Yadier Molina: The epitome of a mensch

St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

BY DAN BUFFA, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

The year 2020 tried to kill Yadier Molina; luckily, it failed. On Dec. 30, I came upon this image on Wikipedia during some story research. 

It’s not fabricated or doctored. Apparently, someone tried to poison the well with a nasty rumor. Thankfully, before an hour could pass, the beloved Cardinals catcher was confirmed to be alive and very well in his native Puerto Rico. Just another example how Father Time, no matter how hard it tries, can’t take down the eternal mensch. The Yiddish word, which speaks to a person of integrity and honor, has joined the ranks of my favorite one-word descriptions. No one fits it to a tee in St. Louis more than “Yadi.” 

Today, Molina will become the only catcher in MLB history to make 2,000 starts for one teamSame year, just more records being collected by the mayor of Ballpark Village. That one team is the Cardinals, a city that has already given their catcher the key to the city. If he shows up at a Blues game with his best friend/battery mate Adam Wainwright, the entire crowd and six closest ZIP codes go crazy. No current Cardinal gets a louder ovation on Opening Day. Nobody commands the attention of media, fanbase and any nearby ear like Molina. Does any other athlete create more fire and brimstone on Instagram? The answer is the same as he gives to would-be base-stealers: No. 

It helps that he can still do it all on the field. The other day, he was slotted in at the cleanup spot because all younger players like Paul DeJong just couldn’t get the job done. When in doubt, just get “Yadi.” After all, Molina is a firehouse all in one for a baseball team carrying World Series aspirations. Whether it’s a five-alarm mound fire or a minor field disturbance like last week’s Cincinnati brawl, Molina is the guy to call. Nobody else commands more respect-especially from the other dugout. 

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He’s the Rafael Nadal of baseball: even when he screams at you, a tip of the cap will be given. Following the previously-mentioned benches-clearing brawl involving the Reds, outfielder Nicholas Castellanos told the media that Molina could punch him in the face and he would still want an autograph. True story. They should give him the keys to Cincinnati, too. 

Today, just past high noon, it will be Wainwright throwing to Molina again. Down the road, this will happen again, but the two men will be wearing red jackets, and it will be the pregame first pitch. That is, if Molina will ever actually retire. 

He caused a mini-stir last summer during the pandemic work stoppage, saying he wanted to play another season after his (then) current contract expired. For months, the team and player played shadow games on the internet, dispelling a rumor just as another was created. At one point, I thought there was a possibility that he wasn’t returning to St. Louis, a place where he is king for life. At one point, the internet even tried to kill “Yadi.” It didn’t work. Just ask the 351 stolen base wannabes who fell prey to the future first ballot Hall of Famer. 

In a career which started on June 3, 2004 and will end on Oct. 27, 2037, little has changed with Molina. He’s still throwing guys out. He’s still hitting home runs. He’s still cranking hits all over the field. He will still get into a bully’s face when needed. There’s more fire in that man’s chest than there was nearly two decades ago. The main reason he came back was to win World Series trophy #3. Another one is this guy still passionately loves to play the game. 

Molina plays the game the right way. That’s the only way you last this long at the top of your profession. Nine gold gloves and All Star Game appearances don’t exist for Molina unless he has the passion and integrity. If you were going to teach someone how to play baseball and love it a long time, you’d show them clips of one guy. 

That guy starts today behind the dish. The black stripes will cross over under each eye and the stare will intensify. Molina will peer up at the hitter, daring him to steal a sign or actually collect a hit. It’s a stare unlike any other. One that won’t last forever. All jokes aside, there will be a day when Wainwright and Molina aren’t paid to play catch anymore. It’s coming, so appreciate the innings and reps. I can’t say it enough. The good things in life never last forever. 

There will never be another quite like “Yadi.” Nice try, Wikipedia.