The Cardinals and their fans honored Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols on a gorgeous Sunday at Busch Stadium, turning the ballpark into a sun spot that must have shined brighter than any place in the world.

But this wasn’t goodbye.

It wasn’t a farewell.

Postseason games will be played here.

Sunday’s revelry was just a loud and loving way to say Thank You. And we could have added “See You On Friday.” Cardinals fans showed up early, filling the downtown streets that surround Busch, creating a colorful festival scene that set the mood, and the stage, for the official ceremony to honor two legends.

If you think about it, Sunday’s event summed up what Pujols, Molina and Adam Wainwright have meant to this franchise, this city, during their many seasons of wearing the Birds on the Bat. And I’m including Waino in this exercise because he’s just as iconic as Pujols and Molina and had a starring role in Sunday’s pregame observance. One way or another this will be their final season together. To assess their significant contributions to the Cardinals and St. Louis, we must include all three.

Let’s talk about what these three men have meant to St. Louis Cardinals baseball. Their value — as players and as people — can’t be properly calculated. But their impact was tremendous, and will be for years to come.

1. Molina, Pujols and Wainwright brought people together at the downtown baseball hub. Fans of all ages and backgrounds thronged the one meeting place where everyone could put their differences aside, be happy, and share the passion of Cardinals baseball. In these fractious, fractured times in our American culture, the fostering of unity is increasingly difficult to do. But the pilgrimage to see this trio together for a final year inspired devotion and unity.

2. Their presence motivated the citizenry – and legions of fellow fans from surrounding states – to travel to downtown St. Louis and pump money into the local economy. And let’s face it, and I say this as a proud, tax-paying resident of St. Louis: it ain’t exactly easy to entice groups to visit core STL. Pujols, Molina and Wainwright have been great for business in a way that transcends their value to the franchise. The three precious fan favorites raised home attendance in 2022.

3. The specific lure of being there for the final season of three revered Cardinals had a substantial impact on the game-day setting at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals drew 3.320 million fans to the ballpark, averaging just under 41,000 fans. That exceeded the club’s expectations. Just as important, the energy inside Busch Stadium returned to previous levels. Wainwright said, several times, that the crowds in 2022 were the best he’d ever seen at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals remained popular through three consecutive non-postseason years (2016-2018), and drew very well in 2019. But the ‘19 crowds weren’t as lively as what we experienced in 2022. And the pandemic … well, you don’t need me to review the impact of the pandemic. On everything. This special, invigorating season of Yadi, Albert and Waino restored Busch Stadium to the fullest.

4. Winning. Winning. Winning. The Cardinals won the NL Central title to qualify for their 16th postseason since 2000 – the most by a National League team over that time. The 2000 Cardinals didn’t have Pujols, Molina or Wainwright. But this is the 15th postseason-bound Cardinals team since 2001, and all of the 15 teams have had Pujols, or Molina, or Wainwright, or some combination of the three. Amazing.

5. More on the Winning: This will be Molina’s 13th postseason as a Cardinal, the 12th for Wainwright, and the eighth for Pujols. Wainwright missed all of 2011 after undergoing elbow surgery, and didn’t pitch at all in 2011. So if we want to be fussy, this will be his 11th postseason. But Waino was part of the 2011 team in other meaningful ways: providing leadership and guidance and maximum support for his fellow pitchers. Heck, he was an extra coach. So that’s why I include 2011, which makes 12 postseasons for Wainwright.

6. Winning. So much Winning: I spent some time at Baseball Reference on Monday, looking up game logs. I wanted to see how many wins each player participated in as Cardinals. Obviously, the numbers for Wainwright will be lower because he’s a pitcher and not an every-day player. But here are the number of games won by the Cardinals when each of the three played in the game:

Molina: 1,244 regular-season wins and 59 postseason wins for 1,303 total wins.

Pujols: 1,017 regular-season wins, 40 postseason wins, 1,057 total victories.

Wainwright: 283 regular-season wins, 13 postseason wins, 296 total wins.

Molina’s win-count in his games as a Cardinal may seem low to you, compared to Pujols’ win-count as a Cardinal. But trust me, I triple-checked these numbers. Despite the fact that Pujols played 10 seasons for the Angels and Dodgers before coming home, he has 1,812 regular-season games as a Cardinal … only 411 fewer than Molina has played for STL. Though Molina has been an iron man behind the plate, catchers still receive a lot more days off than other position players or designated hitters. And don’t forget, I’m only counting the games the Cardinals won with each player appearing in that game. So Molina having just 227 regular-season “wins” more than Pujols makes perfect sense.

7. If we count up and combine the total NL pennants and World Series rings earned by the three legends, it comes to 10 pennants and six rings.

8. This can be quantified: Molina, Pujols and Wainwright strengthened the exceptional winning tradition established by this franchise. Before Pujols arrived in 2001, the Cardinals had made the postseason only twice in 13 seasons. With Molina and Wainwright coming to the big club a few years later to join Pujols in carrying the winning standards, the Cardinals have won 65 postseason games since the start of the 2001 season. Over that time that’s the most postseason triumphs by a National League team and is second to Yankees’ 69 postseason wins. Pujols was gone for 10 seasons, but he played a role in 40 of the 69 postseason wins by the Cardinals since 2001.

9. This can’t be quantified: I don’t want to assume anything, and frankly I think this narrative has been overplayed. But what will be the long-ranging influence of Pujols, Molina and Wainwright on future Cardinal teams? They’ve certainly been a positive influence on younger players. They’ve set an excellent example with their work ethic, preparation and maximum competitiveness. Will their influence last for only a few years after their retirements – or will that influence last for many years? I’d like to think their legacies will endure in ways that have nothing to do with their personal achievements — and much to do with their professional standards.

10. We’ll see. But all three have made a profound impact in multiple ways. On the business side. On the local economy. On downtown activity. On the baseball team. In the area of leadership. On the Cardinals’ consistent, high-level success on the field.

When it was time to honor Pujols and Molina in a Sunday ceremony that prominently included Wainwright, was anyone surprised to see the sun rise in brilliant splendor to illuminate this era of St. Louis Cardinals baseball? The Cards lost Sunday’s game to the Pirates, 7-5. But that didn’t detract from this beautiful day. And we know this too: when the three all-time teammates walked off the mound together in Sunday’s fifth inning, they left an immense shadow.

Thanks for reading …

– Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which is available in your preferred app store.

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Please email your “Ask Bernie” questions to BernScoops@gmail.com

All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.

 

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

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.