Jorge Posada honored by Yankees with Monument Park plaque, has number retired
Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Thurman Munson and Elston Howard. It's an elite group of Yankees catchers who have had their careers immortalized in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium.
Jorge Posada studied them. He looked up to them. But he never imagined himself joining their company.
"I never saw myself as part of that group," Posada said. "Being with them now is such a great honor."
For his storied 17-year career in pinstripes, Posada was honored before Saturday afternoon's Yankees game. In front of 47,031 fans, the Yankees unveiled a Monument Park plaque recognizing his career, and retired his uniform No. 20. (The plaque includes the maternal family name of Villeta, a Spanish naming custom).
"Trying to put into words the feelings and emotions around this day is definitely tough," Posada said in his speech. "I am simply a man who was passionate about baseball and the New York Yankees. So being here seems surreal. I can honestly tell you this is one of the happiest days of my life."
With Joe Girardi and Jim Leyritz on the home stretch of their careers in the late 1990s, Posada was the Yankees' heir apparent at catcher. "Jim and I knew our days were numbered. We enjoyed it as long as we could," Girardi said, "and Jorge turned into everything that everyone expected."
Posada spent his entire career with the Yankees from 1995-2011, hitting .273 with 1,664 hits, 275 home runs and 1,065 RBIs in 1,829 games.
"The intensity that he brought every day," Girardi said, "he brought an attitude."
Former teammates and coaches ventured to the Stadium on a sunny afternoon to take part in the ceremony, including the other three members of the Yankees' Core Four -- Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter.
Yogi Berra, whose No. 8 can be seen in Monument Park, couldn't attend, but wrote a message for Posada that was displayed during the ceremony.
"I am very sad that I cannot be with you today," he wrote, "but my knees hurt too much. Just wait, one day your knees are gonna hurt, too!
"You were a real good ballplayer for a long time -- I'm proud of you, kid."
From 2000 to the end of his career in 2011, Posada led all catchers in home runs and RBIs. But as much as he impacted the Yankees with his bat, the five-time All-Star valued his role behind the plate even more.
In 1997, Posada stumbled upon a photo of Thurman Munson in the Red Sox weight room at Fenway Park. The photo, a copy of which he would eventually find to hang in his locker, had a Munson quote on it that would dictate the approach Posada took every time he came to the ballpark.
"It said: 'I'm happy hitting fourth and all the offensive numbers that I have,' " Posada recalls, " 'but leading my pitchers and being behind the plate and being a leader was more important than anything.' And that meant so much to me."
As such, Posada had a lasting impression on many of the pitchers he caught. "He knew how to push my buttons and get me going," Pettitte said. "Jorgie, all of you know how fiery he could be. I loved that."
Added Rivera: "When I hear Jorge Posada's name, it reminds me, it brings me back to all those great games that we had. The passion and the determination that he had to win, the dedication. Going through tough times, adversities, family issues. But he was there, never complained. He was there giving his best. That's what I remember, being there for us."
After throwing the ceremonial first pitch to his 15-year-old son, Jorge Luis, Posada reflected on his career. One game sticks out to him as a turning point in his career: May 17, 1998, the day he caught David Wells' perfect game. "Wells said after the game, 'I did not shake Jorge off at all,' " Posada said. "And knowing that, I think the organization said, 'Well this kid can call a good game' . . . It's just about the respect that I got after that game."
"Today," Posada said in his speech, "I want to say I thank the good lord for making me a Yankee."