San Francisco Giants’ Buster Posey connects on a double in the eighth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in the opening home game of the 2019 season at Oracle Park on Friday, April 5, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco Giants’ Buster Posey connects on a double in the eighth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in the opening home game of the 2019 season at Oracle Park on Friday, April 5, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Can Buster Posey still make it to the Hall of Fame?

This season’s resurgence rekindles debate about his Cooperstown credentials

By Chris Haft

Special to The Examiner

Buster Posey’s renaissance this season has revived conversation regarding whether the Giants catcher is a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate.

Joining that discussion will require plenty of endurance.

Posey, who’s eligible for free agency after this season, has stated that he hopes to remain a Giant for the rest of his career — which could last for at least a few more years, given the spry look he has maintained in 2021. Once Posey shelves his shinguards for the final time, he then must wait five years to become eligible for inclusion on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Any debate about Posey’s Cooperstown suitability could linger into the next decade.

The near future might not proceed so smoothly. Conventional wisdom suggests the Giants could ask Posey to accept a pay cut from his current $22.2 million salary. With catching prospect Joey Bart progressing steadily, the Giants might be reluctant to sign Posey to a multiyear deal, much less bring him in on a one-year contract.

That, in turn, could affect Posey’s Hall of Fame chances, which for the rest of his career will correlate directly to his playing time. With 152 career home runs and 700 RBIs entering Friday night’s Interleague series opener at Oracle Park against the cross-bay rival Oakland A’s, he statistically falls short of the group of Hall of Fame catchers whose careers started or gained momentum after 1950. The list features Johnny Bench (389 homers, 1,376 RBIs), Yogi Berra (358 homers, 1,430 RBIs), Roy Campanella (242 homers, 856 RBIs), Gary Carter (324 homers, 1,225 RBIs), Carlton Fisk (376 homers, 1,330 RBIs), Mike Piazza (427 homers, 1,335 RBIs), Ivan Rodriguez (311 homers, 1,332 RBIs) and Ted Simmons (248 homers, 1,389 RBIs).

(Editor’s note: Posey sat out the first two games of the Bay Bridge series, with tightness in his lower back.)

Bengie Molina, who served as Posey’s mentor at the outset of his Giants tenure, acknowledged that his star pupil must play catch-up to be lumped with his esteemed predecessors.

“I love Buster,” Molina said recently. “But right now he has a lot to do to get into that spot. But we’re talking about a 34-year-old. I don’t think it’s impossible for him to get there, the way he plays, the way he is.

… Right now at this moment, the numbers are not going to allow him to get in. If he can play six more years at the level he is right now, I don’t see why not. He’ll have the numbers for it. He’ll have the credentials for it.”

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey takes a swing during a game against the Colorado Rockies at Oracle Park on April 10, 2021 in San Francisco, California. (Photography by Chris Victorio | Special to the S.F. Examiner).

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey takes a swing during a game against the Colorado Rockies at Oracle Park on April 10, 2021 in San Francisco, California. (Photography by Chris Victorio | Special to the S.F. Examiner).

Considered without great thought, Molina’s remark about Posey playing six more years might sound preposterous. In reality, it makes plenty of sense. Each of the aforementioned catchers played at least 17 Major League seasons; Posey is in his 11th, not counting his opting out of the 2020 campaign due to the COVID pandemic.

Besides, Posey has nothing to apologize for regarding his hitting. With a lifetime batting average of .303, he tops all of the aforementioned Cooperstown inductees in that category except Piazza (.308). To cite a seldom-employed but useful statistic, Posey owns a career OPS+ of 129, exceeded only by Piazza’s 143 in the aforementioned Hall of Fame octet. (OPS+ — on-base plus slugging plus — levels the statistical playing field by weighing external factors such as ballpark tendencies.)

Posey’s legion of admirers passionately support his case for Cooperstown.

