A REASON TO CELEBRATE
POSEY, BELT AND CRAWFORD REACH A CHERISHED PLAYER MILESTONE IN TANDEM WITH THE GIANTS
BY JERRY CRASNICK
The last time the San Francisco Giants had this much fun, Hunter Pence was holding court in front of fans in orange panda hats at the 2014 World Series parade. Lightly regarded in spring training, the Giants were the first MLB team to reach 50 victories. They approach the All-Star break in a tight race with the Dodgers and Padres in the National League West.
Amid post-game handshake scrums at the mound, they’ve found time for some quiet reflection in the clubhouse.
Catcher Buster Posey reached a coveted milestone among players when he surpassed 10 years of MLB service time in April. First baseman Brandon Belt followed him in May and shortstop Brandon Crawford joined the club in June.
Along with qualifying a player for the full MLB pension, 10 years of service time attests to a mix of performance, perseverance and good fortune that only a small percentage of MLB players attain. Fewer than 10 percent of the roughly 22,500 players in major-league history (now that Negro Leagues statistics have been incorporated) have reached 10 years of service time.
By clearing the bar in successive months, with their original organization, the three Giants have taken the storyline to a new level. So they’ve celebrated in accordance with baseball tradition. The newest member of the club receives a bottle of champagne and a bat signed by the team, followed by a few words of recognition and a round of applause. Then it’s on to the next game.
“You do the math, and it’s such a small percentage that have gotten there,’’ Crawford said. “It’s just special to be part of that.’’
While Belt works his way back from a leg injury, Posey and Crawford are heading to Denver as members of the NL All-Star team. Once the second half begins, they’ll continue to approach the season with the same stoicism and intensity that’s earned them a combined seven World Series rings.
“They’re not rah-rah guys, but they do motivate, and they’re fierce competitors,’’ said Giants vice president John Barr, who drafted all three players. “They’ve all had the ability to stay calm in the big moments and perform. Whether it was injuries or frustration when they weren’t swinging the bat well, they’ve faced the ups and downs and come through it. And they’ve helped each other come through it. That’s great to see.’’
In recognition of the three Giants and their 30 years of MLB service, here’s a 30-point list of facts, memories and assorted nuggets from their run in San Francisco:
Since 1989, almost 8,000 players have worn a big-league uniform. Of that group, about 880 (or 11 percent) have reached 10 years of service. Posey, Belt, Crawford and reliever Jake McGee all made it off the San Francisco roster this season.
The last trio of teammates to reach 10 years of service time together with their initial team? It’s complicated.
Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz all did it with the Phillies, but three of them were never together on the same roster when it happened.
Before that, Chipper Jones, John Smoltz and Andruw Jones achieved the feat in Atlanta. And before that, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams were together forever with the Yankees.
Posey is a native of Leesburg, Ga., an important center for the study of malaria in the 1920s. Other famous Leesburg natives: NFL Hall of Famer Marion Motley, 2013 Miss Georgia Carly Mathis and country music artist Luke Bryan.
Belt is arguably the second most famous athlete from Lufkin, Texas, behind NFL wide receiver Dez Bryant. Crawford grew up 25 miles east of Oakland, Calif., and was a Giants fan to the core. He attended dozens of games at Candlestick Park with his father, Mike, and was five years old when the San Francisco Chronicle snapped a photo of him beside a sign urging NL president Billy White to intercede and keep the Giants from moving to Tampa.
Photo Courtesy of Bleacher Report
Barr was working as a scout with the Dodgers when he met Posey, his mother and his brother at a Hampton Inn in Fort Myers, Fla., during a high school tournament. General manager Brian Sabean brought Barr to San Francisco before the 2008 draft -- just in time for the Giants to snag Posey in the first round. ’
“HE GOT TO US, AND THAT’S WHAT I WAS HOPING FOR,’’ BARR SAID. “I’VE ALWAYS FELT LIKE IT WAS MEANT TO BE.’’
