’s hilarious captaincy and you’ve got a nice little take on a playoff team.
But it seems like we’ve gotten so used to those memes that we forget something.
Posey sat out an entire year.
At the time, it was a bold and risky thing to do. Players don’t voluntarily leave Major League Baseball often. In fact, there is substantial evidence that they will do almost anything to keep playing, from signing with a team in Korea to going back to the minors and hoping to grind their way back to The Show.
In 2020, Posey just announced he was leaving. Adding that “this ultimately was not a difficult decision for me.”
Well, OK, if you say so.
Consider: he was 33 years old. His hip had been surgically repaired after the 2018 season and was clearly still bothering him. Even his biggest boosters had to admit his numbers had slipped. He hit just five home runs in 2018 and seven in 2019.
Also, according to an agreement with the players union and the league, players who opted out without a medical condition forfeited their salary. In a shortened 2020 season that worked out to about $8 million for him. (As far as I can tell, the Giants have not said if they paid Posey’s salary, but the official agreement was they would not.)
It would not have been hard to find someone who thought this might be the end for Posey. Who knows how he would feel after the layoff? Who knows how the Giants would feel about their aging catcher?
There are many words to describe Buster Posey, but “wishy-washy” and “whimsical” are not any of them. He made up his mind and he stuck with it.
And, it is important to remember, it was not a baseball decision. Posey and his wife adopted identical twin girls in July of 2020, before the shortened, 60-game pandemic season began. The twins were born prematurely, at just 32 weeks, and needed extensive medical care to survive. (Spoiler alert: they did and are doing fine.)
While most of baseball put its collective head down and charged ahead with a manufactured baseball season, Posey didn’t pretend COVID wasn’t an issue.
“I mean,” he said in a preseason Zoom call, “it’s such a strange time. I’m looking at you guys wearing masks on a computer screen. What are we doing?”
And he carried those thoughts over to discussions with his wife, Kristen, and made his call.
He said, “I just feel like in the current state we are in now, and these babies being as fragile as they are for the next four months at a minimum, it made the most sense to opt out.”
He even said if the twins had been healthier, he probably would have played.
It was, in short, a decision made for his family and his children. Baseball could wait. And if it didn’t work out, so it goes.
And that’s when we come to the amazing part. But you already know the kicker.
Posey has been sensational this year. At 34 he hit 18 home runs, his most since 2015. He had 56 RBIs, his most in four years.
This was the first year manager Gabe Kapler has worked with Posey, and he swears there was never a doubt.
“Extremely talented, outlier kind of athletes,” Kapler said last week, “those are the type of athletes that you bet on. And there’s a lot of people here who would push a lot of chips in on Buster’s resurgence.”
In fact, Kapler — ever the free thinker — used Posey to advance a radical theory.
“If we could give a lot of major league players a year off in the middle of their careers at a strategic time,” he said before Friday’s game with the Dodgers, “I think it would benefit a lot of players.”
Wait. Give a player a gap year? Does Kapler have any evidence that could work?
Actually, he does. Exhibit A, of course, is Posey. Kapler said he had “an inkling that this might be really good for his hip and recovery.”
And Exhibit B — well, let’s make that Exhibit B-minus — is Kapler.
“I got to do it,” he said. “I can relate.”
Of course, as soon as he said that, he added qualifiers.
He said he meant he could relate, “on a much different level. Let me clarify here — much, much worse ballplayer.”
But Kapler did take a year off. He tore his Achilles running the bases in 2005. When he came back the next year, he “wasn’t very good,” by his own reckoning.
It looked like the end. And his team, the Red Sox, made him an offer to manage one of their minor league teams. He did, spending the year in the South Atlantic League. And he noticed something.
“My body felt a lot better after that year off,” he said. “You just heal up a little. All the aches and pains that you experience go away.”
Kapler worked out in the offseason, made the team in 2008 and “played several more years at the Major League level.”
So just like Buster?
“Yeah,” he said. “Like Buster, except much less. So not really like Buster.”
Because as we’ve learned, there aren’t many Busters.
Contact C.W. Nevius at email@example.com. Twitter: @cwnevius