Today in Baseball History: Jorge Posada has a hissy fit

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There was a time when the Yankees front office fought with its own players a lot.  Then there was an extended time when it did not.

In that earlier time — most of the 1980s and into the early 90s when George Steinbrenner had his fastball — that friction coincided with some underperforming and, at times, downright bad Yankees baseball. In that latter period — the mid-1990s through the late 2000s, which I’ll call the Derek Jeter Era — correlated with the greatest success the team had seen in decades. I won’t say that peace caused the success because that overstates the power of harmony in an undeniably chaotic world. Correlation is not causation. But it sure as hell didn’t hurt it.

There has never been a return to that vintage Steinbrenner-era of strife in New York, but it occasionally reared its head in the late Derek Jeter Era. One of the more notable instances occurred on May 14, 2011.

Yankees catcher Jorge Posada was, along with Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte, one of the Yankees’ “Core Four” who had helped the club snag five World Series titles between 1996 and 2009. Well, Posada was not on the postseason roster for 1996 and only played in eight games in the bigs that entire season, but we’ll let that go. The point is that, since then, he had established himself as a bonafide Yankees hero.

By the end of the day on May 13, 2011, however, he was clearly running out of gas. He was no longer the team’s catcher. Russell Martin was. Posada was a full-time DH. And he was off to a horrendous start at his only job, hitting a mere .165/.272/.349 on the season at that point. He had six homers, but the last one of them had come way back on April 23. He had driven in only four runs in his previous 16 starts and was in a 4-for-25 slump over the previous 10 days.

That evening the Yankees were poised to face the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. New York had dropped three games in a row heading in, including one to the Sox the night before, were two games back of the Tampa Bay Rays in the division, and were facing Josh Beckett. The Yankees had historically teed-off on Beckett, as his 5.90 ERA against New York could attest, but Posada himself had struggled pretty mightily against the righty. It might be understandable in that case for manager Joe Girardi to give Posada the night off. He didn’t. Instead, Girardi instead dropped Posada down to the ninth spot in the order. It was the first time he had batted ninth since 1999.

Then, about half hour before game time, word came down that the Yankees had scratched Posada altogether. Andruw Jones would DH and bat ninth. There was no immediate explanation. The game got underway just after 7PM.

At around 8PM, with the game in process, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told the press that Posada had asked out of the lineup after being dropped to the ninth spot. A few minutes later it was reported that, at the time the lineup had come down, Posada told Girardi that he was “insulted” about hitting ninth in the order and that he “threw a hissy fit.”

As the evening wore on there were reports swirling that the Yankees were going to dock Posada’s pay as a result of the incident. Some reporters speculated on social media that Posada was even leaning towards retirement as a result of the perceived insult. Then, later in the evening, as the game was still going on, Ken Rosenthal, then of Fox reported that Posada had asked out of the lineup due to “back stiffness,” which contradicted pretty much everything that had come out over the previous couple of hours. Reports swirled that Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner was “in contact with Bud Selig’s office” regarding Posada’s refusal to play.

After the game, Joe Girardi told the press that Posada told him that he needed a “mental rest” that day and denied that there was any strife at all. Posada, meanwhile, doubled down on the back injury story, saying that he strained it while taking infield practice at first base. There weren’t just two sides to the story. There were three or four, and they all seemed fishy. They all strongly suggested, however, that the “hissy fit” story was the most likely.

The next day everything seemed to be fixed: the Yankees announced before the Sunday game that there would be no discipline for the five-time All-Star. That came after Posada had face-to-face conversation with both Cashman and Girardi, apologizing to each.

“All the frustration came out,” Posada said. “It was just one of those days you wish you could take back.”

Posada even got into the game on Sunday, pinch-hitting for Jones in the eighth inning.

Except it wasn’t quite over yet. Because after the game, Derek Jeter spoke to the press. His comments:

“My reaction was that I didn’t think it was that big a deal,” Jeter said about the Posada incident. “If you need a day, you need a day. It’s over. It’s done. It’s not the first time a player asked out of a lineup. Joe says if you feel like you need a day, let him know. It’s understandable … Let the person dealing with it go first. I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak.”

That last bit seemed to refer to Brian Cashman and his in-game comments on Saturday, suggesting that Cashman spoke out of turn when he told the media that Posada had asked out. Jeter also said that he didn’t think that Posada had to apologize and that it wasn’t a big deal. Even though he had already apologized. It was then reported after Jeter spoke that the Yankees front office were mad at Jeter for speaking out of turn.

It was all so strange because the Yankees — usually a well-oiled PR machine in those days — were unnecessarily throwing fuel on the fire of a controversy that was seemingly already extinguished. Posada had apologized and, for that matter, got a standing ovation from Yankees fans when he pinch hit that day. Then Jeter had to grind an axe. Then some anonymous someone in the Yankees front office had to grind one back at Jeter. It was all so . . . Steinbrennerian.

Except instead of festering for a month like it might’ve if it had happened in 1983, this was over by around 4PM that afternoon after the Yankees spoke with Jeter and everyone buried the hatchet. Oh well.

From that point on the Yankees season improved. On that Monday when Jeter and the front office were barking at each other, they were three games back in the AL East. They’d bounce back and retake the division lead, and then fall back again, but never more than those three games. By September 2 they took the division lead for good and then won it going away, topping the Rays by six games and the Red Sox by seven. The Bombers would bow out of the playoffs with a loss to the Tigers in the Division Series.

As for Posada, the batting line would improve to .235/.315/.398 (90 OPS+) and he’d smack 14 homers on the season. He’d even catch one final game on September 11 against the Angels. It would be his final time behind the plate, however, and that ALDS against Detroit would be his last big league action. He performed well in the series loss, going 6-for-19 and even hitting a triple.

Posada would take a couple of months into the offseason to contemplate his future but in January of 2012 he official retired. A little more than three years later the Yankees retired his number 20. No one said a peep about the May 14, 2011 game at either ceremony.