The Giants selected Posey with the fifth pick in a first round dominated by left-handed hitting first basemen. Tim Beckham (Rays), Pedro Alvarez (Pirates), Eric Hosmer (Royals) and Brian Matusz (Orioles) were the four players picked in front of him.
Posey’s 43.7 Baseball-Reference WAR is the highest of any player who signed out of the 2008 draft. Crawford is second at 27.6, a tick ahead of Lance Lynn (27.3).
All three are Cape Cod League alumni -- Posey with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox, Crawford with the Orleans Firebirds and Belt with the Harwich Mariners. Posey has fond memories of working at camps each morning, breaking for lunch and then heading to the park for that night’s game. Future big leaguers Jason Castro and Gordon Beckham were among his Yarmouth-Dennis teammates.
Crawford, a fourth round pick, was the 13th shortstop selected in the 2008 draft. The 12 taken before him: Tim Beckham; Gordon Beckham; Reese Havens; Anthony Hewitt; Casey Kelly; Ryan Flaherty; Tyler Ladendorf; Derrik Gibson; Jordy Mercer; Danny Espinosa; Niko Vasquez; and Chase d’Arnaud.
Giants scout Mike Kendall, brother of long-time MLB catcher Jason Kendall, was Crawford’s most passionate advocate in the Giants’ war room when other teams were backing off in response to Crawford’s disappointing junior year at UCLA. He remains one of Crawford’s biggest fans.
“As a scout, you dream of evaluating, drafting and signing a player who’s able to impact a major-league organization and ultimately win a World Championship,’’ Kendall said. “Every one of Brandon’s achievements gives me a sense of pride and huge confidence heading to the next ballpark. He never ceases to amaze me with his abilities on and off the field.’’
Belt was drafted as a pitcher by the Red Sox in 2006, but opted to go to San Jacinto College and then the University of Texas. When he hit .225 as a rookie, he thought about giving pitching one final fling.
“It’s kind of tough, failing in front of thousands of people, if not millions of people on TV,’’ Belt said. “I was like, ‘Man, who knows if I’m cut out for this? I’m going to have to go home and learn to pitch again.’ Fortunately, I was able to figure a few things out and hang around as a hitter.’’
Crawford is a three-time Gold Glove recipient at short, and Posey won a Gold Glove in 2016. According to the Fielding Bible, Belt ranks second to Anthony Rizzo among MLB first basemen since 2013 with 49 Defensive Runs Saved.
“One thing they had in common was excellent hand-eye coordination,’’ Barr said. “You watch Crawford in the field, and he’s a magician out there. We felt they were all going to be plus defenders, which helps you win games. Even when they’re struggling at the plate, they can still contribute.’’
The three players first appeared on the same lineup card on April 6, 2012, in San Francisco’s season opener. Ian Kennedy outpitched Tim Lincecum and the Diamondbacks beat the Giants, 5-4.
Posey overcame a career-threatening setback on May 25, 2011, when he suffered a fractured left fibula and torn ligaments in his ankle in a home plate collision with the Marlins’ Scott Cousins. He returned to hit .336 with 24 home runs and become the first player since Frank Robinson of the 1966 Orioles to win a league MVP, batting title and a World Series.
“THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FOR ANY INJURY LIKE THAT WITH AN ATHLETE IS THE UNKNOWN -- NOT KNOWING IF YOUR BODY WILL EVER FEEL THE SAME OR YOU’LL BE ABLE TO DO THE THINGS YOU WERE ONCE ABLE TO DO,’’ POSEY SAID. “I HAD TO COMPARTMENTALIZE AND UNDERSTAND IT WAS A PROCESS. IF MY ANKLE DIDN’T FEEL GREAT THAT DAY, THAT WAS OK. IF I KEPT DOING THE THINGS I NEEDED TO DO, I HAD TO TRUST THAT EVENTUALLY I WOULD GET BACK ON THE FIELD.’’
