Here's the premise: Buster Posey has had the greatest start to a career in major-league history.
I know, I know. It sounds crazy. But pull up a bar stool and let's talk about this. Really, it's not that nutty. In fact, it just might be true.
Consider the evidence: In his first three seasons of big-league ball, Posey has won two championships, a Rookie of the Year trophy, a batting title and will likely become the National League MVP for this season. In that short span, he's also managed to overcome one of the most gruesome baseball injuries in recent memory, and should pick up a Comeback Player of the Year award for his troubles.
All this while playing the most demanding position on the field, handling an all-league pitching staff. We knew Posey was going to be good. But this good?
Go ahead, order another one. Let's talk.
What's that? Derek Jeter? Well, sure. He's the only guy you could compare Posey to in the same generation. Jeter came up with a talented class of New York Yankees farmhands, started winning immediately, and hasn't stopped. He's a lock first-ballot Hall of Famer.
But did he outdo Buster? Let's see. Jeter's first full year was 1996. He won Rookie of the Year. And the Yankees won the Series. Not bad. Jeter batted .314 that first year. Posey hit .305. Their slugging and OPS numbers were comparable. Posey had 18 homers, to Jeter's 10. Sounds like a wash, although Posey received MVP votes in his first year. A harbinger, indeed.
Their second years were similar, even with Posey's injury. Jeter's Yankees didn't win the title in 1997. And Posey's Giants missed the playoffs. Their batting averages were eerily equal, but the whole thing's off due to that play at the plate. Jeter played more, but the result was the same for both guys.
Fast forward to year three. Posey goes off, winning the batting title, (likely) MVP and the World Series. He won the Hank Aaron award. And will win the Silver Slugger, for top-hitting catcher in the National League. Jeter wins the Series with the Yankees, but he's not the only straw that stirs the Yankees' drink, if we may quote Reggie. Buster's the drink, the straw and the ice for the Giants. Their statistics are similar and the end result is the same, but ...
Posey vs. Jeter: Advantage Posey.
Take it easy, take it easy. I know. Captain Clutch has an argument there, but I'm going to stand behind Posey's MVP and batting title. Case closed. So, pull another one, barkeep. Let's keep going down this road.
How about another catcher? That could make for a good comparison. Thurman Munson? Carlton Fisk? Nah. How about Johnny Bench? He's got to compare favorably, right? The guy was the greatest of all-time. Let's see.
Bench's first full season was 1968. The Reds were a good ballclub, and Bench won Rookie of the Year and even got MVP votes, just like Posey. But Bench didn't win a title that year. Posey did. One thing Bench won each year was the Gold Glove. Buster's still looking for one of those.
In year two, Bench showed off his muscles, hitting 26 home runs. That's something he has over Posey. But the Cincinnati Reds didn't win anything, and Posey, yet again, sat out most of his sophomore year.
It's in year three that things get fascinating. Posey goes large, we know that. But Bench really goes off. He hits 45 home runs! 148 RBIs! Wins the MVP ... and the Reds lose in the World Series, four games to one against the Orioles.
When you tally it all up. Bench is the superior offensive and defensive catcher. But he has no titles. As in zero. Won't win one until 1975. And Buster's got two in three years. Game. Set. Match ...
Posey vs. Bench: Advantage Posey.
It's getting late here, but I think we can grab a cab later. Let's have a taste of the short glass. On ice. It's getting serious and we have to go to the legends.
Mickey Mantle. Need we say more? The Mick played his first full year in 1952. Yankees win the Series. And they do so again in Mantle's second year. He outpaces Posey in home runs, but lags behind in average. No MVP trophy for Mantle. No batting title. Perhaps most telling, Mantle joined an existing dynasty, replacing Joe DiMaggio for crying out loud. And he wasn't playing catcher.
This, my friend, is a close call. Mantle's offensive numbers are better. And down the road, Posey will have a tough time keeping pace with Mick's career (fifth year -- MVP, .353/52/130). But, in comparing their first three campaigns, the combination of two titles, an MVP trophy and batting title cinches it for Posey.
Posey vs. Mantle: Advantage Posey.
Steady, there. It's been a long night. But as we close this fine establishment, just remember, my friend, there's one guy we haven't talked about. Name of Mays. First name Willie.
You've seen his statue out front of the ballpark, right? Here's why it's there. Willie Mays debuted with the New York Giants in 1951, winning the Rookie of the Year award while batting .274, and losing to the Yankees in the World Series. He got drafted into the Army and missed most of 1952 and all of 1953 in the service. Upon returning in 1954, the Giants won a title, sweeping Cleveland in four. Sound familiar? And Mays won the MVP that year, too. Talk about a comeback.
A remarkably similar start to Posey's career, I'd say. Big start, tough setback, followed by an MVP year and a title. But Posey's still ahead by one championship. And Mays, sadly, never won a second.
Posey vs. Mays: Advantage Posey
That's it. I've had enough. Posey clearly carries the day, having had the greatest start to a career in baseball history. There's no one left standing. There's no argument to be had. Pour me into a cab and let's forget this ever happened. Comparisons in baseball can dig a very deep rabbit hole, indeed.
What's that? Who? My god, you're right. The original San Francisco phenom. The kid from Martinez. Joe DiMaggio. Say it ain't so, Joe. Did you have a better start than Buster? Well ...
Joe D became a regular with the Yankees in 1936, playing in the team's first World Series without Babe Ruth. They won that year. And then they won the next year. And the year after that. DiMaggio came out of the gate, 3-for-3. And he batted .323, .346 and .324 in those first three years. No MVP awards. No debilitating injuries. Just pure dominance. He started out hot and stayed hot, becoming a player for the ages.
Sorry, Buster. You've met your match in Joe DiMaggio. But who better than San Francisco's own baseball god?
Posey vs. DiMaggio: Advantage DiMaggio.
So, there you have it. A great premise, disproved in the 11th hour (or is it 2 a.m.?) by the Yankee Clipper. It's a fitting end to the discussion. Legends should remain high atop their perch. And I'm sure Posey wouldn't mind batting right behind DiMaggio in this lineup.