Matt Cain, who won 104 games for the Giants from 2005-17, referred to his batterymate’s long list of individual honors (2010 National League Rookie of the Year, 2012 NL Most Valuable Player, 2012 NL batting champion, 2012 Hank Aaron Award recipient, six-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove recipient) before concluding, “I don’t see how he wouldn’t qualify to be in the Hall of Fame. His performance has earned him virtually every award you can receive in MLB. He’s led three teams to three World Series victories. I’m not sure what more he needs to accomplish to prove that he’s a Hall of Famer.”

Posey has long drawn appreciation for his multidimensional skills.

“The concentration that it takes to get a pitcher through a game and to do the same thing offensively takes a special talent,” former Mets manager Terry Collins said. “That’s why you hear all the time, ‘Oh, he’s a catch-and-throw guy’ or, ‘This guy was a really good offensive catcher’ and they never talk about his defense. When you talk about Buster Posey, you’re talking about both sides of the baseball.”

Dave Righetti recalled Posey’s essential role in shaping the Giants’ World Series-winning teams in 2010, 2012 and 2014 — particularly the first one, when San Francisco stormed to the NL West title while posting a 1.91 ERA in the season’s final month. Each pitcher had a distinct array of skills. “That’s what was cool about us,” said Righetti, San Francisco’s longtime pitching coach who is now a Minor League instructor. And Posey, who didn’t become the team’s starting catcher until Molina was traded to Texas on July 1, 2010, handled each hurler expertly. That glittering September ERA, Righetti said, “had a lot to do with Buster’s calling the game back there.”

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey (28) at Oracle Park against the Cincinnati Reds on April 13, 2021 in San Francisco, California. (Photography by Chris Victorio | Special to the S.F. Examiner).

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey (28) at Oracle Park against the Cincinnati Reds on April 13, 2021 in San Francisco, California. (Photography by Chris Victorio | Special to the S.F. Examiner).

Righetti echoed Molina’s opinion about Posey’s need to log more service time to bolster his Hall of Fame candidacy. But Righetti shortened the timetable to greatness.

“If he catches three or four more years and he stays healthy, it’ll take care of itself. There won’t be any debate,” Righetti said. “If he gets 15 (years) in, I think he’ll end up being elected on the first or second ballot.”

Righetti summarized, “This guy’s a great player who made a good team great. Did we win 100 games? No. But we were really, really hard to beat.”

Fast-forward to the current Giants, who have surprised the baseball world by compiling the Majors’ best record while occupying first place in the NL West. Fittingly, the trio of veterans from the championship years — Posey (.322, 12 homers, 27 RBIs), shortstop Brandon Crawford (16 homers, 49 RBIs) and first baseman Brandon Belt (11 homers, 28 RBIs) are the club’s three top sluggers.

Crawford has complemented his offensive contributions with Gold Glove-level defense, while Posey has the pocket of his glove on the pitching staff’s pulse. “Without those two guys, they’re an average team,” Righetti said.

Molina, a Spanish-language broadcaster with the St. Louis Cardinals, continues to follow Posey from afar. As everybody else does, he sees that San Francisco’s pitching has been much better than advertised. But only true baseball connoisseurs understand Posey’s defensive impact, which includes adroitly receiving pitches to “steal” called strikes from gullible umpires and dissolving tension with his calm demeanor.

“He’s one of the reasons why his team is where it is,” Molina said. “He’s so smart behind the plate.”

Shouldn’t Hall of Fame voters notice the subtleties of Posey’s game and remember them when the ballot arrives with his name on it?

“That counts,” Molina said. “Of course it counts. But these days, they’re not doing that right now. They’re going by numbers.”

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Buster Posey, connecting against the Tampa Bay Rays in 2019’s home opener at Oracle Park, is among the top-hitting catchers in contention for the Hall of Fame. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)

Buster Posey, connecting against the Tampa Bay Rays in 2019’s home opener at Oracle Park, is among the top-hitting catchers in contention for the Hall of Fame. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)

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