One Last ‘Hip-Hip, Jorge’ For A Very Classy Yankee

Every spring training game at George M. Steinbrenner Field those of us in Section 205 would see No. 20 in Yankee pinstripes striding toward the plate. At that point we would train our eyes toward a longtime Yankee fan with full-flowing mustache rise from his seat and yell at the top of his lungs “Hip, Hip” and the surrounding crowd of regulars in the section would reply with a raucous “Jor-ge,” which he and the rest us would repeat two more times before every home at-bat.

It was not just a token cheer stolen from our brethren in the Bronx. No, it was a absolute homage to one of the very best catchers in Yankee history. It was done with love and great admiration.

But it has been a foregone conclusion this winter that the ritual of Section 205 would no longer be carried out in 2012. There was a chance the cheer might have rang out if Jorge Posada chose, at age 40, to continue his career in another uniform. But, alas, that will not happen either.

According to an anonymous source reported by WFAN in New York, Posada has elected not play another game and retire as a Yankee after 17 years and 1,574 games behind the plate. Only Bill Dickey (1,708) and Yogi Berra (1,695) played in more games catching for the Yankees.

In hearing the news, my first reaction is sadness, of course. Posada won five World Series titles and was part of the famous “Core Four” along with Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, which is now down to the “Flair Pair” of Jeter and Rivera.

From 1996 through 2001, the New York Yankees won four world championships and Posada was in the middle of just about every one of them, though he was somewhat overshadowed by Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, Jeter, Rivera, manager Joe Torre.

But history speaks for itself and Posada hit .273. He is seventh on the Yankees’ all-time list with 379 doubles and 936 walks, eighth with 279 home runs and 11th with 1,065 RBIs. There is no doubt that Posada, a converted second baseman in the minors, was a major cog in Yankee teams that made the playoffs in every season he played for them except 2008.

Posada was greatly disappointed with his final season.

He came to spring training for the first time as non-factor as a catcher. Russell Martin was signed as the new starter and rookies Jesus Montero and Austin Romine were being groomed as replacements. Posada’s catching gear collected dust as he tried to adapt as the team’s switch-hitting designated hitter.

Unfortunately Posada got off to a slow start, particularly against left-handers and lost that part of his duties early in the season. Then on May 14, Posada spotted his name in the No. 9 spot in the batting order in a game against the Boston Red Sox and pride would not allow him to participate in that game.

By September, Posada was also being phased out of the lineup altogether. However, when he was given chances to play in the final few weeks, Posada began to consistently reach base on hits and walks. On Sept. 21, Posada stroked a two-run game-winning single against the Tampa Bay Rays that clinched the American League East title for the Yankees.

Playing a hunch, manager Joe Girardi used Posada in the A.L. Division Series against the Detroit Tigers and Posada responded by hitting .429 (6 for-14) in the series.

But Posda knew that with his four-year $52 million contract coming to an end in 2011 that he would never play for the Yankees again. If he wanted to continue to play it would have to be in a foreign uniform. Posada even began working out on Nov. 1 in anticipation of some offers to play with other teams.

They came. Posada considered them.

But, in the end, Posada realized perhaps it was time to end his career, a grand career at that, as a New York Yankee.

There are those who claim Posada is not worthy of the Hall of Fame. But when you look at the numbers he compiled, you can make a pretty good case for the gritty veteran from Santurce, Puerto Rico.

Posada’s 246 home runs as a catcher are only second to Berra’s 306 on the club’s all-time list. Of the 13 catchers that are currently in Cooperstown, only Berra has better career numbers in all three categories of batting average, home runs and RBIs.

Those numbers are for those who will vote in five years to chew on. But Posada can make a compelling case for joining that group.

He already joins a great lineage of former Yankee greats at catcher, which includes Berra, Dickey and Thurman Munson. His star may not burn as bright as those three but his star certainly burns bright enough to have his number retired somewhere down the road.

Posada apparently will make his decision final in about two weeks. But it won’t take Yankee fans that long to agree that he was certainly one of the classiest leaders of one of the Yankees’ most successful string of teams in their history.

Yogi will always be No. 1 in Yankee hearts but will we never forget what Jorge did in his 17 seasons with the Yankees.

OK. Section 205. One last time and let’s hear it loud and proud: “Hip, Hip, Jorge! Hip-Hip, Jorge! Hip-Hip, Jorge!”

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