(KMOV.com) — Yadier Molina wants to leave a legacy.
Though there was a time in the recent past—before coronavirus reared its head to impact virtually every facet of life in America—that the longtime Cardinals catcher believed 2020 could be the final season of his playing career, the pandemic has caused him to reconsider his previous thoughts on the matter.
A couple weeks ago came the headline describing Molina's desire to play two more years beyond the scope of his current contract with the Cardinals, which expires this year. In that report from ESPN, Molina issued another about-face compared to previous comments that indicated he would sign an extension with St. Louis, or ride off into the sunset. Either way, he was on the record about his plans to finish his career where it began.
Now, he says, if the Cardinals don't offer a contract to Molina's liking, it's possible he's wearing another uniform next season. Quite a bombshell to drop on Cardinals fans in the middle of a pandemic.
Turns out, though, Molina had more to say in that interview with reporter Marly Rivera, the remainder of which was released by ESPN on Wednesday. In the interview, the 17-year MLB veteran spoke in-depth regarding the evolution of his game over the years—and where he feels his accomplishments fit into baseball history.
"Yes, I think about it," Molina told Rivera when asked about the Hall of Fame. "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."
Molina's merits for the Baseball Hall of Fame is a commonly debated topic in national baseball circles, with many fans and media giving the Cardinals backstop little consideration for Cooperstown. This might come as a surprise for some fans in St. Louis, who having seen Yadi's impact up close for the better part of this century, consider him a shoo-in for induction. Still, it comes back to offensive statistics. There are those who point to Molina's career numbers at the plate as a critical hindrance to his candidacy.
Cardinals fans know Molina as a clutch performer capable of delivering a big hit when his team needs it most—his home run in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS and his key RBIs in last year's NLDS against the Braves come to mind. On the whole, though, Molina's OPS+ for his career stands at just 98, actually below league-average. His .738 career-OPS is tied with Francisco Cervelli and Wellington Castillo; not exactly Hall of Fame company at the dish.
Molina's always been a Hall of Fame caliber defender behind the plate. What's so remarkable, though—and what Molina views as a sincere positive about his legacy—was his ability to essentially transform himself from into a capable hitter at the major league level. In the early years of his career, that wasn't exactly the case.
"Whoever wants to criticize me, they are welcome to," Molina told Rivera of being labeled as a defensive catcher in his career. "Whoever it is. I was criticized for my offense, and rightfully so. If one is hitting .206, obviously, they're going to put that label on you. But I saw that as motivation more than anything. It was great motivation for me. I was motivated by the criticism and the words I would hear. I was motivated when Dave Winfield said during an All-Star Game that I was hitting ninth because I was "an easy out." To this day, Dave Winfield continues to apologize to me for saying that."
Later in the interview, Molina explained that the Winfield comment came at a dinner after the 2010 Home Run Derby, where the Hall of Fame outfielder commented regarding the NL All-Star lineup, "the only easy out there is Yadier Molina."
Molina said that moment motivated him "to make a lot of people eat their words."
The numbers back up Molina's assertion. Following that incident in 2010, Molina would go on to post three straight seasons with an OPS above .800, ultimately winning a Silver Slugger Award as the NL's best-hitting catcher in 2013. He also finished third in the MVP voting that year.
That the catcher who hit .216 in 2006 became an offensive force garnering legitimate MVP consideration is nothing short of incredible. Molina's career hitting numbers won't stack up favorably to Hall of Fame sluggers, but it's likely he'll reach the 2,000 his plateau before it's all said and done—he's just 37 hits away from that mark heading into 2020.
When he gets there, Molina will become just the 12th catcher in MLB history to accomplish the feat. Of the other 11, seven are Hall of Famers. The four who aren't: Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez, Jason Kendall, AJ Pierzynski.
Mauer may still end up in Cooperstown thanks to his bat, but nearly half his big-league games came as a DH or first baseman—he wasn't the iron man behind the dish that Molina is. Neither was Martinez, who was a DH for more games than he actually caught throughout his career. To the credit of Kendall and Pierzynski, both spent their full careers as primary catchers—but neither ever won a Gold Glove. Molina has nine.
When Rivera asked Yadi, "In 100 years, how do you want people to remember you?," the Cardinals catcher replied, "As the best catcher to ever play baseball."
You can debate all you want whether his answer will actually be reflected in reality, but that he gave it speaks volumes to the work he's put in toward cementing his mark upon the history of the game.
To Molina, there's no doubt he's a Hall of Famer, but regarding his motivation for committing to extend his career another couple seasons, he's not thinking about individual accolades. This next answer won't grab as many headlines as the one from two paragraphs ago—but it should be music to the ears of St. Louisians.
"I need to keep winning championships with the Cardinals," Molina told Rivera when she asked him what he has left to accomplish as a baseball player. "The next three years, this year, and the next two years, all I care about is winning championships.
"I'm not thinking about anything else."
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