Father Time wins every time, Jorge
NEW YORK -- I was in Miami last week when the Miami Heat dusted off the old Boston Celtics. The Celts had been hoping that 39-year-old Shaquille O'Neal would rescue their thirtysomething stars, but Shaq never got on track. After contributing early in the season, O'Neal succumbed to leg injuries. After Feb. 1, he played in only three games -- never more than six minutes.
When it was over, Cedric Maxwell, once an NBA Finals MVP, looked at the final stat sheet and said, "Father Time wins again."
I thought of the Old Man and the C's when I got to New York for the weekend series featuring the Red Sox and the Yankees. The Sox swept the Yankees, but the big story in the Bronx was the Posada Adventure.
Jorge Posada, 39, who has won five championship rings with the Yankees (he played in eight games in 1996), asked out of the lineup Saturday after manager Joe Girardi penciled him into the No. 9 spot in the batting order.
This was a very big deal in New York, maybe the biggest story since Son of Sam in 1977. Yankees GM Brian Cashman came up to the press box during the third inning of the 6-0 loss and said that Posada had pulled himself from the lineup. He said the veteran catcher/DH was not hurt.
After the game, Posada said he'd needed to clear his head. He said his back was acting up. He said he felt disrespected that Cashman had gone to the media in mid-game. Girardi came out and said that there had been no discussion of injury. Posada just told him he "needed a day."
Sunday afternoon, as the staggering Yankees prepared for the series finale with the Sox, Posada and Derek Jeter conducted back-to-back mass interviews at their respective lockers. Good old-guy symmetry.
Posada was first. He said he'd apologized to his manager. "I just had a bad day," said the catcher. "All the frustration just came out. I talked to him [Girardi] and let some things out ... People need to understand why sometimes frustrations come out."
Posada is making north of $13 million in this final year of his contract, but he is batting .165, including .000 (0-24) against lefthanders. The Yankees considered suspending him when he asked out of Saturday's game, but instead they are going to see if he can snap out of his season-long slump.
When Posada was done answering questions, the media pack moved over to Jeter's locker. As always, the captain was careful with his words.
"Obviously, he's frustrated," said Jeter. "But he's not the only one who's had a slow start. I know how frustrating it can be. This is not the first time I've had a teammate ask out of the lineup. If he feels like he needs a day, let him have a day ... He's like a brother to me. If I thought he did something wrong, I'd tell him."
Jeter knows what it's like when folks think you are washed up. He's spent the last six months under a microscope. He's heard the whispers: Too old. Overpaid. Can't make the plays anymore. Time to move over for young blood.
Girardi is in a tough spot. Back when he was a veteran Yankee catcher, he lost his job to a young Jorge Posada.
"You want to play forever," said the manager. "The reality is we don't play forever ... sometimes when you're struggling and you're older, people say maybe you're too old to play. None of us want to hear that we are getting old.
"As a manager when you have players that are getting older, there is nothing I can go to to say this is exactly how you're supposed to do it. I'm managing some Yankees that have had wonderful careers and they're aging in front of our eyes and there's no manual for that."
Red Sox manager Terry Francona knows what Girardi is talking about. In April 2010, David Ortiz was completely lost. He looked like a candidate for outright release. Francona moved him down in the lineup (never to ninth), and rested him against some lefties. It was an awkward situation, given Big Papi's popularity and contributions to two championship seasons under Francona.
"David and I had to sweat it out in April last year," admitted the Sox skipper.
Asked about the Yankees handling of Posada, Ortiz said, "They're doing that guy wrong. They're doing him wrong. You know why? Because the guy is legendary in the organization."
Girardi sent Posada up to pinch hit against reliever Daniel Bard in the eighth inning Sunday night. Posada received a lengthy standing ovation, then walked. So he's still hitting .165.
It's only going to get worse for Girardi and the Yankees. Soon it will be Jeter again. Eventually, Mariano Rivera will falter.
Father Time wins every time.