You are more likely to hear an El Nino analysis from Buster Posey, or an opinion about Bill Cosby, than any sort of self-admiration about his latest superb season. So let me say it for him: He’s in the running for his second Most Valuable Player award, keeping in mind that 18 of the 20 nonactive players who’ve won at least two such trophies — not counting steroids suspects like You Know Who — are inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Not that Posey couldn’t start scripting his Cooperstown speech right now, as the sport’s foremost package of two-way production, leadership and championships so far this century. Still, double-MVPs would be an accurate reflection of where he stands in the major league stratum, an elite place currently understated when we’re so busy asking about who the Giants are and aren’t acquiring.
And also when we’re so rudely interrupted by You Know Who, Barry Bonds, who showed up at the ballpark Thursday night and, in his first media interview since his criminal case was dropped, said he belongs in the Hall of Fame. “I don’t even justify that. There’s no need,” Bonds told the Associated Press. “That’s without saying.” Until, that is, the voting baseball writers speak up again in January, when Bonds will be rejected for the fourth time.
If only Posey had one-tenth of Barry’s audacity. His MVP case isn’t being helped by the wavering nature of the Giants, whose ups and downs swung upward in a 3-1 win over the stumbling Washington Nationals and their soon-to-be-fired manager, former Giant Matt Williams. Despite the wonderful summer of Posey, who had two more hits in elevating his season geekery line to .332/.392/.504, the Giants are looking like the National League’s sixth-best team, not a good thing when five teams qualify for the postseason. Injuries have contributed to their plight, with a concussed Nori Aoki the latest disabled list addition, but the biggest issue remains their inability/reluctance to pull off a major trade at the deadline when we’ve seen how blockbusters have worked out for, oh, the rampaging Toronto Blue Jays.
Now the front office is trying to quick-fix the everyday lineup — they’ve already lost their chance to upgrade a crazyquilt rotation — by making an offer for Chase Utley, who must approve any trade. General Manager Bobby Evans should get an answer today. At 36, Utley isn’t the six-time All-Star who defined the Phillies in their glory years. Rather, he has been a .196-hitting liability who is coming off his own DL stint with a bum ankle and only recently woke up with seven hits in 17 at-bats. If the idea is using Utley as a stopgap until Joe Panik returns from back trouble, fine. But if the idea is trotting out Utley most of September — and putting him at first base while moving Brandon Belt to left field to rectify the uncertainty of Aoki and Angel Pagan — well, it so happens the Giants were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead.
And someone in management must be high, for Utley is no Price/Tulowitzki/Cueto/Hamels/Cespedes savior, even if he keeps an offseason home in Sausalito.
For Posey’s sake, it’s all a shame. By every metric and human intangible, he is in the top-three MVP discussion, whether or not you include Zack Greinke’s once-every-five-day pitching miracles. He has been the adhesive that has kept the Giants from breaking into a thousand pieces in their dreaded odd-numbered year, starting with an all-encompassing combination of Wins Above Replacement levels — fourth overall at 5.8, fourth defensively at 1.9 — that the other contenders can’t begin to match. He’s second in the league in batting average, third in runs batted in and sixth in on-base plus slugging percentage, all part of a attacking plate approach first emphasized last season by hitting coach Hensley Meulens.
“I feel like all you’ve got to do is get on base, and somehow you’re going to score,” said Matt Duffy, whose Rookie of the Year candidacy has everything to do with hitting ahead of Posey. “Our mentality is just to get on base for him.”
For all his offensive ammunition, though, Posey somehow has defied the modern dictum that a catcher can’t produce consistent two-way greatness. His handling of a problematic staff has been masterful, from his power arm to his now-legendary work as a pitch-framer. Ask Ryan Vogelsong, whose career has been ruled dead several times, how he has lasted until 38 … and how, while walking four batters, he limited the Nationals to a run and three hits while whiffing eight in five innings.
Ask every pitcher, including Hunter Strickland, who struck out three in two hitless shutout innings. “Me and Buster were on the same page,” he said.
In the Esurance commercial, Posey shows up in full uniform in a maternity ward, telling a mother-to-be, “I’m sort of your doctor. We both wear gloves, and we both deliver in the clutch.” He performs the same kind of service for the Giants. His one failure: talking about himself.
“I’m not trying to do too much,” Posey said of his post-All-Star sizzle. “Just keep it simple. Every day’s different.”
He refuses to lobby even when his biggest MVP challenger makes damn sure he is EVERYWHERE. As part of the kid tidal wave that has dominated the season and made Posey seem like an old man at 28, Bryce Harper has been every bit the machine and brash force as advertised since his teens. He’s doing the big commercials. He posed naked for ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue. He owns a custom Mercedes-Benz CLS with a red Nationals’ “W” logo and neon bat enclosure in the trunk.
“Be as sexy as you can be in the box,” he says.
Something Posey never would utter, obviously.
Harper was booed Thursday by Giants fans who recall his exploits last October, but their resentment is lodged in fear. His numbers are better than Posey’s and those of Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt, an amazing performer who won’t win MVP because his team has a losing record. Harper, finally healthy, either leads or ranks among the NL leaders in numerous categories, including the all-important WAR at 6.8. He isn’t managing a game like Posey out in right field, but when Giants third-base coach Roberto Kelly erred in waving Buster home in the third inning, Harper gunned him down by 15 feet.
Is Posey tiring? “Well, we’re in August,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I think he’s OK. I’ll check with him, see how he’s doing the next three days. I’ll ask him to be honest. I think he looks fresh. I’m not looking for speed from him. He’s catching.”
Thing is, Harper’s monster season may go for naught if the Nationals don’t make the playoffs. Since the All-Star break, they are 10-17 and rank among baseball’s big busts, with Williams facing severe criticism for the same strategic failures seen last fall. What Bochy is to the Giants, Williams is not. The Nationals are a team of egotists, and their manager is uptight and clueless in how to handle them. Acquiring closer Jonathan Papelbon, another mouthy sort, hasn’t helped the mood or results.
Just 22, Harper is not a leader who can save the wreck.
Whereas Buster Posey has made a career of rescuing the Giants, followed by a hug every time. Now, from the front office to the pitchers to his everyday teammates, it’s time to help him.