Whether he wants to accept it or not, the end is here for Posada
This was back in April of 2000, back when the dynasty Yankees were still at their peak. The Yankees were playing the Blue Jays in Toronto, and Bernie Williams hit a home run from the left side of the plate in the first inning.
The next inning, Jorge Posada, also batting lefty, hit a home run, too.
In the fourth inning, with the Blue Jays having changed pitchers, Williams came up batting righthanded and promptly hit a home run ... only to watch Posada, two batters later, do the exact same thing.
It was magical for the Yankees that day, a performance from a pair of switch-hitters that baseball had never seen before. Afterward, Williams went up to Posada and said, "Let's get a ring made up."
They didn't, but Posada and Williams did win another World Series ring that year, with Posada watching from behind the plate as Williams circled under and squeezed the final out of the season against the Mets. Posada and Williams sprayed champagne in the clubhouse, celebrating their third straight title alongside teammates like Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, who had also spent their entire professional careers to that point with the Yankees.
That quintet would not have another World Series celebration together. The Yankees lost the World Series the next year, beginning a down period, at least for them, that included a surprising loss to the Marlins in the 2003 Fall Classic, a surprising -- if we stretch the word to its absolute breaking point -- loss to the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS and a less-than-surprising decline for the most senior member of that homegrown group that began, most noticeably, in 2005.
It was hard to watch Williams that year. His legs were shot. His bat had slowed. His arm, never a weapon, was weaker than a water gun. Even his manager, Joe Torre, who loved Williams and embraced his idiosyncrasies more than most, could not stand in front any longer. At one point, Torre dropped Williams, once his cleanup hitter, to ninth in the batting order.
Five years after that historic day with Posada, three years after hitting .333 and driving in 102 runs and one year after hitting 22 home runs, Williams found himself staring at the end of his career.
And yet, still, he hung on. Somehow, Williams played even another season after 2005, coming back in 2006, putting together a mediocre year in which he hit .281 with 12 home runs and 61 RBIs. The next spring the Yankees offered him a non-roster invitation to spring training with nothing guaranteed, which Williams rejected. He never played another game in the majors but even now, he has refused to officially retire. After a memorable career, Williams' departure from the game was drawn-out. Awkward. Painful.
It was baseball's version of a long goodbye. And now it is time for Williams's home run buddy, Posada, to take a lesson.
The truth is that these things almost never end well. When you get to play a game for a living, there is, at least for most, an implied obligation to do it for as long as possible, if only because that is what we all would do if we could. Make millions to spit, scratch and tell jokes in the dugout? I wouldn't quit early, either.
And yet, that doesn't make this stuff any easier. As a young beat writer (who didn't grow up a Yankees fan), I remember still feeling sadness for Williams in '05 and '06, mostly because everyone knows that the mind never falls in line with the body. Williams absolutely thought, absolutely believed that he could still hit and throw and run, even as his play said just the opposite.
It is the same with Posada now. While Pettitte, who retired last February after going 11-3 with a 3.28 ERA in '10, managed to leave with something left, Posada has already shown that he will be in the Williams mold. He is batting just .230 this season and has only three home runs since late April. His catching days are long since gone. His power is difficult to find. His swing is labored. On another team, he might have been released. Instead, manager Joe Girardi decreed on Sunday that Posada, who had already lost his job as starting catcher before the season, would no longer be the team's designated hitter, either.
Earlier this season, Posada caused a stir when he asked out of the lineup after manager Joe Girardi -- in a move that sounds awfully familiar -- tried to drop Posada to ninth in the lineup.
Posada, ever the fiery type, reacted poorly and would admit later that he made a mistake. He snapped and acted irrationally in refusing to play, but the irony is that now, as Posada finds himself benched with little chance for another parole, his best choice left may be the one that Williams could not make.
In all likelihood, Posada, who will turn 40 years old on Wednesday, will finish the season with the Yankees, getting a few at-bats here and there. He almost surely will not be on the postseason roster. And, when winter comes, he will not have a contract for next season.
The Yankees do not figure to offer Posada anything more than the same spring training NRI they offered Williams. Could Posada get something more elsewhere? Probably. Switch hitters are always a commodity and there is someone, somewhere, who might be interested in Posada as a DH or bench player.
Someday, maybe even soon, Derek Jeter's time will come. Even Mariano Rivera is not immortal. But now it is Posada's time.
To this point, Posada has not said if he will retire at the end of the season. Has not said if he will walk away when the games are done. But he should. It would be better that way, better for all the people who want to remember him as the player who made history with Bernie Williams at SkyDome back in 2000.
It would be better for Posada himself. After a year like this one, his goodbye has already been long enough.