Posada picks right time to say goodbye

Timing is everything, in baseball and life, and once again, Jorge Posada's timing proves to be impeccable.

Reports, by ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney and others, indicate Posada has decided to pack it in on his excellent, and mostly exemplary, 17-year career, every second of it spent with the Yankees.

Posada could not have picked a better time to call it quits.

He is coming off a postseason in which he outhit every one of his younger and more highly valued (by the Yankees) teammates. And he is coming off a regular season that reminded everyone, including Posada, that his productive postseason, if not a fluke, was likely to be the exception, not the rule, from here on out.

So it should be with relief, not sadness, that Yankees fans bid farewell to Jorge Posada. His decision spares them the heartbreak of having to see him in another uniform -- could you imagine him in a Red Sox get-up or the ersatz pinstripes of the Mets? -- and himself the frustration and embarrassment of attempting to play on after the game passed him by.

Now, instead of talk-radio mouth-breathers tearing him up and fair-weather fans turning on him for having the nerve to play like what he is, a 40-year-old man with a million miles of hard road on his body, the conversation turns to more pleasant subjects.

Such as, where does he land next? In a manager's office somewhere? In Cooperstown? In both?

They're all legitimate areas of discussion, and it is to Posada's credit that he recognized it was time to move on before some GM told him so.

Posada is, famously, a proud and stubborn man, so it no doubt took a lot for him to realize there was no longer a point in trying to latch on with another club and squeeze a few more at-bats, a couple of more hits, maybe even a home run or two, out of his battered body.

It was clear the Yankees had had their fill of him -- I don't think he and Brian Cashman have even spoken since the end of the season, and there clearly was no spot for him on the 2012 roster -- and he of them, as he made obvious while speaking at a banquet a couple of months ago.

So he walks away at the right time, on his own terms and with his legacy largely intact.

And it is fitting that the last memory Yankees fans will take of him is not his .235 batting average in 2011, his .092 BA against lefties, his wounded pride about losing half his designated hitter job in May or the fit of petulance that caused him to remove himself from a key game against Boston when he got a look at the lineup card and found his name at the bottom.

No, the last memory of Posada will be his club-high .429 batting average in the American League Division Series, in which the rest of his younger and high-powered teammates were nothing but air.

Wisely, Posada realized it wasn't likely to get any better than that. He becomes one of the rarest of breeds, the athlete who hangs it up at exactly the right time.

Unlike Babe Ruth, who finished up struggling in the livery of the Boston Braves, or Willie Mays stumbling in the Shea Stadium outfield, Posada spares us the spectacle of seeing him ride the bench in, say, Kansas City.

And he spares himself the frustration of being the only one who still believes he can do what he once did so well.

So now that the career is apparently over, let the conversation begin.

Posada was never the best player on his team nor the best at his position. Although he was a key part of four Yankees championship teams, the accolades always seemed to go to someone else. If it wasn't Derek Jeter, it was Mariano Rivera or Andy Pettitte or Bernie Williams or Tino Martinez or Scott Brosius or, worst of all, Roger Clemens. Rarely, if ever, was it Posada. He was never a Yogi Berra or a Bill Dickey.

But Posada's career .273 batting average, his 275 home runs and his 1,065 RBIs over 17 seasons match up well with Gary Carter's .262-324-1,225 compiled over 19. And his career slugging percentage of .474 and OPS of .848 are better than Carlton Fisk's. Both Carter and Fisk are in the Hall of Fame. Clearly, Posada belongs at least in the discussion.

But we have five years to chew that one over. In the meantime, there's only one thing to be said to Jorge Posada -- congratulations -- and for two huge reasons.

Excellent career.

Even better exit.