Benito Santiago became a full-time starter for the San Diego Padres when he was only 22. He hit .300, threw dudes out from his knees, and won the Rookie of the Year award. He was the future of the Padres franchise. And the Padres finished 65-97 that year.
The backup catcher was Bruce Bochy, who was coming off a nice season as the backup to Terry Kennedy. When Kennedy was traded after the '86 season, it's doubtful that Bochy rubbed his hands together in anticipation of a new starting gig. Bochy had probably accepted his role as a backup catcher by that point. But he was absolutely glued to the bench in '87, starting only 18 games.
Bochy watched the rookie catcher allow 22 passed balls. He watched Santiago catch a sub-mediocre pitching staff. Eric Show, a fine pitcher and frequent 15-game winner, was suddenly a 16-game loser. Once Santiago learned the game, Show returned to form in 1988. Maybe those two things weren't correlated at all. But they could have been to someone sitting on the bench, watching some hotshot kid get all the press. Santiago kept getting his hits, but San Diego kept losing. The hitting from the starting middle infielders was bad -- Bocockian, even -- but the pitching was the biggest reason the Padres came close to 100 losses. The bullpen was solid, but the starters were mostly wretched.
When Ed Whitson would hang his third-best pitch in a strikeout situation and watch it get ripped for extra bases, Bochy knew that Santiago had a lot to learn about calling games. When a passed ball would rattle young pitchers like Mark Grant, Bochy would empathize. The Padres were bad the season before, so it's likely that Bochy completely understood why Santiago was out there; it's not like the team was planning on taking the NL West. But with the Padres 11-7 in games started by an experienced catcher, it must have been easy to think that the Padres were losing in no small part because of an inexperienced catcher, even if he was the Rookie of the Year.
It's a little silly to think that Bochy is psychically scarred from his last year in the majors, and now he's taking out some sort of latent hatred of rookie catchers. But I'm realizing that it's just as silly to think that Bochy isn't playing Buster Posey because he's feuding with management or trying to prove a point. It's just as silly to think Bochy is refusing to play Posey because he wants to coddle a sensitive Bengie Molina. Heck, when Molina looked tired on Tuesday night, Bochy yanked him. He didn't worry about feelings; he yanked Molina and put in Eli Whiteside.
No, Bochy isn't playing Buster Posey because he seriously thinks that of the three catchers on the roster, Posey represents the worst chance at a victory. Bochy's entire view of baseball is catchercentric. If Galileo rose from the grave to tell Bochy that baseball revolves around other elements of baseball, Bochy would laugh. It's painfully obvious, he'd think, that catching is the most important aspect of the game, so he wouldn't even bother arguing. Catchers call every pitch. They lead the team. They're more involved with the defense than any other position. So why should the most important part of the game be given to a rookie in his early 20s if the team is trying to win?
Here's the thing, though: The Giants are probably going to try to win next year. They'll make some sort of splash in the trade or free agent market to help the offense, and the pitching staff will remain mostly intact. So expectations will be higher. And if the Giants bring back Bochy, he'll probably be reluctant to start Posey. Heck, he might advocate that Posey start the year in the minors. The Giants will be trying to win, mind you. Inexperienced rookie catchers have no place on teams trying to contend. It's been almost 86 years since a team led by a rookie catcher made the playoffs. And by "86 years", I mean "one year", so you can see where this fear comes from.
This is just an unfortunate coincidence: the Giants' best position prospect of the past two decades happens to play the one position on the diamond that comes with all sorts of mystical, intangible, and overblown importance attached to it, and the Giants' manager is a high priest of that particular church. Bochy doesn't care about Posey's on-base potential, or his solid K/BB rates at every stop, or the blah blah blah that's giving him so much hype before he even starts a game. That stuff doesn't win games. Whiteside is hitting .200/.240/.278 with three walks against 28 strikeouts, but he does the stuff that wins games. Heck, the Giants are 17-12 in Whiteside starts, which can't be a fluke. I mean, it absolutely can to anyone with a sliver of objective thought in their brain, but it isn't to followers of a catchercentric dogma.
Maybe this is an overreaction. Maybe Posey will start next year, and Bochy will live with it, if not encourage it. Maybe he just thinks this season wasn't the right time to break in a new catcher. The easiest way for the Giants to improve the offense is to replace Bengie Molina's 281 on-base percentage with something better. The solution is right there. Even if Posey only matches Matt Wieters' disappointing .287/.336/.406 line, the offense will have taken a huge step forward.
In the three weeks since Posey's been called up, though, he's had three at-bats and a handful of defensive innings. This is because the manager is trying to win, and he thinks that Posey hurts the Giants' chances to win compared to other catchers, even if the alternative is a minor league journeyman who was usually one of the worst hitters at every minor league stop. I'm not sure why this view would change in the offseason. Here's hoping the Giants make the right decision for next year and beyond.
It's hard to write a post like this and not think of the end of "Casino", with Robert DeNiro's character getting his own regional talk show and using it to call out local politicians. It's funny but cringeworthy to watch DeNiro rail on the same topics over and over and over with no one listening, and I'd like to think I did just as well on both counts. I'd like to thank this poster for finding this old messageboard post, which gave me the idea for this screed.