Congratulations to the trio of Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez on being announced as the 2o17 class elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Prior to the St. Louis Cardinals playing in one of their World Series games in 2013, I wound up sitting by Rodriguez in the auxiliary press box. After we had spoken for a while he was happy to let me turn the microphone on and discuss someone he had known since his childhood–Yadier Molina.
“Yadier has been proving how good he is through the years,” said Rodriguez. “Every year that he plays, he’s getting better and better and better. He’s always got that defense behind the plate–now, his overall game is outstanding. His defense-offense right now, he’s very dangerous. With the bat, he knows what he’s doing.
“But the most impressive thing to me from Yadi is the way he studies the game. The way he respects the game, the way he calls games, and the way he takes pride in calling games. That’s why this pitching staff and the guys who pitch for the Cardinals they love to see him back there.”
Both Molina and Rodriguez shared a teacher in respect as Bengie Molina later detailed in his book, Molina: The Story of a Father Who Raised an Unlikely Baseball Dynasty. Bengie Molina shared the story of how his father, Benjamin “Pai” Molina, was their Little League coach and once kicked a young Pudge off the team for slamming down his helmet. A week later, Rodriguez apologized and returned to the team. Would have loved to have gotten Pudge’s version of how that went down.
But he was willing to compare and contrast himself, Johnny Bench, and Yadier Molina. Well, two out of three.
“I don’t like to talk about myself, but I can talk about Johnny Bench and Yadier,” Rodriguez said with a smile. “I’ll let you talk about me, I don’t like it. Johnny Bench, different player than Yadier, of course. A different type catching style.
“I think Molina is a complete package as a catcher. A good blocking guy, throws the ball extremely well. Calls a great game, good receiver. Knows what he’s doing behind the plate. Now he’s a very, very good hitter who stays inside of the ball–when you stay inside of the ball you’re going to end up hitting .300 and be a good hitter. To me, right now, he’s the best catcher in the game–in this era right now.
“Johnny Bench to me, I respect that he was, no, he is my favorite player when I grew up. They’re both great, great catchers. They go through their business very professional. They play hard. They play everyday and when you do that, people need to say that those two are the best.”
The comparisons between the three–in particular Pudge and Yadi are going to continue. Not just in Gold Gloves and other statistics, but in longevity.
Molina recently told media at the Winter Warm-Up that after catching a career-best 1218.1 innings last year, he anticipates being able to handle the same sort of workload this season.
“The work in the off-season,” credited Molina. “In the second half, I felt good enough to finish strong.”
“Working out and take care of yourself,” echoed Rodriguez in that World Series conversation. “Take care of your body physically, make sure you stay in good shape. And basically do the things that you’ve got to do–prepare for the game. Make sure you do your catching program. Your blocking, your throwing. Those kinds of things. Read the scouting reports. Make sure you got all that on the same page. If you establish that early in your career, which I did that in my career. I had a good discipline, a good work ethic since day one that I played in the big leagues. That’s why I played for so long.
“Yadier–you can see how his body’s changed since where he came from and now. He looks like he’s in shape. He looks like he works hard and takes care of his body. He keeps doing that and he’s going to play for a long time.”
At the age of 34, Pudge Rodriguez caught 1054.1 innings. He followed that with 1052.2 the next season and his final Gold Glove. But even over the next two seasons he still caught over 900 innings (930/962) and started over 110 games each of those years.
Rodriguez played for six different teams in his 21 big league seasons. Molina is hoping to stay with one. He has this season left on his contract and the Cardinals hold a team option for 2018.
“Obviously, I want to stay here,” said Molina. “Everybody knows that. This year’s going to be one of the most important years of my life and my career. I’m preparing myself to do the best I can to help the team win. I’m trying to concentrate on that. The outside stuff, I can’t control. Would I like to stay? Yes. I would love to stay.”
As for why this is one of the most important years–“that’s the way I think every year,” Yadi laughed.
Desire as he might, Molina has also seen the likes of Albert Pujols, Carlos Beltran, and now most recently Matt Holliday not finish their careers in St. Louis.
“I want to stay here,” reiterated Molina. “Always this is a business. Whatever they feel like they can do to help the team, they will do it. I’ve been here for many years and I’ve been with many teammates that come over here and want to stay and they don’t have the pleasure to stay. Like I said, I would love to stay. I would love to work out something with them. Hopefully, we do it.”
“It has been something that we have talked about in terms of what that might look like,” answered St. Louis Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak about the topic of an extension.
“But when you talk about extensions or where players are in terms of adding or long-term resource, for us, I think it’s always best to keep that internal. But not to acknowledge that he has a year left with a mutual option wouldn’t be fair either. So I think as we look at ’17, it’s certainly something we have to think through. He’s made it no secret that he would like to find a way to stay here, and I would imagine that it’s something that we will mutually try to do.”
photo credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports, Tony Gutierrez-AP, Brad Mangin, Bill Greenblatt-UPI