Commentary

Jorge to Hall? Right now, my vote is yes

Posada's place in Cooperstown is far from assured, but on this day I'd give him the nod

Updated: January 25, 2012, 12:48 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

Now that we know where Jorge Posada is not going this season -- to spring training -- it is time to start thinking about where he is going, or at least, where he might be going.

That is, does he go to Cooperstown as a Hall of Famer? Or as a visitor?

It is not as easy a question to answer as you might think, and I for one am thankful I have another five years to come to a definitive conclusion.

But right now, just months after his last at-bat and mere hours after he officially announced his retirement at a news conference at Yankee Stadium, Jorge Posada looks like a Hall of Famer to me.

Posada's GM, Brian Cashman, twice referred to him as a "borderline Hall of Famer," and he is right. Posada's credentials are borderline at best, but for me, they look to be on the side of the border that lies within the confines of Cooperstown. Not by a lot, but it doesn't matter. In is in, whether it's by an inch or a mile. And right now, I think Posada belongs in.

So far, there are 15 catchers in the Hall of Fame. Ten were elected by the voters within their 15-year window of eligibility. Three others were added after the fact by the Veterans Committee. Three more, denied their opportunity to play in the major leagues by institutionalized racism, were added by the Negro Leagues committee.

From now until 2032, Posada will be eligible for consideration by the voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, and those are the standards by which he should be judged.

And placed up against the other 10 "natural" selections, Posada seems to fall right into the middle of the pack.

He didn't have the power of Carlton Fisk or Yogi Berra or Johnny Bench. He couldn't hit for average like Mickey Cochrane or Bill Dickey or Ernie Lombardi. He wasn't a defensive wizard -- no Gold Gloves on his shelf -- and the closest he ever came to being an MVP was his third-place finish, behind the Texas Rangers version of Alex Rodriguez and the pre-Mets Carlos Delgado, in 2003.

I can't ever recall thinking of Jorge Posada as the best catcher in the league or the best hitter on his team.

But his overall numbers are very, very good, and with the curve normally applied to the offensive statistics of men who make their living weighed down under equipment and crouching a couple of hundred times a game behind home plate, they are probably good enough to earn him a Hall pass.

On their face value, Posada's career numbers -- .273 batting average, 275 home runs, 1,065 RBIs -- are very good but not great. In fact, they're not far off from those of Lance Parrish, who vanished quickly from the ballot after receiving just nine votes in 2001, his first year of eligibility.

To appreciate Posada as a hitter, you have to go to the next level of metrics, to statistics like on-base percentage, in which he excelled, and slugging percentage, in which he more than held his own, and in OPS, the combination of the two.

(To Posada's advantage, the next generation of Hall voters is likely to put more value on those numbers than previous generations, increasing his chances of election.)

When you evaluate Posada along those lines, it's easier to justify a vote for him. His career on-base percentage, .374, is higher than that of seven of the 10 catchers elected to the Hall, including Bench, Berra, Cochrane, Lombardi, Gabby Hartnett and Roy Campanella. His slugging percentage, .474, is higher than Carter's, Fisk's and Lombardi's. Only Berra, Campanella (career .500 slugging percentage), Cochrane and Dickey have him beat for OPS. And his 246 home runs as a catcher compare favorably with Berra, who hit 248 and played two more seasons.

With the exception perhaps of Buck Ewing, who was the first catcher ever elected to the Hall and whose career ended in 1897, there is not one of the 10 whose overall career numbers are bettered by Posada. But he certainly stacks up well in some categories (power) while coming up short in others (batting average, defense).

But there are other factors to take into account. Leaving sentiment aside, it is worth something to have been a key part of four World Series champions. It is also to his credit that throughout his 17-year career, there have never been suspicions about steroid use. And with the exception of one moment of pique, when he removed himself from the lineup last May after Joe Girardi dropped him to ninth in the lineup for a game against the Red Sox, Posada, like his teammates and close friends Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, never embarrassed himself, his team or his game.

Even Cashman, who was livid about the episode at the time, called it "a mosquito bite on a great career" at Tuesday's news conference. If he is willing to forgive Posada, who are we to hold it against him.

Taken individually, none of those are enough to put any player in the Hall of Fame, nor should they be. But on balance, Posada's body of work seems sufficient to warrant serious consideration for baseball's highest honor.

Right now, he's got my vote. I think.

Thank goodness I've still got five more years to think about it.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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