Wrote this as a Facebook note to explain to my baseball-disinclined friends why I was so upset about Buster. I figured some of y'all might have interest in reading it. It occurred to me that a couple years on this blog have had an obvious influence on my writing style, bordering on the derivative; oh well, so it goes.
It ocurred to me today, in between rewatching 2010 playoff footage and frantically refreshing Twitter, that I am pretty fucking upset over the entertainment-related injury of a millionaire I don't know. It sounds weird when I put it like that, the sort of tabloid-scoping inanity that I sneer at in supermarkets. Obviously, the Giants fans among my friends and family (with whom I share a link diagnosable in some quarters as a mental illness) understand what's going through my brain here, because it's flickering through theirs. The rest of you, though, may have cause to wonder just why the fuck I'm being so mordant and why Buster Posey's ankle is such a Big Deal. It's a fair question.
I think we can take as a given that if you're into a sport, like, really into it, the trials and tribulations of your favorite team have a certain emotional impact. (And if that doesn't make any sense to you, well, I've already lost you. Sorry.) So, winning good, losing bad. Losing one of your team's most capable performers, in the most important position on the diamond, is a pretty obvious contribution to more of that Losing thing. So on the basic level of wanting the Sportland Sports to do more points than the Other Guys, it's bad.
But Buster Posey, though...wow. I believe I started describing him last year as "a robot built by science to win at baseball," and while that seemed appropriate at the time (cause he is, and he did) I don't think it captures the emotional connection he made with his audience. If not for his injury, Buster probably would have been a shoo-in for the All-Star Game, baseball's annual celebration of the best (give or take a few audience biases) among it. Buster would have been the first All-Star position player that the Giants developed themselves, as opposed to acquired from another team, since 1990. 1990. I was four years old in 1990. Bill Clinton was a rising star governor. Kip Winger was a serious part of the musical landscape. 1990.
For Giants fans, that alone was enough to occasion excitement; a dude who could actually hit and learned to do it (or at least learned to do it against other Real Baseball Players) with our team. But when he came up, oh man. Sabermetricians could see beauty in his hitting splits and spray charts the way physicists find it in a particularly eloquent equation. Old-school fans, with New York Giants hats mothballing in their closests, heard names like McCovey and Cepeda at the crack of his bat. Casual baseball watchers got to see him do a whole lot of points. Like, so many points. And what's more, he did it all at catcher, the toughest position to play and, in the elusive mythology of baseball, the captain's chair. He had to do all that hitting while helping a diverse, young, wildly talented and wild pitching staff figure out how they were going to throw the ball. It was a hell of a thing to ask.
And then he did it, and the Giants won the World Series, and Buster Posey transcended into legend. The 2010 Giants were a team of outsized characters - a bald, grinning elf, a trick-roping cowboy, a louche ladies' man, a loveable jackass who enacted a scene from Zoolander during the victory parade. The faces of the franchise were a science-defying stoner and a weirdo with a steel wool dish-scrub glued to his face. Among all this, Buster was the counterpoint - fresh-faced, humble, quietly driven, given to exclamations like "Gosh," and, literally, actually, "Shucks." You have no idea how happy I was when he sincerely said "Shucks" in an interview. Buster Posey, just a good ol' country boy from a big family, beating the ever-loving fuck out of every baseball he saw and then shrugging his way through the reporters after the game.
If baseball was Marvel Comics, then Buster Posey would be Captain America. So last night was like watching Captain America get his leg folded under him like a pretzel by some third-string non-entity of a Skrull, probably drawn by Rob Liefeld. It was terrifying. We all knew Buster was playing the most dangerous position in a baseball diamond, and that almost all players spend some time on the disabled list over the course of their careers. He'd take a foul tip in the wrong place, or jam his shoulder on a slide, or something like that. Not this. Never this. Aubrey Huff said that the clubhouse was "like a funeral"; if it was, then there were tens of thousands more mourners outside the gates, staring in, waiting to see if the corpse would roll aside the stone and rise.
The latest news is that Buster's ankle is fractured, and three ligaments are torn, and he's going to need surgery. The Giants' head trainer says that other catchers have returned to their position from very similar injuries, but he also characterized it as "Very severe" on a scale of 1-10, which shows you that A) medical professionals also have trouble with basic numbers B) it's pretty fucking bad. But there is some hope that he will return this season, and a prognosis leaning towards his return to the backstop and a continuing career as Buster Posey, Hall of Fame catcher in the making.
It'll be good to see him back. It'll be just as good to see him back as it was awful to see him leave, as it was heart-stopping for that moment there where a young man who's somehow tapped into the emotional wellspring of millions of people went down in the dirt and didn't get up. He clawed at the dirt, said some things that probably weren't "Aw shucks!" or "Darn it!" and lay with his head propped up for a very long time while a lot of very worried men poked and prodded him.
But eventually, they got him up, and helped him off the field, on one foot. And the crowd stood and roared, because even if Buster wasn't walking off under his own power, he was up. He was alert. He left the field with almost all the same faculties as he'd had when he was putting his health on the line for months, to do some points and win a shiny little statue for a bunch of people who really, really wanted that shiny little statue in their city.
And that is a Really Big Deal.