Posada adventures: Catcher ranks ’em all

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L to R: Joba Chamberlain(notes), Hideki Irabu, Mariano Rivera(notes), David Wells(notes), Roger Clemens(notes) and Randy Johnson(notes).
(Yahoo! Sports illustration/Getty Images)

In his 20th professional season, Jorge Posada(notes) has spent more than half his life viewing games from his haunches behind home plate, all of it as a New York Yankee.

He has caught more than 200 pitchers, going on 170 in the major leagues, some headed to the Hall of Fame, others nearly forgettable, from Roger Clemens to Joe Ausanio, Randy Johnson to Dave Pavlas. He's caught a perfect game (by David Wells) and many, many imperfect ones.

From all those pitchers, all those games (1,503) and innings (12,307 2/3) caught, all those World Series rings (five) and all those All-Star games (five), he singled out a few.

Best fastball

"Kyle Farnsworth(notes) or Scott Proctor(notes). Proctor would throw 98, 99, 100. Farnsworth is 100-plus. That's based on straight velocity."

Best curveball

"Hideki Irabu had a very good curveball. Just a straight up and down, swing-and-miss curveball. John Wetteland had a very good curveball. He threw it for a strike, too, in any count, any situation. But, he really didn't use it much. He didn't want to throw it. He wanted to throw fastball-slider. I would say Irabu. El Duque [Orlando Hernandez(notes)] had a very good curveball."

Best slider

"I would say Joba Chamberlain. Straight down, great velocity. Roger Clemens had a very good slider, too. I think Joba's is better."

Best changeup

"Probably Jimmy Key. CC Sabathia's(notes) got a very good changeup. It's about arm speed and location."

Best cutter


Best junk pitch

"Clemens' splitter. I've only caught Wade Boggs' knuckleball. Andy Pettitte(notes) had a knuckleball when he started in the minor leagues. Nasty, too. That was his two-strike pitch in the minor leagues. Splitty, I would say Clemens. Screwball, Dale Polley, little lefty, had a screwball. Also, that guy we had for a while. Tall, older guy that came from the minor leagues, he had a screwball. It started with a P. Threw a screwball. Older looking. Looked like that guy in 'Major League,' with the belly? [Dave Pavlas]"

(Yes, Pettitte threw a knuckleball for one professional summer – 1991 – in rookie ball and Class-A Oneonta. Posada caught Pettitte in Oneonta. Or, tried. "When I got to two strikes, I was going to throw a knuckler as hard as I could," Pettitte said. "I struck everybody out with it." His coaches ordered him to scrap it. One of the coaches was Hoyt Wilhelm, a Hall of Fame knuckleballer. They promised him when he was in the major leagues for 10 years, he could start throwing it again. So? "I can't," Pettitte said. "I lost it." As he recalled, he threw two to Posada. One hit him in the shin, the next in the foot. Posada took off his mitt and warned, "I'm not catching you again if you throw it." Pettitte: "My nickname was 'Knucksie.' I'm not kidding.")

First game

"The first game that I caught was Kenny Rogers(notes), I think." (Actually, it was Joe Ausanio, in September 1995. A year later, in his first start at catcher, Rogers was the starting pitcher). "Yup. Joe had a forkball. But, he'd throw it like that [ball wedged between ring and middle fingers] and it would act like a knuckleball." (Note: Pavlas and Polley relieved Rogers in the later innings that night.)

Smartest pitcher

"Mariano's pretty smart. El Duque was very smart. So was Clemens. Reading batters, El Duque was special because he didn't know anybody. He came in and they threw him into the fire. He would read their stance. He'd know if he was a low-ball hitter or high-ball hitter, just from the stance. That's how good he was. He'd read the swing of the bat, foul balls, stuff like that. Clemens was pretty good at that, too."

Pitcher he wished he had caught

"Probably Bob Gibson, just watching his videos. Joe Torre would talk about him a lot, being a big-game pitcher, taking control of the whole game. A horse. He comes to mind."

Best big-game pitcher

"I would say Andy Pettitte. The way he took upon the challenge, the whole challenge. Getting ready, getting prepared, his focus. Really nothing gets in his way of what he wants to do."

Pitcher he best connected with

"David Wells. Yeah, that's frightening. You know what, you've got to put him in the curveball category. He had one of the best curveballs. You have to include him in there. He never shook me off. And he said I would call pitches he wanted to throw. I don't know how true this is. But, he would have the grip on the ball and I would call that pitch. It was kind of weird, you know? He'd go to that grip and then I'd be calling it."

Pitcher he least connected with

"It was probably because I was intimidated by him – David Cone. I was a young guy, he was older. Nothing against the guy. I think he was a big-game pitcher. When he went out there and didn't have anything, he would invent it. He was that kind of pitcher. If he wasn't 100 percent, he would still go out there and get after it."

Funniest guy when he went to the mound

"Jon Lieber. He was hilarious. He was out there, just weird. I'd come out to the mound and if he had given up a home run, he'd say, 'That was your fault.' He was pretty good."

Scariest guy when he went to the mound

"David Cone. I was just intimidated. I would not even go to the mound. I was, like, scared, you know? He was the nicest guy in the world, but when he pitched, oof, don't get near him. He was scary. He gave up a home run to Ken Griffey Jr.(notes) in Seattle once. I wanted him to come in and he didn't want to. He gave up a home run on a split. Probably hung in there and Griffey hit a home run. So, I go out there and he says, 'How the hell would you pitch him?' I said, 'I think we gotta come in.' Next time, Griffey comes up, we go in and he hits a double.' I go back out and Cone says, 'How the hell you gonna pitch him now?' "

Wade Boggs

Toughest hitter

"Edgar Martinez(notes). Manny Ramirez(notes) is pretty tough, also. But, Edgar Martinez stands out. He was ahead of you. It was like he knew what was coming."

If he could take one pitch back

"Probably the pitch before Tony Womack(notes) hit that double in Arizona off Mariano [in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series]. And then we went back to that same pitch. The location of that second pitch, we needed it a little deeper probably, a little further inside. It kind of stayed in the middle of the plate a little bit. That's the pitch. Both of them."

Which was more fun: catching Boggs (1997) or playing first base behind Nick Swisher(notes) (2009)?

"Catching Boggs. He was good. We were in Chicago. And he was funny, throwing knuckleballs. He was acting like Charlie Hough. You know, we were out of it. We got blown out and he goes in there. He was imitating Charlie Hough. It was funny."