The Cooperstown Case for Yadier Molina

For some, there’s no doubt about it.

For others, they still want to know why.

On this edition of The Cooperstown Case, we take a look at one of baseball’s greatest catchers, and one of the all-time great St. Louis Cardinals… Yadier Molina.

Molina, 38, reached yet another historic mark on April 14th, 2021. He became just the sixth catcher in MLB history to play 2,000 career games. Unlike the other five before him, however, Molina became the first catcher to play 2,000 career games for just one team.

So let’s look at the past 2,000 games (ok, not EVERY game), and delve into the case for Molina’s potential future enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. And if it’s obvious, we’ll delve into an even bigger question: if he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Born July 13th, 1982, Molina is the youngest brother of Benjie and Jose Molina. All three of them played catcher at the MLB level, and all of them are former World Series champions, a feat unmatched in baseball history. Bengie played for 13 seasons in MLB, Jose for 15. Both Bengie and Jose won their first World Series with the 2002 Anaheim Angels. Jose later won a second ring as a catcher with the 2009 New York Yankees.

As for Yadi, the St. Louis Cardinals selected him in the 4th round of the June player draft in 2000 at the age of 17. A highly regarded defensive prospect, Molina made his MLB debut on June 3, 2004, just six weeks shy of his 22nd birthday. In his first game, Molina was a crucial part of the Cardinals’ 4-2 victory with 2 hits and threw out his first runner.

Little did any of us realize the exceptional ballplayer we were about to see for the next two decades.

Known as a light hitter for the first few years of his career, Molina’s greatness achievement at the plate came in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. A two-run home run in the top of the ninth inning proved to be the game-winner as the Cardinals advanced to the World Series for the first time since 1987.

In the 2006 Fall Classic, Molina hit .412 as the Cardinals won the World Series over the Detroit Tigers for the first time since 1982.

After five more successful seasons, it was the magical 2011 season (Molina’s eighth in the majors) where he truly shined. Molina set career highs with 14 HR, 65 RBI, a .305 BA, and 124 OPS+. He slashed .471/.524/.588 with 9 RBI in the final five games of the World Series.

And with the departure of Albert Pujols, Molina without a shadow of a doubt became the face of the St. Louis Cardinals.

In the 2012 off-season, Molina was given a five-year extension worth $75 million. In the beginning, Molina more than earned every penny of that deal, becoming a legitimate MVP contender in 2012 and ’13. In ’12, he had the best offensive season of his career, slugging 22 HR with 76 RBI and a 137 OPS+.

Defensively, he was the top catcher in the league. Offensively, he was finally being recognized as a threat at the plate.

Here is a look at some notable stats (prior to the 2020 season):

  • St. Louis Cardinals (2004-present)
  • Career: .282 BA, 156 HR, 916 RBI, 1,963 Hits
  • Career: 98 OPS+, 40.1 bWAR (Wins Above Replacement)
  • Career: 54.0 fWAR (FanGraphs version of WAR)
  • 9-time All-Star
  • 9-time Gold Glove Award winner
  • Career: 40.2% runners caught stealing (best among active catchers)
  • Won 2006 & 2011 World Series Championships with St. Louis Cardinals
  • Career: .328 BA, 12 RBI in 21 World Series games

And by the end of this season, he has the chance to move into fourth place all-time in games played by a catcher.

Marly Rivera from ESPN asked Yadier Molina in May of 2020: “do you think about the Hall of Fame?”

Here was his response:

“Yes, I think about it. When I started my career, I had to overcome a lot of obstacles. And even though Tony [La Russa] gave me a chance, I was bombarded by negative comments. The press killed me because of my offense, my personality, whatever. All I’ve done is work hard to get better and better every single year to become the best catcher I can be. And my numbers are obviously there. I think that, because of the way I catch, that I’m one of the best catchers to have ever played baseball.”

— Yadier Molina

One last aspect of Molina’s career to note: his relationship with Adam Wainwright. Without a doubt, the battery of Molina and Wainwright is one of the best in baseball history… and one of the longest tenured. Although Molina has played since 2004, and Wainwright since 2005, the “starter” duo became official in 2007. And, depending how many starts the battery makes by the end of the season, they could move into third place all-time.

It has become a beloved duo, as both players are overwhelmingly fan favorites in St. Louis.

It could very well be the last year of Molina’s career. It seems pretty certain that, with having more than 2,000 hits, 150 home runs, and 900 (RBIs), he is bound to make the Baseball Hall of Fame. And he will surely go down in history as one of the greatest catchers of all-time.

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

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