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Never Fazed

Some people don’t like baseball. I get that. It’s fine. The game can move slowly; the season can drag on forever. There’s a certain pretense, at times anyway, to those who describe its nuances, its “pastoral nature,” its status as the thinking man’s/woman’s game. It’s our game, as Americans, and that alone can cast it in disfavor.

For the rest of you, Buster Posey retires today. Posey is a catcher .. the anchoring position on a baseball diamond. If every baseball play begins with the pitcher, it’s the catcher who surveys the field, designs the play, and makes real-time decisions. The catcher tells the pitcher what to do before it all begins. He calls the game. Yes, there are times when a pitcher will reject what the catcher calls, but rejecting a pitch Buster Posey called for was akin to not passing the basketball to Michael Jordan for a final shot or taking the brush out of Picasso’s hand to make a few improvements. Posey called every pitch of Matt Cain’s perfect game in 2012. It was only the 22nd perfect game in major league history. Cain remarked that there were pitches Posey called in particular situations that might have raised an eyebrow or two, and yet .. a perfect game. “That’s what made him special,” Cain concluded, “he never got fazed.” Imperfect English, yes, but it cuts right to the heart of the matter. (And yes, it’s “fazed” and not “phased” .. I looked it up.)

Of all sports, baseball is most like life. Not for the literary, romantic reasons so many give. Yes, it “begins with the eternal, emerging promise of spring, and concludes in the fall when everything begins to die.” And yeah, it’s the one game where succeeding three out of ten attempts is considered ‘exceptional.’ (Buster Posey: lifetime .302 batting average.) But mostly, like life, it just drags on forever. It persists season after season, most of them unremarkable in any earth-shattering sense, while the largely imperceptible ravages of time accumulate and stack upon themselves. Buster Posey showed up in 2010, the first of the Giants’ three modern-day championship seasons. He was the common link for those three World Series titles, the singularly indispensable component. Names like “Bumgarner” and “Lincecum” will forever be tied to the current organization, but ultimately, even they came and went. Buster Posey was a San Francisco Giant for his entire career. He was the rock, the constant, the beating heart.

But let’s get back to this “never fazed” thing. Those with fewer words at their command often say the most. (See “Berra, Yogi.”) Matt Cain hit the proverbial ball out of the park here. Yeah, you’ll take a catcher with a .302 lifetime batting average, seven-time all-star, National League MVP, three World Series titles, etc etc etc. But the “unfazed” thing is what it’s about. Baseball, as we all know, is about coming home. And since 2010, the San Francisco Giant who stood closest to home was Buster Posey. This is quite the exalted position. If you doubt it, consider the irate response from typically unflappable manager Bruch Bochy when journeyman Florida Marlin Scott Cousins ended Posey’s 2011 sophomore season with a bone-shattering home plate collision. Bochy, a former catcher, saw what was to come in Posey, and the idea that some wheel-cog in a Marlins uniform might alter this was unacceptable. It was as though somebody had showed up at Bochy’s front door with a gun while his wife and kids were inside. Like someone had threatened his home. Great as he was, you don’t want Barry Bonds standing guard at your front door .. you don’t want Gaylord Perry. You want the unfazed guy. You want Buster Posey.

I could go on quite a while describing how solid Buster Posey was. How “central” he was. But I’ll conclude with two somewhat obscure facts that do it for me. The first is that he walked away from a $22 million option for next season to retire on his own terms .. to do it the right way. Retired at the end of the year to avoid the fanfare and gift-giving ceremonies at other ballparks. Chew on that one for a moment. The second, and perhaps most important: he was my mother’s favorite Giant. My parents were the last of the hardcopy newspaper generation and the San Francisco Chronicle graced the driveway almost every morning of their lives. My mom was no die-hard sports fan, but having three men in her house meant she checked the section daily. Whenever a photo of Buster would appear she’d say “I like that boy .. such a lovely face.” Good enough for me. Best catcher and biggest franchise-player I ever saw. In the discussion with Bench, Piazza, et al, for greatest to ever play the position. The biggest and (along with Brandon Crawford) last remaining puzzle piece of the greatest Giants era ever. Hell of a ride.

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