It is time to start speaking of Yadier Molina as the greatest St. Louis Cardinal ever.
Yes, there was a man named Musial. Yes, there was a pitcher named Gibson. Yes, there was a slugger named Pujols.
But as great as those Cardinals were, they were not Yadier Molina.
Musial was adored. Gibson was feared. Pujols was admired. Molina is revered.
The Cardinal catcher is the embodiment of the competitor, teammate, leader, defender, sage, and inspiration baseball wants all players to be.
In St. Louis, Ozzie Smith dazzled. Dizzy Dean entertained. Lou Brock amazed. They were not Molina.
Could Stan Musial handle a pitching staff? Could Dizzy Dean get 2,000 hits? Could Bob Gibson, or Albert Pujols squat his entire career?
Want to see respect? Look no further than the bench-clearing brouhaha that erupted between the Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds the opening weekend of the season at Great American Ball Park. Who else could get into a fierce rumble with an opposing player only to have the opposing player say how much respect he has for him? Who else could have a peacemaker from the opposing team rush in, grab Molina, and in the heat of the moment manage to compliment him on his stature in the game? Both happened.
When Nick Castellanos of the Reds flexed his arms in exaltation over St. Louis pitcher Jake Woodford, after scoring on a close play at the plate, Molina rushed to take up for his pitcher. Woodford had put Castellanos on base by hitting him with a 93-miles-per-hour fastball. After the Castellanos’ King-Kong-like flex, Molina confronted Castellanos, which led to both benches emptying. For all the fuss and excitement, no blows were landed, although Castellanos was suspended for instigating the multi-man wrestling match and a handful of players were fined, including Molina. It was little more than a pushing-and-shoving match.
But in one of the most bizarre twists, Castellanos, while making no apologies for his action, called Molina a “boss” and said, “That guy could have punched me in the face and I would still ask him for a signed jersey. I have nothing but respect for that cat, bro. He’s a real one.”
As the two teams continued their skirmish in the outfield, Castellanos and Molina stood and talked near the right-field line. Castellanos offered no account of the conversation but it looked for all the world like Molina was giving Castellanos some intense instruction and fatherly advice, and Castellanos was taking it. For a guy who got drilled in the ribs with a pitch, to explain his emotions by praising his opponent, it made Castellanos look like an emerging presence himself. He’s a rising star. He has been clobbering the baseball and has become a fan favorite in Cincinnati.
While radio and television commentators made what they could of the exchange between the two long-time rival teams, the best, most in-depth analysis came from, who else, Trevor Bauer.
Bauer is now a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, which normally would cause you ask, “What does he have to do with it?” But Bauer runs circles around television experts with his social media revelations, showing yet again a perspective that traditional media can only dream of. Bauer devoted nearly one-half hour to a detailed breakdown of the incident on YouTube, with all the angles and chronology of events found in a feature documentary. He concluded Woodford likely hit Castellanos with the pitch on purpose, due to Castellanos showboating on a home run on Opening Day. But Bauer’s analysis explained the motives of each combatant in the bench-clearing as meticulously as anyone could. Bauer has a future in media after his career, but the current bigshots in the industry would only stand in his dust.
Meanwhile, Jimmy O’Brien of Jomboy Media continues to be the best lip-reader on the planet. After Mike Moustakas grabbed Molina in an effort to minimize the damage, O’Brien deciphered video of Moustakas telling Molina, “You know I love you, bro. Got nothing but respect for you, bro,” which is a heck of a comment in the middle of an old-fashioned rhubarb. It shows again that the look of a confrontation can be much worse than reality.
The lasting impression of the Reds-Cardinals bench-clearing was the presence of Molina. He is a warrior, a defender, and ready to take younger players to school regardless of which team they’re on. Molina has a command on the field that simply doesn’t apply to other Cardinal greats. If anyone needs further proof, just attend a game in St. Louis and see how the people react to him.
Molina has caught 1,996 games, ranking sixth all-time. That’s more than Hall of Famers Ted Simmons, Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra and Mike Piazza. He has been an All-Star nine times. He has nine Gold Gloves and four Platinum Gloves, which go to the best overall defensive player in each league. Molina is often the subject of debate as to whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame. It’s a meaningless exercise. He’s the greatest Cardinal ever. Of course he’s in.
Musial, Gibson, Brock, the Wizard, (and yes, Mark McGwire is intentionally left off the list; that’s his fault) each holds a special place in the history of the franchise. But go to St. Louis and observe the respect given the Cardinals catcher, and it’s easy to see. The others aren’t quite on his level.