It was Buster all along.
That was my thought, when it was all said and done, when the thorough and professional and mature and competent words from Buster Posey floated off into the ether on Thursday at Oracle Park; when the tributes poured in from Bruce Bochy and Brandon Crawford and Hunter Pence and Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong and Brian Wilson and Javy Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo and Mike Krukow and Barry Zito; when we ventured off into a Giants world without No. 28.
It was Buster all along.
Never the headline-grabber. Never the first guy mentioned. Nope. In 2010, that was Wilson and “Fear the Beard” and Rally Thongs and Misfits and Timmy. In 2012, even in Posey’s MVP year, it was Hunter (The Reverend) Pence and Marco (Blockbuster) Scutaro and Pablo hitting three tanks in one World Series game. In 2014, a “Fire on the Mountain” broke out and the legend of Madison Bumgarner came, single-handedly gunslinging the Giants to a historic third World Series in five years.
And yet . . . it was Buster all along.
How Buster Posey is it that he is the only player from those World Series teams to have a shot at the Baseball Hall of Fame, and yet he was the quietest of the bunch? As quiet as his crouch behind the dish; as quiet as church as he sized up another hitter with his eyes through the catcher’s mask, before carefully and preparedly flashing fingers to any one of those pitchers named above.
They threw the pitches. They got the glory. Buster caught them and, as Wilson told us today, tucked them in his back pocket to hand over for posterity after all the hugs.
It was Buster all along, like Charlie Watts playing drums for the Rolling Stones, providing the beat, the spine, the heart.
Don’t get me wrong. He wasn’t forgotten. Of course he was worshipped by Giant fans. Dogs were named. Kids listed him as their favorite player. Jerseys with ’28’ dotted the stands.
And yet, I don’t think until he announced this week that he was retiring from baseball — at a relatively young 34, after a brilliant season that showed he has more great ball left — that we fully came to grips with how much Buster meant to the team, the franchise, the fan base, The City. I don’t want to say we took him for granted but . . . maybe we took him for granted.
All of a sudden, every intellectually-called pitch, every artfully framed strike, every blocked ball in the dirt, every back pick, every runner caught stealing, every jog to the dugout before the umpire signaled strike three, every gorgeous inside-out swing, every right-center field approach, every consistent, grinding at-bat flashed before our eyes.
And all of a sudden, we didn’t want to live in a world where Buster Posey wasn’t playing baseball in the home creams.
It went too fast. Only ten full seasons. Willie McCovey went from 1959-1980. Willie Mays went from 1951-1973. Barry Bonds went from 1993-2007, as a Giant alone. Buster’s streak across the sky was too meteoric, by comparison. None of McCovey, Mays or Bonds played catcher, though. The toll burned Posey’s candle at both ends. He wouldn’t go into the details of his pain, but his retirement said all you needed to know.
And so as he leaves, even departing the Bay Area for his native Georgia, as if to emphasize the clarity of his exit, we find ourselves wanting more baseball from Buster Posey. It took him uttering the words “to announce my retirement from baseball” to make us want to stand up, in front of Bochy and Kapler and Farhan and Kristen Posey and shout: “No! Don’t! We need more ball.”
Because it was Buster all along.
I could go full Jock Blog and dig out the ancient pop culture allusions that fit what I’m trying to say. Shout out the 1982 Dustin Hoffman vehicle “Tootsie” giving us the treacly yet endearing Stephen Bishop song “It Might Be You” about finally finding the right one; or a Vanessa Williams power-pop ballad reminding us “You Saved the Best For Last”; or a Hugh Grant romantic comedy in which the one he was looking for was right there in his life all along.
Granted, not the most testosterone-filled —or current — pop cultural allusions. But I have to work the tools in my increasingly barren tool box.
The baby-faced Buster stood at City Hall in 2010, pounded the dais and urged the Giants to “go do it again.” He made good on that. Twice more. Legacy, secure.
Eleven years later, with some gray at his temples, Buster said it was time to go. He’s not a Giant anymore. Damn.