Two weeks ago I wrote about the possibility of Yadier Molina rejoining the Cardinals as a coach.
Not to rehash all of the particulars, but there are plenty of valuable and meaningful reasons for the hire including his impact on game planning and the pitching staff, his competitive intensity, his positive influence on catcher Willson Contreras, and his immense baseball IQ. He’d be a great touchstone for manager Oli Marmol.
I want to take a bigger swing at something that I mentioned briefly in my first column on Yadi’s possible return to take on a significant role.
The cotton-ball soft Cardinals need his “edge.” This team is too nice and bland. This team requires many heaps of saltiness. This team needs to be challenged within. This team needs to be made uncomfortable when tough love is required.
For the 2024 Cardinals, Molina would not only be the smartest guy in the room – but also the toughest. And that’s important because the Cardinals have an obvious void in leadership.
Molina’s legendary baseball intelligence, Hall of Fame stature, imposing presence and indefatigable resolve are strengths that can harden internal weaknesses.
Sure, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado play extremely hard, are dedicated to preparation, care about winning, and set a terrific example for their teammates. That’s one kind of leadership.
Ah, but there’s something missing: an enforcer. Or, as I like to say, the Cardinals need some badasses. And Yadier Molina – this is a compliment – is bad to the bone.
The Cardinals used to have a lot of those personalities and it was important to establishing and maintaining a winning culture.
Here are the Cardinals’ All-Badass All-Stars since the new era, the Bill DeWitt Jr. Era, began in 1996.
Tony La Russa. Other managers were intimidated by him. He got into their heads and it would unsettle them. He relentlessly challenged his own players and pushed them to reach their best level. Even if they cursed him behind the scenes – they respected him to the max. And the fear factor was always there.
Molina, of course. Has there ever been a more hardcore competitor in a Cardinal uniform? No. He’d fight the other team’s entire roster if he had to. Opponents didn’t even want to try and steal a base on him. And as former Cardinal pitcher Shelby Miller once told me when I asked about Molina’s pitch-selection genius:
“It’s almost like he can look right into a hitter’s soul,” Miller said. “And Yadier knows what to do with that. He stares at the hitter, and you can see him thinking. ‘What pitch can’t you hit right now.’ And if he calls the pitch, then you know that’s got to be the one. You throw it, and it works. He’s thinking the entire game. He’s aware of everything that’s going on.”
Albert Pujols. Not only did he inspire teammates with his greatness – 2022 was the final example – but the other Cardinals didn’t want to let him down and get on his bad side. Oh, that glare. Beware of the glare.
Chris Carpenter. I don’t think he’d be offended by my choice of the word “Psycho” to describe him. Dude was scary. Always ready to rumble. Do not disappoint him.
Jim Edmonds? Badass in that Bryce Harper sort of way. He had abundant swag. He flaunted his talent. He challenged authority. He feuded with TLR, and teammates were fired up by that. But TLR loved him like a son. Jimmy’s attitude was transmissible. Cockiness is a quality that few can pull off.
Tommy Pham: He was such a badass, the GM and the manager were leery of him and couldn’t wait to trade him away. He spoke the truth. And depending on the situation — and the place — insecure people don’t want to hear the truth. And maybe that’s why Pham has played for several teams. Pham went all-out on the field. The Cardinals were 20 games over .500 when he started a game.
Scott Spiezio: Whew. A devilish vibe.
Closers Jason Isringhausen, Trevor Rosenthal, Dennis Eckersley, Jason Motte. They felt invincible and pitched with a ferocity that couldn’t be measured by miles per hour on the gun.
Darryl Kile: A strong, silent and fearless leader who could control the clubhouse with a pointed gruffness that delivered purpose-filled messages with an economy of words. Think of Clint Eastwood. The other pitchers revered him and did not want to let him down. He redefined competitiveness to those who didn’t really know what it meant … not until he joined the Cardinals.
Mike Matheny, the catcher: tough as hell. Would bleed for the team. Teammates were in awe of his pain tolerance.
John Lackey: GM John Mozeliak traded for him at the deadline in 2014 because he believed the Cardinals were soft and needed someone to shake up the environment. When I wrote a column about Lackey’s salty, unfiltered and stubborn-as-a-kicking-mule demeanor, one of his teammates took me to task and said, “I don’t think anyone really likes him.” YES. That’s why Mozeliak brought him in. Lackey made the boys a little uncomfortable. And that was right on time.
Lance Lynn: Straight-up badass. He always questioned authority or challenged dumb things teammates said about baseball. Not in a loud or disrespectful manner – but enough to sharpen the team’s collective edge.
Joe Kelly: There was some performance art to this pitcher, sure. But the dude was a competitive live wire and eccentric enough to make others pay attention.
Brian Jordan: Remember, he not only played the outfield for the Cardinals but was a hard-hitting safety for the NFL Atlanta Falcons. And he competed at baseball like a hard-hitting safety — minus the padding and full helmet. He knocked a lot of infielders down.
Mark McGwire: The word is “presence.”
Pitching coach Dave Duncan. I don’t think he raised his voice. But his words hit like a hammer. Scary.
There were so many other members of the badass club: Fernado Vina, Matt Holiday, Scott Rolen, Edgar Renteria, Todd Stottlemyre, David Eckstein, Steve Kline, Skip Schumaker, Larry Walker, etc. Just because a guy is a nice person, it doesn’t mean he’s excluded from badass consideration. Matt Morris and Adam Wainwright were examples of that.
The 2023 Cardinals had many pleasant, amiable people. The boys liked to have fun. But not too much fun; that’s frowned upon. I don’t think you want the clubhouse to be a library. A snobby culture isn’t healthy. And you can’t have a culture that curates hard-edged competitiveness when every player has each other’s back. Too comfortable. Too easy. A shortage of accountability.
Come home, Yadi.
Your baseball family needs you.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
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For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.