Amid corporate Yankees, fiery Jorge Posada stayed true to himself

Jorge Posada was fiery. He was ornery. He wasn't always easy to embrace. But starting Saturday, no Bronx Bomber will ever wear his No. 20 again. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

NEW YORK -- Jorge Posada has never been an easy guy to get your arms around.

He was nowhere as photogenic and accessible as Derek Jeter, never as folksy as Andy Pettitte, nor as wise as Mariano Rivera. He wasn't needy like the younger Alex Rodriguez or a lovable space cadet like Bernie Williams.

He was fiery, prickly, and honestly, ornery and sometimes uncomfortable to be around. I never covered Thurman Munson, but I imagine he and Posada weren't all that different in the clubhouse. I once saw a furious Posada hurl a teammate's cellphone across the clubhouse because he was annoyed by the ringtone. And, truth be told, by the teammate.

Maybe that is why he has retained such a hold on the Yankees' fan base, four years after his retirement, and why he was cheered like a returning hero Saturday when the Yankees retired his No. 20 and unveiled his plaque in Monument Park in a ceremony before the Yankees-Cleveland Indians game.

It doesn't seem to matter Posada essentially quit on his team before a game in 2011, his unhappy final season, when Joe Girardi dropped him to ninth in the batting order because of his lack of production, or that he said some rather unkind -- if not untrue -- things about A-Rod while doing interviews to promote his book during spring training.

Posada is a member of the Core Four -- the revered quartet that included Rivera, Jeter and Pettitte -- credited with turning the Yankees into a baseball dynasty once again in the mid-90s. That seems to have earned him enough equity for a lifetime.

The real Jorge Posada, however, doesn't fit easily into any of the prefabricated niches we try to conveniently shoehorn our athletic heroes into.

Considered a great teammate, Posada was not above giving scathing appraisals of his pitchers after a tough outing.

Considered a consummate professional, Posada could not bear what he considered the humiliation of having to bat at the bottom of the Yankees' lineup, a slight even Rodriguez bore in silence in two different postseason runs by two different managers.

Considered a tough, even stoic, individual, Posada could not resist taking shots at A-Rod and Roger Clemens for their suspected steroid abuse, no doubt in part because he felt Rodriguez had unfairly beat him out in the 2003 AL MVP voting.

None of this makes Posada a bad guy; quite the contrary. It makes him a human being, a refreshing departure from the cookie-cutter, corporate robots our professional athletes have become in the never-ending effort to maximize marketing revenue and protect their "brands."

Posada never seemed to care about those things, which is probably why he never cashed in on his Yankees association to anywhere near the extent Jeter and Rivera, both relentlessly protective of their images, have and continue to do so.

All Posada seemed to care about was playing winning baseball, which is why that final season was so terrible for him, and why he could at least take away the satisfaction of being one of the few Yankees to hit a lick in the 2011 ALDS. Ironically, Posada was never much more than a mediocre postseason hitter, batting .248 with 11 home runs in 125 playoff and World Series games.

His regular-season stats are a lot better -- a .273 career batting average, .848 OPS and 275 home runs while playing 90 percent of his games at the most physically demanding position on the field. Those are excellent offensive numbers for a catcher, but not as good as his contemporaries Ivan Rodriguez or Mike Piazza, nor of his recent predecessor Ted Simmons, who did not make it into Cooperstown.

His defensive abilities, or lack thereof, were less amenable to quantification, but he threw out only 28 percent of would-be base stealers in his career and twice led the league in passed balls. All of that will be a source of vigorous debate when he becomes eligible for Hall of Fame consideration in 2017.

But for me, Posada's real legacy was made as much in the clubhouse as on the field.

Unlike a lot of his teammates, who seemed programmed to be as bland and non-controversial -- and as a result, uninteresting -- as possible, you never had to guess how Posada felt about something. There was no reading between the lines, no having to crawl inside his head or his heart.

As Rodriguez said when Posada's comments about him became public in March, "Georgie's always worn his heart on his sleeve."

That's a quality we rarely see in celebrities of any type anymore, be they athletes, movie stars or politicians.

And while we can endlessly debate whether Posada deserves a plaque in Monument Park (Why not? It’s just a tourist attraction, not Arlington National Cemetery), whether he should have his number retired (honestly, I don't care about such things), or whether ultimately he belongs in Cooperstown, there's one thing we must all agree on: Jorge Posada was no phony.

He was one of the last of a dying breed, the real thing who never hid his warts behind a mask of corporate blandness.

For that alone, he should be remembered as singular among his Yankees teammates.