Sometime between his third World Series parade last autumn, his springtime anointment as baseball’s “Face of the Game” and his latest All-Star appearance this week, a striking transformation came over the young, affable kid known for giving out Buster Hugs.
He became an old fart.
Buster Posey is only 28, with several years remaining in his playing career before he takes over as the Giants’ (pick one) manager, general manager, CEO or owner, which will follow his probable Hall of Fame induction and ballpark statue unveiling. But in professional years, he’s suddenly an elder statesman, discovering in Cincinnati that 20 of the other 75 All-Stars are 25 or younger while a record 33 players are first-time All-Stars. The millennial blitz couldn’t have come with more urgent timing for Major League Baseball and new commissioner Rob Manfred, who realizes his sport needs a blood infusion to prevent an eventual funeral. “Baseball is dying — literally,” cracked comedian Chris Rock, noting that the average age of a 2014 World Series viewer was 55, up exactly five years from the average age of a 2009 World Series viewer. The tech-and-demographics machine now is most dependent on Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, along with a blur of unhittable, zero-crunching pitchers.
Which leaves Buster … where, exactly?
His immediate reaction Monday was fresh, incisive and brutally honest, not the usual Posey way. Accustomed to his moderate-profile, all-business mode, we were startled to hear him nail the central reason why the youth influx is upon us. When asked about it during the National League’s media availability session, the man who replaced Barry Bonds as the fixture of the Giants — and complete antithesis of Bonds, I should add — flung off his mask and ripped a perfect throw.
The game is cleaner, he said, largely purged of performance enhancing drugs.
“To me, with the game being cleaned up now and the drug-testing being as strenuous as it is, it’s just Father Time,” Posey said. “It’s hard to play this game at an extremely high level, and I think you’re just seeing younger players come up that, frankly, do the job better than older players can do it.”
The comment made the rounds quickly after it was replayed on Fox Sports 1, which was televising an All-Star special on game’s eve. Posey has been thinking about the topic for a while, adding that younger players are better prepared for the majors because of an accelerated learning curve. “You’re seeing kids in high school that are facing more velocity than even when I was in high school,” he said. “The hardest pitch I saw in high school was probably 90-91, and that was just 10 years ago. Now kids are coming out of high school throwing mid-to-upper 90s.”
And soaring quickly to the majors, where they’re dominating by the time they’re 25, which happens to be the age of Madison Bumgarner and Sonny Gray. Call it the Snapchat generation. Or am I already outdating myself?
“We’re working very hard to give our fans the kind of access to players in order to raise their awareness of those players,” said Manfred, who at least knows what Instagram is when his predecessor, Bud Selig, never sent a single email. “We do realize we have a challenge in that regard because of what I characterize as generational change. The Derek Jeter generation in the last few years came to the end of their careers. We have a great crop of new players.”
Not that Posey is about to slip into a midlife crisis over this kid revolution. There’s a reason he’s the first image you see on Fox’s All-Star commercial, why his Toyota commercials are in heavy rotation. He remains a marketer’s dream client, a homebody from the Georgia backwoods who married his high-school sweetheart and dotes on his 3-year-old twins. He made the Dean’s List twice at Florida State, won college folk-hero status when he played all nine positions and hit a grand slam in the same game, then came to San Francisco after Bonds’ reign of terror and became a Rookie of the Year, a batting champ, an MVP and a three-time World Series winner. Now, he’s a three-time All-Star in the middle of a nine-year, $167 million contract in a region that adores him, knowing he overhauled the image and perfromance of the Bonds-centric Giants and, as much as Bruce Bochy or anyone else, turned them into a mini-dynasty. He has accomplished so much, so quickly, that it’s fair to ask what more is left to do.
That’s easy. With players five and six years younger gaining the acclaim he once received as a young rock star, Posey is no different than the rest of us. He wants to stay ahead of the kid curve. I’m not sure he’d win the “Face of Baseball” tournament if it was staged now by MLB.com, but he’d certainly claim the mature, family-values vote. The sport was looking for a new Derek Jeter. If the criteria are championships, dignity, leadership and no controversy, isn’t Posey still worthier than, say, Harper?
Posey’s pride tonight, along with batting fifth for Bochy in the NL starting lineup and possibly catching Bumgarner for an inning or two, comes from seeing Giants teammates Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik in their first All-Star Game. When he retires, he wants the most rings. As long as the Giants keep cultivating talent from within, Posey will have more chances.
“The Giants’ organization and scouting department deserve a lot of credit for the big-league team,” he said Monday. “If you look, a lot of our guys have come up through the system. The way the game is trending is younger and younger. The teams developing that talent will be the ones that will be most successful. When you hit free agency, most guys are pushing 30. When you look at how many players are 25 and under, in-house development becomes more crucial.”
The only interruption in Buster Posey’s beautiful life came four years ago, when Scott Cousins obliterated him at home plate, broke his fibula and tore numerous ankle tendons. How interesting that he’ll catch on the same riverfront where Ray Fosse, in the 1970 All-Star Game, was clocked by Pete Rose. Fosse never was the same after his collision. Posey was even better after his.
And yet, armed with a new creative agency, MLB has featured these players in its “This in Baseball” campaign this season: Trout, Stanton, Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Nolan Arenado and George Springer. Said Jacqueline Parks, Manfred’s marketing chief, per the Associated Press: “When you look at the Mike Trouts and Bryce Harpers and Kris Bryants of the world, we’re just so fortunate, and we need to take advantage of this opportunity to the fullest.”
For that slight, Posey will have to respond with his best redress.
Another Buster Hug.All Star Game 2015Barry BondsBrandon CrawfordBryce HarperBud SeligBuster PoseyChris RockDerek JeterGeorge SpringerGiancarlo StantonJoc PedersonJoe PanikKris BryantMadison BumgarnerMike TroutNolan ArenadoPete RoseRay FosseRob ManfredScott CousinsTAGS: San Francisco GiantsYasiel Puig