The Giants called up Crawford on May 26, a day after placing Posey and infielder Mike Fontenot on the disabled list. Crawford hit a grand slam in his first game, joining Bill Duggleby, Bobby Bonds, Jeremy Hermida, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Daniel Nava as the only players in modern history to hit a slam in their debut.
Belt logged his first big-league hit against the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw. He’s since gone 3-for-61 against Kershaw. Crawford is a career 6-for-48 against Kershaw, while Posey, the righty hitter in the group, is 25-for-113 with three homers vs. Los Angeles’ star lefty.
“We didn’t catch a break on that one,’’ Belt said. “When you faced Clayton Kershaw, you knew you were going to get his best all the time. I feel like I had some hard-hit balls that didn’t make it down. I’m going to say I was a little bit unlucky. Everybody else might say different. But it’s tough when you face a Hall of Fame guy like that. He’s been good for a lot of years.’’
In 2011, Giants broadcaster Duane Kuiper watched Belt circle a fly ball at Miller Park and dubbed him the “Baby Giraffe.’’ Giants fans loved the nickname, and Belt -- ever the good sport -- embraced it and rolled with it. When Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, Calif., named a newborn giraffe “Brandon’’ in his honor, Belt visited the park and posed for pictures with his namesake.
“I thought it was great,’’ Belt said. “I did look like a newborn animal trying to catch that fly ball in Milwaukee. It’s all in good fun, so you can’t be too upset about it.’’
In 2013, Posey had the best-selling jersey in the major leagues. Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and Mets teammates David Wright and Matt Harvey rounded out the top five.
Belt’s most memorable career at-bat came in Game 2 of the 2014 Division Series, when he homered in the 18th inning to give the Giants a 2-1 over the Nationals.
His most bizarre AB came on April 22, 2018, when he fouled off 16 pitches against the Angels’ Jaime Barria before lining out to right field on the 21st pitch. The plate appearance lasted 12 minutes, 45 seconds.
San Francisco Chronicle columnist Scott Ostler calculated that if the Angels bought the balls at Walmart -- which sold the official MLB baseball for $24.76 -- the team would be out $396.16.
“Dominique Wilkins was the Human Highlight Film,’’ Ostler wrote. “Belt is the Human Bathroom Break.’’
In August 2016, Crawford went 7-for-8 against the Marlins to become the first player to log seven hits in a game since Pittsburgh’s Rennie Stennett went wild in 1975.
“That was one of the crazier games in my career,’’ Crawford said. “I think my first four hits weren’t hit very hard. My legs were a little heavy for the next week from all the baserunning I did.’’
Belt suffered a concussion at Texas and three more with the Giants, and grew concerned that they might end his career. Dr. Micky Collins, a renowned concussion expert in Pittsburgh, helped him navigate the hardest days.
“There were times when I thought, ‘I’m never going to be OK again,’ ’’ Belt said. “It puts you in a dark spot when you have these concussions, with the anxiety it creates. There were some scary times during all of that, but Micky helped me get through it mentally. He just assured me he was going to get me back to 100 percent.’’
Crawford first began thinking about reaching 10 years service time in November 2015, when he signed a six-year contract extension with the Giants. Same for Belt, who agreed to a five-year extension in April 2016.
All three Giants are products of colleges with high-powered athletic programs: Posey went to Florida State, Crawford to UCLA and Belt to Texas. So who’s the resident braggart about his school’s athletic achievements?
“Definitely Belt,’’ said Crawford. “He claims that Texas -- whether it’s the University of Texas or the state of Texas -- is the best at everything.’’
Belt and his wife, Haylee, have two sons, Greyson Ellis and August Kyle. August is named after Augie Garrido, Belt’s former Texas coach. Garrido was a friend of former Giants manager Bruce Bochy and paid visits to the Giants’ spring camp in Scottsdale, Ariz., before his death from a stroke in 2018.
