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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 4, 2010

MLB: When it comes to rookie Posey, Giants don't know their history

By Gary Peterson
Contra Costa Times

At this time 24 years ago, the Giants were cautiously optimistic. They were coming off the first 100-loss season in franchise history, but they'd assembled some nice veteran pieces and their minor league system was beginning to bear fruit. One young stud was particularly impressive.

He was a sweet-swinging phenom, this fellow. In the relative blink of an eye he had gone from the Golden Spikes award as the top collegiate player, to a promising minor league apprenticeship, to an eye-opening spring training.

The Giants opened in Houston that season, and there was no doubt this guy had to be on the plane. If you have even a casual interest in Giants history, you know that in his first at-bat, Will Clark launched both a home run and an eight-year adventure during which the Giants captured two division titles and advanced to their first World Series in 27 years.

History tried to repeat itself this spring, but the Giants wouldn't hear of it. They're cautiously optimistic again, having improved by 16 games from 2008 to '09. Their minor league system is again beginning to flower. One young stud is particularly intriguing.

He's their top prospect, a Golden Spikes winner coming off a promising minor league apprenticeship and an eye-opening spring training. Now, as then, the Giants open the season in Houston.

Oh, but not catcher Buster Posey. He was shipped to Triple-A Fresno on Friday.

Don't think too hard on this one; it'll make your head hurt. Posey won the Golden Spikes in 2008, and followed that with a 10-game cameo in the Giants' low minors in which he hit .351. Last summer he hit a combined .325 with 18 homers and 80 RBI at Double- and Triple-A. This spring he batted .321 and drew praise from manager Bruce Bochy for his improved defense.

In another lifetime the Giants built an entire promotional campaign around guys like Posey — remember "You Gotta Like These Kids"? With Posey, it's more like "Don't Forget to Write."

Yes, they had an explanation. He needs more time behind the plate. It'll help him to play every day as opposed to splitting four starts a week between catcher and first base. And, of course, there's the ever-popular delaying of the arbitration clock. See, if the Giants keep him down on the farm until June 1, they'll kick his eligibility for arbitration out another year.

Two thoughts. One: Good thing they didn't have arbitration and major league service clocks in 1951. Can you imagine the conversation that would have taken place in late May, with the New York Giants lagging in fifth place, 4B› games behind the Brooklyn Dodgers?

Manager Leo Durocher: "(Expletive-expletive) Horace, even when we win we lose ground to the (expletive) Dodgers. We need an (expletive) spark. I see where Willie Mays is hitting .477 at Triple-A. He's (expletive) tearing it up. I think we should call him up and stick him in center (expletive) field. That could be just the thing to wake us up."

Owner Horace Stoneham: "Are you crazy? If we bring him up now, we start his clock. He stays put. We'll tell the press he needs to play every day and work on his defense."

How history could be different: Bobby Thomson? Never heard of him.

And two: For all the good work Bochy has done in San Francisco—patiently navigating the team through the final dysfunctional days of the Barry Bonds era; boosting the win total from 71 to 88 over the past two seasons—his time with the team has been characterized by a maddening tendency to slow-track young position players in deference to moderately productive veterans.

In fairness to Bochy, it's not always his call alone. The Posey decision was obviously made by a committee chaired by general manager Brian Sabean. That doesn't make it go down any easier.

Fun with numbers: Mays hit .393 in 455 minor league at-bats before getting called up in 1951 and inspiring the Giants' historic comeback. Clark hit .304 in 237 at-bats before being installed as the opening day first baseman in 1986. Posey, a .327 hitter in 459 minor league at-bats, is being sent back for more.

Yes, it's nice to see Bengie Molina back. But this shouldn't be about Molina. And it shouldn't be about Bochy's first base rotation, where Posey could snag some playing time when he's not catching.

This should be about the next chapter in the book. It says here you shouldn't have to drive to Fresno to read it.