the sports section

Jorge Posada’s Bad Signs

Rielle Hunter

What, me worry?Photo: Getty Images

In The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent says, “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” If you’re willing to grant the parallel that Yankee Stadium bears more than a few passing resemblances to Gotham — vast class struggles, secret overlords as shadow rulers, men whose public faces disguise a tortured soul, nice river views — then anyone who has ever played for the Yankees too long can certainly understand what Dent meant.

In the past, beloved figures like Bernie Williams, Roger Clemens, David Wells and Don Mattingly have come back for one too many curtain calls. Jorge Posada is taking his turn. Now that he’s hurt, the famed catcher is just another expensive Yankees albatross.

For years, Posada has been the quiet, unsung pulse of the Yankees, clandestinely putting up big numbers, managing an increasingly chaotic pitching staff and staying out of the headlines. He was the Yankee you never had to worry about, even as he grew older than your starting reliable power-hitting catcher is supposed to be. At the end of last season, in the midst of the A-Rod chaos, Posada, along with Mariano Rivera, was the free agent the Yankees had to keep, a link to the past who would keep the Yankees recognizable as the Yankees, who won four championships in the late nineties. He signed a four-year, $52 million contract. By the end of the contract, he would be 39 years old. The Yankees hoped for two, maybe three good years, before the inevitable decline.

They got two, maybe three subpar months. Posada went on the disabled list yesterday and might have surgery that will end his season and even cut into 2009. Posada has had shoulder trouble before, back in 2001, and he has already pronounced this situation worse. It is likely that he’ll never be the player he was before; he struggled to regain his power and throwing motion last time, and he was eight years younger then. And he’ll remain the highest paid catcher in baseball.

And the funny thing about this? No one’s particularly sad to see him go. Newsday loudly proclaimed that the Yanks were “better off” without Posada, and his absence unquestionably eliminates a headache for manager Joe Girardi. The rookie Yankee skipper, who was once Posada’s backup as a player, had jousted with the player all year, playing him at designated hitter rather than catcher (Posada has only thrown out three base runners) and clearly preferring Jose Molina. Posada even sniped about this a few times, complaining that he was a catcher, not a DH, adding fuel to the notion that he and Girardi aren’t the best of pals. This “problem,” as much as it was, is now gone. Teams often talk of “addition by subtraction,” but rarely so soon after signing a guy for four years at $13.1 million per.

You think this is bad? Wait until it happens to the team’s other nineties icons. Rivera is defying time with another peerless season, but Derek Jeter is in the seventh year of the ten-year contract that makes him the second-highest paid player in baseball (behind A-Rod, of course.) But forget the oft-debated (but still plainly obvious) defensive liability; the “Face of Baseball” is having the worst offensive season of his career. (As much as Posada has struggled, he has still hit better than Jeter by almost any metric.) As long as the Yankees are still making the playoffs, Jeter might be able to slide by unnoticed, but if they fall short … well, are you ready for chants of “Bench Jeter”? —Will Leitch

Jorge Posada’s Bad Signs