Buster Posey spoke tens of thousands of words during his 13 years as a San Francisco Giant. He needed just seven to create the quintessential Buster Moment, the few seconds that cemented who he was and how he acted as sheriff and chief executive officer of a major-league baseball team.
It was Aug. 15, 2012, the day National League batting leader Melky Cabrera was suspended 50 games after testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone in violation of the joint league-union drug policy.
The Giants had an afternoon game against the Nationals. Beforehand, reporters piled into the clubhouse to gauge reaction to what seemed like a knockout blow for a team good enough to reach the postseason for the second time in three years.
Buster emerged from the off-limits area of the clubhouse knowing the inquisition would land on his doorstep. He clearly had decided precisely what he would say when asked about Cabrera. He distilled it to seven words:
A violation of the 11th Commandment for a player of faith who took the first 10 as the word of God.
The Giants had met after news of Cabrera's suspension. Who spoke and what they said remain a mystery, but I have to believe Buster rose to challenge the Giants to show Cabrera that they did not need him to win.
The morning of the suspension, the Giants and Dodgers were even atop the National League West at 64-53. Without Cabrera, they went 30-15 to win the division by eight games over Los Angeles en route to a World Series championship that required wins in six postseason elimination games.
Posey, who spoke softly on Aug. 15, carried a big stick into those 45 games. He batted .348/.411/.561 en route to a Most Valuable Player award he richly deserved and a batting title that even he would admit was slightly fuzzy.
Cabrera had accrued enough at-bats before his suspension to earn the title with a .346 average, 10 points higher than Posey's, but Posey was granted the batting championship when Cabrera voluntarily relinquished it -- as if Melky had the power to alter mathematics.
While that was the quintessential Buster Moment, other memories bubble to the surface in the wake of his retirement.
-- When Brian Wilson struck out Nelson Cruz to cement the San Francisco Giants' first World Series championship in 2010, Buster raced to the mound toward his pitcher the way countless catchers had done before and since. Difference was, he kept turning his head toward the visiting dugout in Texas, smiling, as if to say, "This is for all of us! Get out here!"
-- A personal reflection: When I missed the final two months of the 2015 season undergoing treatment for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, my fellow writers constantly told me the same thing, that Buster asked how I was doing. I was mostly forgotten within the clubhouse except in one corner, where Buster dressed.
You can't imagine what that meant to me.
When I visited the clubhouse on the penultimate day of the season, mostly to bid my friends in the press a good winter, I sought out only one player -- Buster -- to thank him for keeping me in his thoughts.
I reiterated that in a text I sent him after he announced his retirement.
-- Buster is sneaky-funny, usually with an under-the-breath quip, often at the expense of Madison Bumgarner, the ONLY Giant who could get away with calling Buster by his given name, Gerald.
One day, in spring training 2015, Buster took live batting practice against Bum. it was a big deal because it rarely happened in springs past. When asked about it afterward, Buster said, "Cain throws harder."
Lest anyone doubt how funny Buster could be, his performance in the "Mi Amor" Giants ad with Sergio Romo, lives on.
Of all the stories I wrote about Buster, my favorite was spring training 2015, after the third title, when I showed him photos of the three championship #BusterHugs with Wilson, Romo and Bumgarner and asked him to recollect his thoughts at those moments.
The first thing when I see that picture is, I can’t believe Bumgarner just did what he did. What stands out to me is the conversation we had after (Alex) Gordon got on third, and just how calm and confident Bum was. He just said, “I got this. I’m going to get him out.” There was no other thought in his mind. It definitely made me settle in a lot more once he said that.
So much more could be said, and will be, when the first spring training without Buster arrives, when he appears on the field in uniform for the first time as a special coach, as fans and the media debate his Hall of Fame credentials. (A topic that deserves its own blog.)
Buster said so very little about himself over the years, I did not expect we would learn much about him we did not already know during his retirement press conference, but I found his Sid Bream anecdote instructive.
He talked about his grandfather's favorite moment, when Bream sputtered home with the clinching run of the 1992 National League Championship Series for the Atlanta Braves.
Perhaps out of kindness, Buster did not mention that the throw that Bream outraced came from the hand of the Pirates left fielder, one Barry Bonds. Though Buster and Barry were not teammates, I consider them linked in one way.
Toward the end of his career, Bonds symbolized an unhappy period in Giants history, four straight losing seasons (three with Bonds) in which the organization placed Bonds' personal home run feat above team goals.
Nine months after Bonds' final Giants at-bat, Brian Sabean, Bobby Evans and John Barr drafted Posey, who, with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, symbolized the rebirth of the Giants as contenders and, frankly, of organizational pride.
That feeling continued unabated through the rest of Buster's career, which ended after a 107-win season and a division title over the Dodgers.
Now, the difficult part for fans is wrapping their heads around Buster's permanent departure from the roster. They will grieve, which is understandable, because he enriched their love of baseball and the Giants, and thus, by extension, their lives.
I tend to look at events like this less melodramatically, perhaps the result of journalistic objectivity, but also knowing that everything in life is cyclical.
A time to arrive, a time to go.
I should have asked Buster for a way to say it in seven.