SAN FRANCISCO — Thursday morning, Giants director of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi flew into SFO.
But when he got off the plane, he wandered around the terminal. He didn’t want to leave the airport and head to Oracle Park for Buster Posey’s retirement press conference.
No, no, no. That would make it “real”.
“I’m not sure this is the right time to ask,” Zaidi said in his opening remarks, turning to Posey, “but is this a definite, for-sure thing.”
It was a joke, mostly, and it drew the biggest laugh of the day. But more than that, it encapsulated the seriously conflicting emotions surrounding Posey’s retirement ceremony Thursday.
There’s confusion mixed with gratitude; a selfish desire to keep one of the greatest Giants of all time in uniform, mixed with cascading respect for everything the San Francisco catcher did in his career.
But sadly — and happily — it’s true: Posey’s time on the diamond is done. Thursday was both a farewell and a celebration of one of the greatest Giants of all time.
Posey, 34, admitted Thursday that he could have played longer, “if he wanted to,” but ultimately that was not the case. After opting out of the 2020 pandemic season, he returned to the Giants expecting the 2021 campaign to be his last season.
And even as he posted an All-Star campaign — the seventh of his career — and led the Giants to a franchise-record 107 wins, he never wavered in his decision.
“Playing the way I did didn’t sway me. That’s part of the reason I feel at peace with my decision,” Posey said Thursday.
That peace came through Thursday. He was emotional but steady in his final goodbye. There was a bit of early emotion, but otherwise, Posey was deliberate in announcing a decision he made months ago but finalized only days ago. He was committed to thanking everyone he could.
Yes, the man we saw behind and at the plate for years was anything but an artificial character. He was pure class, start to finish.
Ultimately for the Giants’ catcher, the pain that came with being behind the plate for more than a decade was a big part of the decision. More important was his desire to spend more time with his wife, his four children, and his extended family.
There’s no question Posey was the best of the best. Not only was he a great player (and yet, still, underrated), he led off the diamond as well.
Zaidi, who only had a short professional relationship with Posey, seemed the most moved by the catcher’s retirement. He shared the story of their first meeting.
Remember, Zaidi came to the Giants from the Dodgers. He was a numbers guy taking over a team that was run in an old-school way.
His analytical background, his Dodgers roots, and, sadly, the fact that Zaidi was baseball’s first Muslim team president, did not make his welcome to the Bay Area warm.
Zaidi confessed that he was “rattled” those early days on the job. “It was a real adjustment period for me,” he said.
Posey reached out. Not just with a text message saying “congrats,” but with a request to meet.
A few days later, the two spent hours in a backroom of Oracle Park. Posey feeling out the new boss a bit, Zaidi sharing his vision for the team. Posey could have sabotaged it all. Deemed Zaidi unworthy or unfit. After all, the Giants were Posey’s team and Zaidi was an outsider.
Instead, Posey bought in. Three years later, that vision led to 107 wins and a wholly unexpected division title.
But it was that initial acceptance that resonated with Zaidi.
“There’s nothing else that anyone could have done to make me feel more comfortable,” he said. “I truly felt like I became a Giant.”
And in the years to come, when we look back on Posey’s great career, I believe we’ll be thankful that he saw it fit to exit in this manner — that he didn’t play through the pain, putting his love of the game aside for the cash that comes with it. He passed up a $20-million option that the Giants were due to exercise this weekend.
No, Posey will go out the same way he came in: great.
“I think that’s important to me,” Posey said. “All of us who have been around the game for a long time — unfortunately you do see players who get to the end of their career, and the game does get hard. You do tend to get bitter sometimes. It doesn’t happen to everybody. But again, [I’m] just grateful.”
Posey said the family will move back to his native Georgia eventually. The team will have a role for him in the near future — one of those retainer gigs that so many other departing Giants have taken on their way out the door.
He leaves as a three-time champion, a Rookie of the Year, an MVP, a superstar, and a San Francisco and Bay Area icon.
Yet with his final words as a Giants player, he couldn’t have been more humble. You’d have thought he was just a utility infielder.
“You’re not as important as you think you are,” he said.
For a Giants team that was lost without him in 2020 and now loses its clubhouse leader, the backbone of its pitching staff and defense, and the bat in the heart of its order — for the fans who, justly, feel like a member of their spring, summer, and fall family is leaving — Posey couldn’t be more incorrect.
There will never be another Giant like Buster Posey. He was more important than he’ll ever know.