BASEBALL: Posey earns NL Rookie of the Year

Buster Posey became the first Giant since 1975 to receive the

Posey became just the fifth National League Rookie of the Year
to help his team win the World Series.
Gary Peterson – Contra Costa Times

You can never be sure about Rookies of the Year. For starters, and not to be redundant, they’re rookies.

They could grow up to be the next great thing. Or they could prove to be a mirage, maybe even a star-crossed flash in the pan. Exhibit A: Bob Hamelin. Exhibit B: Joe Charboneau. Exhibit C: Mark Fidrych.

So it says a lot about Giants catcher Buster Posey that we can confidently proclaim there will be no voter’s remorse over his coronation Monday as the National League’s Rookie of the Year for 2010.

“It wasn’t something I necessarily thought a lot about when I was called up,” Posey said on a conference call. “But it’s surreal to have won the award.”

Not to those of us who watched him develop into the Giants’ best position player this season. And not to the 31 Baseball Writers Association of America members who voted for him (20 for first place, nine for second place and two for third place).

As for Yasushi Kikuchi of the Kyodo News, the only one of the 32 eligible voters who failed to list Posey on his ballot, a question: Cover baseball much?

Of course, no discussion of baseball’s postseason awards is complete without the standard disclaimer regarding the voting process. Votes are due immediately upon completion of the regular season. The playoffs are not a consideration.

This is why it was believed Posey would receive stiff competition from Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward, a heralded prospect who celebrated opening day with a homer in his first major league at-bat.

“I definitely was following him,” Posey said. “I saw him hit that homer. As a baseball fan myself, I thought it was a cool moment.”

Posey, of course, began the season in the minors. He was recalled May 29 but played mostly first base his first five weeks in San Francisco. It wasn’t until Bengie Molina was traded on July 1 that Posey was handed the keys to the best starting rotation in baseball.

Now, with the advantage of hindsight voters didn’t have, it seems a no-brainer. Start with this: Posey became just the fifth National League Rookie of the Year to help his team win the World Series. And by help we mean:

Leading the Giants in hits in the first-round win over Atlanta; tying for second on the team with three RBI in the NLCS dethroning of Philadelphia; batting .300 with a homer in the World Series; blocking balls in the dirt; throwing out would-be base stealers; acting as a reassuring, mature-beyond-his-years presence for Giants pitchers.

Unprecedented contributions from a rookie? You could make that argument. Fernando Valenzuela won three postseason games (one in the World Series) for the Dodgers in 1981. Dustin Pedroia, Derek Jeter and Chuck Knoblauch were in the thick of championship postseasons for the Red Sox, Yankees and Twins in 2007, 1996 and 1991.

But none of the above consistently batted third or cleanup. None was so intimately involved with every pitch of every game. Posey played every inning of the postseason. If you don’t believe us, ask backup catcher Eli Whiteside. The only time he made it off the bench was for the end-of-series pig pile at the pitcher’s mound.

There’s a reason there are only nine catchers among the 128 players who have been honored as Rookie of the Year since 1947. Catching is tough stuff. To ask a young player to catch at an elite level for a championship team is just begging for trouble.

It got the Giants a shiny gold trophy.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been two weeks,” said Posey, who is headed for the Florida Keys with his wife for some well-deserved down time. “There’s been a lot of stuff going on. I don’t feel like I’ve had a chance to catch up.”

Posey was recognized by fans when he attended Saturday’s Florida State-Clemson football game – and not just because he starred for the Seminoles baseball team. He better get used to that. Because when you look at the short list of Rookie of the Year catchers, there isn’t a bar beyond his reach. OK, maybe Johnny Bench is a bit ambitious at this point. After all, he’s the gold standard.

But Carlton Fisk? Thurman Munson? Mike Piazza? Save for Piazza’s power (knowing wink), you can imagine Posey doing everything they did.

Because, and not to be redundant, the only way you could tell he was a rookie was by looking at the back of his baseball card.

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