To start: the Hall of Fame is a knot of contradictions. An institution that recognizes the superlatives, yet doesn’t include the all-time home run leader and all-time hits leader; a sanctimonious temple that counts racists, misogynists, abusers, and bigots in their number but shuns and shames cheaters and gamblers (who also happen to be the all-time home run leader and all-time hits leader); a history museum that planted itself on the grounds of a made-up one—the ol’ brick and mortar is man-made and flawed.
As much as it can feel like a mausoleum—all those bronze tombstones hung on lacquered walls bathed in half-light—it shouldn’t determine how, or what, players are remembered.
What makes the Hall of Fame compelling is the fact that there are no minimum statistical requirements for induction other than playing time (at least 10 years of professional baseball). There are no automatic dismissals, no trump cards, no not enough hits, sorry, or only 23 stolen bases, tough beans. If we wanted to clear house and logic away everyone out of those halls, we could because it’s all made up. The walls can move. Players wash in and wash out on the tidal whims of man. Harold Baines? Sure! Lou Whitaker? Hell no!
Often the best way to argue a player’s case for induction is by comparison. How did they stack up to their peers, whether that be by era or by position or by both?
As of Tuesday evening, Joe Mauer is a Hall of Famer. The catcher/first baseman played 15 Major League seasons (2004 - 2018) for the Minnesota Twins appearing on 76% of the BBWAA ballots, enough by four tallies to breach the 75% threshold and score entry to Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility.
This news matters to us San Francisco Giants fans because Joe Mauer is a Twins fans’ Buster Posey. Flash their mugs to the majority of differently-affiliated fans and I’d imagine you get a fair amount of confusion among the two. 200-plus pounds, 6-plus feet, a station-wagon build with an unassuming face of your best friend’s dad. Maybe most wouldn’t be able to tell them apart, but if someone asked to point out the perps in a lineup who were the backbone of a MLB franchise for a decade, there’d be no doubt. They just look like a pair of catchers.
The similarities go beyond surface level vibe. They drank from the same waters in terms of offensive approach and demeanor, the pair reveled in outfield flares and pulling into second base standing up. One team talents with an innate baseball sense whether in the batter’s box or behind it—their fates feel tied.
If Posey’s chances at Cooperstown were borderline before Tuesday, they’re solid now. Mauer’s induction is a great sign for Posey when he’s eligible to be elected into the Hall of Fame in 2027.
Head to head: Mauer has the upper hand in a lot of cumulative stats. His 55.2 bWAR is more than 11 points higher than Posey’s (44.8), while he also leads with sizable margins in categories like hits, RBIs, runs scored, stolen bases (!). This all makes sense: Joe played for 15 seasons (2004 - 2018) against Buster’s 12-ish (2009-2021 sans 2020 and 2009 and 2011 don’t really count either), racking up almost 500 more games played and 2,300 more plate appearances. Both are in the 150 home run territory which is in Mike Zunino territory. Posey’s career hit total is about 600 less than Mauer and about 80 more than Kurt Suzuki. A clean 1,500—notably and distinctly half of the 3,000 mark, generally considered a golden ticket to Cooperstown.
The numbers for adding statistics are not robust for either of them, and both probably would’ve gotten into trouble in the past with less enlightened Hall voters.
The good news for Posey is the voters didn’t care about career totals with Mauer. And as a certain voting demographic ages, I’m sure it will matter less and less. Looking at averaged categories like the classic slash line, the field between Mauer and Posey levels. They both posted a low-.300 career batting average, solid on-base and slugging to give them an OPS in the mid-to-low .800s.
Posey’s 129 OPS+ puts him comfortably in the middle of the 189 long list of current position player Hall of Famers. Yes, slightly closer to Luis Aparacio at 82 OPS+ than the 200-plus OPS+ mark set by Babe Ruth and Josh Gibson, but solid, average if you want to allow yourself to consider the reality of an average among the superlatives. Posey is notably tied with Mickey Cochrane who had a similar career length and WAR total while playing backstop for the dominant Philadelphia Athletics of the 20’s and 30’s. Mauer’s 124 OPS+ is matched with fellow Twin lifer Kirby Puckett.
Mauer had an 11.8% career walk-percentage, nearly even with his 13% K-percentage. Posey walked less and struck out more but hit for more power. They had different strengths and weaknesses but there’s no doubt that both could handle a bat.
What’s clear is that Mauer was judged more against his peers at his position rather than the entire diamond. With his induction there are now 20 catchers in Cooperstown and his OPS+ lodges him firmly in the average: 13th on the list but 8 players above him is Bill Dickey at the 127 OPS+ mark. Betwixt with a pittance more are the company of Bench, Berra and Campanella. Cochrane (thus Posey as well) sits at 4th on the list with the ridiculous Josh Gibson (214) pacing the field as an outlier.