“At a crucial point in my career, where I needed to stay on track if I wanted to play professional baseball, he demanded the best out of me and got it as much as I could give him,’’ Belt said. “He was so different than what I thought he would be when I got to Texas. He was very hands on, but he was a great person in general. I thought that was the best way to honor his memory.’’
Posey has displayed his acting chops through the years in team promos and commercial spots for car and insurance companies. He spoke Spanish with Sergio Romo, hung his laundry over the hot tub training room and did car pool karaoke with broadcaster Jon Miller.
Crawford and Belt spent much of their time stifling laughter in Brandon-themed promos for the Giants.
While Crawford has the lengthier acting resume by virtue of his cameo in a 2016 episode of the Disney Channel show “Liv and Maddie’’, he concedes that Belt is the better actor.
“I’m not great in front of the camera,’’ Crawford said. “On the 20-80 (scouts) scale, I’d give myself a 35 or 40.’’
So who’s the best athlete of the three?
“I know Belt would say himself, but I’m gonna go with me,’’ Crawford said. “If we’re just talking about overall athleticism, I think the shortstop probably has the edge over a catcher and a first baseman.’’
Posey, who once played all nine positions in a game at Florida State, grudgingly concedes the point.
“I’ll poke a little fun at Crawford,’’ he said. “Anyone that’s 34 and 230 pounds and can play shortstop in the big leagues is a pretty good athlete.’’
Belt is the stolen base champ of the trio. He has 46 bags to 38 for Crawford and 23 for Posey. But as Crawford points out, Belt logged the majority of his steals (32) in his first five seasons when opposing teams didn’t expect him to run and he had the “surprise element’’ working in his favor.
“He’s partly right,’’ Belt said. “But I’m sneaky fast sometimes.’’
This year, Crawford joined Willie Mays, Barry Bonds and Robby Thompson as the fourth player in Giants history to start 10 straight Opening Days. Belt was injured on Opening Day last year, and Posey opted out of the COVID-shortened 2020 season after he and his wife, Kristen, adopted twin baby girls.
Crawford has been a monument to durability at short. Since 2013, he ranks sixth in the majors in games played behind Carlos Santana, Anthony Rizzo, Paul Goldschmidt, Eric Hosmer and Kyle Seager.
One of the best fringe benefits of playing in San Francisco: Clubhouse chats with Hall of Famer and baseball treasure Willie Mays, who made it to Scottsdale for Posey’s first 12 spring trainings before missing this year because of COVID-19.
“When you hear the name Willie Mays, it’s synonymous and legendary with Babe Ruth,’’ Posey said. “To see him in 12 of my 13 spring trainings, we’re all pretty lucky.’’
According to Baseball-Reference, San Francisco’s position players this year have an average age of 30.7, the oldest in the majors. Even after four straight sub-.500 finishes from 2017-2020, the Giants kept their core intact.
“We’ve had some down years, but we didn’t necessarily follow the trend of just tanking and hoping to be good in three to five years,’’ Posey said. “They still tried to put competitive teams on the field. That’s great for baseball. I think that’s the way it should be.’’
Posey ranks first among big-league catchers with 1,156 starts since 2012. Yadier Molina is next with 1,147. At age 34, Posey is putting up his best offensive numbers in years.
“Until this year, the last few years have been kind of a struggle for me physically,’’ he said. “Getting my hip in a better place has definitely helped me out. As I’ve gotten older, understanding the importance of stretching and mobility probably takes precedence over everything else for me. I’d much rather lift weights than work on stretching and range of motion, but at this point, it’s the No. 1 priority for me.’’
Crawford and Belt will be free agents this winter, while Posey has a $22 million club option with a $3 million buyout for 2022, so they know nothing is assured beyond this season. In the absence of certainty, they’re savoring the moments big and small and enjoying the ride.
“Not only are we friends, but our kids are all friends,’’ Belt said. “It’s really hard to separate all of them. We do have a deep connection. They’re two great players, two great teammates and two great people. I can really say I’m honored to do this with those two guys.’’