Star on the field, Posey a class act off it
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- My wife wanted to know if Buster Posey is a jerk.
This struck me as funny, of course, because Posey is anything but. Earnest, accessible, humble, Posey is everything we ideally want from our superstar athletes, and he's maintained all those qualities even as he's accumulated two World Series titles, the 2010 National League Rookie of the Year Award and the 2012 NL Most Valuable Player Award in his first three seasons in the big leagues.
As Giants special instructor Rich Aurilia said, "He is exactly what you want the face of your organization to be."
But my wife, like so many others, saw the "MLB 13: The Show" PlayStation video game commercial in which a reporter interviews Posey about how he "failed miserably" in last year's World Series before cutting to virtual "footage" of the game, showing Posey grounding into a Series-ending double play.
"It's a video game, you moron," Posey says as he storms off the set.
Acting chops, too?
Man, this Posey kid's got it all.
"Actually," Posey told me, "we had been there shooting for a while, and I was a little bit tired by that point. So it was a little bit easier [to act like a jerk]."
It has been interesting, in recent months, to watch the generally reserved Posey more frequently embrace the supplemental elements of his superstardom. He's done several endorsements, he held an online Reddit chat with fans, he posed for GQ and he's the star of his own iPhone app -- a game called "Buster Bash," in which the user swipes his or her finger on the screen to hit home runs off a virtual pitcher.
"That's been a fun experiment," Posey said of the game. "It's been a learning process. There are always tweaks that need to be made to it."
Posey balances all of these off-the-field endeavors against his primary wish, which is to put all his focus on baseball. And the difficulty of that balance increases exponentially when you build the kind of portfolio Posey has.
"First and foremost," he said, "the reason you have those opportunities is your success on the field. So I think it's one of those things where you have to be smart. I feel I have a good agency in CAA that can manage it, because you don't want to be spread too thin. Your main focus is still, obviously, being prepared and ready to go each day when you come to the ballpark."
Posey is eminently marketable, and so the number of opportunities that come his way is staggering.
"Certainly, no one is perfect, and Buster is no exception," said Jeff Berry, Posey's agent. "But the thing that makes Buster so appealing to people is that he represents many of the same qualities we all aspire to. And the great thing is it's not an image. It's what he is."
Still, even nice guys have to learn how to say "no." And a player of Posey's profile has to learn how to say it frequently.
Joey Votto, another recent NL MVP Award winner with a rather tame temperament, said the desire to dodge distractions comes down to a simple value equation.
"I'm not sure how Buster feels about it," Votto said, "but I can speak for myself and say there's nothing off the field that's going to come close to what I can make on the field. And I have a responsibility to the Reds organization because of the commitment they've made to me and I've made to them. So I've tried to avoid any distractions off the field and maximize my energy on the field. I don't care about the fame. I just care about being a great player, being healthy, being a winner. I'd imagine Buster feels the same way, because he's got all the accolades you could ever ask for in a career, in a short period of time."
Votto will no longer have to deal with any distractions related to contract talks. He's set for life, having signed a gargantuan 10-year, $225 million extension with the Reds one year ago.
"I think I was going to make a good bit of money either way," Votto said. "And I was probably going to get a lot of years after this season if I left it healthy and had a successful year. But I think being here where I started in Cincinnati and having the opportunity to play my entire career here is a very rare thing. I feel fortunate to be one of the few in the game to have that chance."
Posey has that chance, too. It is not at all unreasonable to wonder whether the Giants will make a similarly long commitment with their catcher, who turns 26 later this month. Posey just went through his first round of arbitration with the club and came out with an $8 million contract. His cost could skyrocket in the coming years, which is why there are reports about San Francisco talking with Berry about a three-year deal that would buy out Posey's remaining arbitration years.
But many in the industry speculate that Posey, having recovered completely from the gruesome ankle injury suffered in his 2011 collision with Scott Cousins, would be worth a decade-long commitment. Posey's athleticism should allow him to eventually shift to third or first base, if need be, to save his body from the grind of catching.
"I'm happy that we got something done for this year," Posey said. "Really, my focus is just on the upcoming season. Coming here each day and getting prepared and being ready to go. I think the injury I had a couple years ago keeps the game in perspective for me, because I've seen how fast it can be gone. So no matter what you're feeling, not feeling great at the plate or body is a little off, I try to draw on that and remember there might be somebody who is on the shelf and wishes they were out there."
Answers like that are why we respect Posey so much. The guy has shown leadership-type qualities from the day he arrived in the big leagues and has been a class act all the way. The increased exposure and attention haven't changed him a bit.
What has changed Posey -- in a positive way -- is fatherhood. Twins, no less.
"It keeps you grounded," he said. "Mine are so young [19 months], so they're just getting to the point where, when they see me, they get excited to see me. No matter what kind of day you're having, that brings you back to where you want to be and lets you know what's important."
Posey might be more famous and more exposed than ever, but it's refreshing to know he hasn't lost sight of what's important. And it's also nice to know I can honor his request:
"Tell your wife," Posey said, "that I'm not a jerk."