ST. LOUIS (BaseballStL) -- No one would ever dare refer to Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina as a scrappy guy who simply makes the most out of what he's got. Typically, when you hear references like that (gutsy, scrappy, plays with heart, etc) it's a nice way of saying that have little raw talent.
Or in scout-speak, no tools.
I'll never forget when, in 2009, Mark DeRosa was traded to the Cardinals from the Indians and the team was listening to ESPN's breakdown of the trade in the clubhouse. An analyst referred to DeRosa as a "ball player". Everyone on the team, including the newest Redbird himself, burst out laughing.
DeRosa immediately made the joke that they might as well have said "he's got no talent but he's a grinder".
The reason I give that story is because no one in their right mind would refer to Molina in such a manner. He was born with a gift few have ever possessed. If he retired today many would still consider him arguably the best defensive catcher to ever play the game.
But from the day he came to St. Louis as a soft spoken backup to now manager Mike Matheny, Yadier Molina always wanted to be much more than simply a great defender. He took great pride in his hitting.
Well, the success Molina enjoyed at the minor league level did not translate to the big leagues right away. Offensively, anyway.
A .267 average as a rookie in 2004 preceded a .252 average in 2005. Those aren't terrible numbers. Not by a long shot. But the bottom completely fell out the next year in season number three. Molina struggled from beginning to end in '06 by hitting just .216 with a .274 on-base percentage.
That season stuck with him. Many believe it stays with him to this day. The hurt, the embarrassment, the sense of letting his team down throughout the year couldn't have been worse. Yes, the Cards won the World Series that season making it much easier to deal with. But from a personal standpoint, things had to change.
Ever the expert in changing batting stances, Molina made those changes. His average spiked to .275 in 2007 before finally enjoying his first .300 season ever in 2008 (.304).
But hitting for average wasn't enough for Yadi. Not at all.
He wanted more. And one place to add more was in the power column. Just 41 home runs in his first seven seasons. That's an average of less than six bombs a year. For someone as incredible defensively as him, no one would ever complain about his batting average, let alone his power.
Yet, in 2011 Molina made progress in that department as well. He cranked out a career high 14 homers that season before breaking the 20 barrier (22) this past season. Throw in his career high .315 batting average and that added up to a top four finish in the NL MVP race.
Is that incredible or what? Someone who's been a big leaguer for nine seasons now - and just a few years removed from hitting .216 - has willed himself to become something no one in their right mind would ever expect him to do.
Most people in his position would just put their hitting on cruise control and get by on defense alone. The stability would've been there. The contracts would've been there. The millions would've been there.
It really wouldn't have made much difference.
But to Molina, it did make a difference. It was a source of pride. Anything, and I mean anything, to help the team win.
Amazing what happens when talented people work hard, huh?