In terms of bWAR, Posey’s would put him at 12th on the list between Cochrane and turn-of-the-century backstop Roger Bresnahan while Mauer’s is 9th, sandwiched between Gabby Hartnett and Ted Simmons.
What distinguishes Posey from others is his defense. Though Mauer was awarded 3 Gold Gloves to Buster’s one, the Twin never had to contend with Yadier Molina. The Giant was a more well-rounded player. Buster’s 9.8 dWAR (though nothing compared to Yadi or Ivan Rodriguez or Gary Carter), it easily outpaces Mauer’s 3.0 mark and would put posey 8th on the list of Hall of Famers with none of the gloves above him posting an adjusted-OPS as high as his. Posey is also one of four catchers in history to play 1,000 games at the position and finish with a career batting average above .300. His inning total of 9291.2 behind the plate eclipses Mauer’s by thousands, who transitioned out of the role to first base after the 2013 season—a luxury Posey never quite had.
What Mauer’s induction confirms too is that the Hall of Fame selection is more about a player’s peak years than anything. A sustained career is important but a concentrated, impressive height can overshadow problematic lows. Mauer certainly had those towards the end of his tenure, but that clearly didn’t hold much sway in voters’ minds.
From 2006 to 2013, Mauer’s prime, his 40.4 WAR was fifth best in baseball. His peak culminated in an MVP in 2009 by leading the American League in average, on-base, slugging, and OPS (.365/.444/.587/1.031) and earned his second of three consecutive Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards. He’d place in the top-10 of MVP voting four times, lead the league in batting average three times, on-base percentage twice, and earn six All-Star nods in that 8 year span. His slash line in that time: .327/.410/.473/.883 (139 OPS+). A three-year peak definitely, and prime that lasted more than half of Mauer’s career.
Posey was in his prime in his first full-ish season and he didn’t start to slow offensively until hip problems nagged him in 2018. In that 8 year span (2010-2017), he hit .307/.376/.466/.842 (133 OPS+) and accumulated 40.7 WAR—6th most in baseball. He became the second player in history after Pete Rose to win Rookie of the Year honors, an MVP and three World Series championships. He earned five trips to the All-Star game, three Silver Slugger Awards, one Gold Glove and finished in the top-10 in MVP voting three times while earning votes in three other seasons.
Both players’ MVP seasons certainly rank in the top-10 seasons for a catcher in baseball history and are arguably the two best in the 21st century. Mauer’s individual offensive numbers in 2009 are more impressive than Posey’s in 2012, but Buster gets a bump for coming back from a devastating leg injury the season prior, orchestrating a perfect game, and winning the World Series.
It’s the Even Year Dynasty anchors the Posey mystique. Tim Lincecum’s 2010 postseason—Buster gets credit for some of that; Madison Bumgarner as the most dominant World Series pitcher in history—not without Buster; The Core Four of Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo as the bedrocks of a shutdown bullpen over five years—Posey should get some love too.
Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra took on nearly more rings than fingers as Yankee catchers; Cochrane won one with the Athletics and another with Detroit; Bench bagged two with the Big Red Machine in the mid-70’s—no other catcher in the Hall of Fame has more than one World Series victory, and no one with multiple played in the era of expanded playoffs. Posey’s ability to navigate a pitching staff through the landmines of three separate postseason runs to three separate championships along with his career pedigree puts him in elite company.
Meanwhile, Mauer played in a total of 10 postseason games, none of them beyond the division series. In the four playoff series he played in, Minnesota never won a game. Posey also caught three no-hitters while Mauer caught zero.
It’s in these periphery notes that Buster Posey really makes his case for Cooperstown. In terms of statistical spreadsheets, Mauer has an edge, but Posey was the more complete player who’s individual greatness shone brightest amongst collective success. On top of that, his baseball career has one of the better endings. To grit your teeth through hip misery in 2018 and post-op recovery doldrums in 2019, opt out of the entire 2020 season, then return as a 34 year old catcher and put together arguably your best season in nearly a decade as the Giants put together one of their best seasons in history, while earning an All-Star selection, Silver Slugger and Comeback Player of the Year Award, before retiring from the game deserves nothing but respect.
Mauer has some storybook elements: a Tony Gwynn like rootedness to his team and its city that Hall of Fame entry—though nice and appreciated—can never really touch.
Posey isn’t a native San Franciscan son, but an adopted one, and someone who’s doubled down on the Bay Area and its franchise. He’ll get both, but which plaque will be more meaningful? The one in Cooperstown, or the one on King?