Most Valuable

His teammates already knew how valuable he was.

So, when San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey was named National League Most Valuable Player for 2012, it just confirmed how special the rest of the baseball world saw him.

At 25, Posey has already accomplished more than most players will achieve in their entire baseball lives and had to overcome a devastating injury to do so.  In that context, his resume is even more remarkable.

In 2008, he won the Golden Spikes Award, honoring the country’s best amateur player, for his extraordinary junior season at Florida State University.  Not only did the young catcher lead the nation in batting with a .472 average, he also led his team in saves.

And he established himself as a premier defender with the leadership and game savvy to handle a talented pitching staff.  Perhaps, that rare duality – the co-mingled experience on the mound and behind the plate in the same season – gave him such remarkable insight into calling pitches, because he not only knew firsthand how good hitters approached their craft but also what he would throw them to get them out.  That summer, the Giants selected him in the first round of the amateur draft as the fifth overall pick.

In 2010, after just over a year in the minors, he reached the big leagues and immediately faced the heat and pressure of a pennant race.  In fact, the first-place Giants had so much faith in their catching prodigy that they traded a 13-year veteran, Bengie Molina, and handed Posey his starting job behind the plate. 

Posey wasted little time in proving his major league worth.  He hit .305 with 18 homers, and – more importantly – guided a pitching staff that was historically brilliant in September and into the playoffs.  In the World Series, he hit an even .300 and caught a pair of shutouts as the Giants brushed aside the Texas Rangers for the first title the franchise had won since moving to San Francisco in 1958.  On baseball’s biggest stage and in its most unforgiving spotlight, the prodigy had fearlessly taken a bow.

As if to remind everyone that he had done all of this as a rookie, Posey won the National League Rookie of the Year Award to pair with his World Series ring.

Despite just a single season in the majors, he had the unmistakable scent of stardom.  Although his success and impact were instantaneous – having been the offensive and defensive centerpiece of a World Championship team in his big league debut, he also handled the sudden notoriety with humility and soft spoken ease.  That formidable combination of talent, cool, and character hinted not only at a stellar career but even generational greatness – a player of impending legend.

In 2011, he was on his way to adding another successful chapter to his remarkable professional story when something went horribly wrong.  In a game against the Florida Marlins at the end of May, Posey took a throw from the outfield just as the runner, Scott Cousins, reached the plate.  Instead of veering to the back edge of the base that Posey had left open, Cousins barreled directly into San Francisco’s star catcher.  In what could best be described as a two-man train wreck, the force of the collision pinned Posey’s left ankle beneath him and the devastating torque shredded ligaments and snapped his fibula.  It was, in fact, the kind of horrific injury that could end an athletic career.

To underscore the magnitude of Posey’s injury to the team, the Giants were leading the National League West by 2 ½ games the day he got hurt and finished the season eight full games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks as San Francisco played the rest of the season without him.

With his future on the diamond in jeopardy and his shattered leg held together with an amalgam of surgical fasteners, Posey demonstrated his most admirable quality – undeniable resolve.

He not only had to retrain and re-strengthen his body to handle the physical toll of catching, he also had to conquer the doubt fueled by the severity of the injury and trust that his repaired leg could do everything it used to do.  After all, hesitancy in athletics dooms performance.

After eleven brutal months of physical rehab and psyche building, Posey was back behind the plate in time for the start of the 2012 season.  Most outsiders had no idea what to expect from him and how long – if ever – it would take for Posey to regain the career arc that appeared unlimited just a season earlier.  The conventional expectation was for him to take some time to re-acclimate to the game.  The layoff practically guaranteed rust.  All the while, there was also the uneasiness that Posey’s patched up ankle could give way at any time

However, generational greatness often defies convention.  In Posey’s case, he played so well so quickly that he was named starting catcher for the National League All-Star team – without a speck of rust on him. In the second half of the season – precisely when the fatigue from the long layoff should have been the greatest and pulling at his game the hardest – he was even better.

In the 71 games he played after the All-Star break, Posey hit .385 with 14 home runs and 60 RBI’s.  Greater still, he caught nearly every day, enduring the punishment of foul balls and blocked pitches without ever having it effect his offense.

When Melky Cabrera, the team’s talented left fielder, was suspended by the league in August for testing positive for a performance enhancing substance, it was Posey who carried the team offensively and set the tone in the locker room by quickly shifting the focus away from the player who wasn’t there to the ones who were.

In fact, Posey’s understated leadership had such a profound effect on his teammates and organization that they all voted him the recipient of the Willie Mac Award, an honor given to the team’s most inspirational player each season.

On the field, the Giants rallied around their resurgent superstar and roared down the stretch, winning the National League West by eight games.  Posey finished the year – a year many expected him to struggle through, post-injury – with 24 homers, 103 RBI’s, and a .336 batting average, the highest mark in the majors in 2012.  That productive aggregation earned him the National League MVP Award as well, the first catcher since the legendary Johnny Bench to win it.

In the playoffs, his dramatic grand slam in Game Five of the NLDS against Cincinnati capped the Giants’ improbable comeback from two games down and facing three straight elimination contests, all on the road.

In the World Series against Detroit, Posey’s two-run homer in Game Four helped San Francisco complete a sweep for the championship.

While there are a myriad of factors that contribute to a team’s success, there’s an interesting dynamic to consider when looking at Buster Posey’s short but stellar career so far.  In the two seasons he played to completion, his team won the World Series.  In the one year he was injured and did not play after May, the Giants failed to reach the playoffs.  Mere coincidence?  Perhaps.

However, there is no denying his value.

His Willie Mac Award, National League MVP trophy, and second World Series ring in three years certainly provide proof that his teammates, the Baseball Writers of America, and his peers understand his considerable baseball worth.

Sources:

http://www.sfgate.com/giants/ostler/article/Coach-s-bright-idea-helped-turn-Posey-into-star-3173219.php

http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080716&content_id=3142837&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/p/poseybu01.shtml

http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_21611850/tim-kawakami-theres-no-room-melky-cabrera-giants

http://www.sfgate.com/giants/article/Buster-Posey-wins-Willie-Mac-Award-3885151.php

Photos:

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