Yadier Molina will return to the Cardinals in 2021 for his 18th season. This is no surprise … but it is a relief. 

It was too soon to say goodbye. 

Too early to offer thanks and farewell  … even though 17 seasons is plenty for any athlete, especially a baseball catcher. All of the foul tips that make his finger crooked. All of the swinging bats that smack his facemask and leave him dizzy. All of the sore knees and stiff backs and countless bruises. 

Including the postseason, Molina has caught in 2,090 games and logged 17,524 (and ⅔) laborious innings behind the plate. Just a dump a truck of ice on the man’s knees. 

When Molina, 38, puts on the catcher’s gear for the first regular season game of 2021, he’ll be catching during a fourth U.S. presidential administration: George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden. He’s been the catcher during all 12 versions of the iPhone. Facebook was only four months old when Molina made his big-league debut on June 3, 2004.  

When Molina arrived in St. Louis to fill in while starting catcher Mike Matheny recovered from a side-muscle strain, Tom Brady had won only two Super Bowls, the No. 1 song in America was “Burn” by Usher, and Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman” was the most popular country hit.  At the movies, “Shrek 2” was about to lose its  No. 1 box office spot to “Harry Potter And the Prisoner of Azkaban.” 

Rather than have 30-year-old backup Cody McKay handle the primary catching duties during Matheny’s down time, the front office promote Molina, 21, from Triple A Memphis. 

“He’s the right guy,” GM Walt Jocketty told reporters at the time “It’s a great opportunity for him and a great opportunity for us to see what he can do.”

Good move. 

Said Molina: “They just told me to keep working hard … just keep working hard like in the minor leagues.” 

For Molina, hard work would never be an issue. Not as long as there’s something to prove (he’s relentless.) And not as long as there’s a team to lead and a game to win. 

And Molina has won in abundance. The nine Gold Gloves, the four Platinum Gloves, the 11 postseasons, the four NL pennants, the two World Series rings. 

I’m trying to keep up with the numbers to quantify Molina’s powerful legacy from a success/winning standpoint. 

Using the Stathead research tool, I came up with this: 

1–I’ve pointed to this many times; it always makes me happy to type it again: Molina has competed in more postseason games than any player in National League history, 101. 

2–No NL player has been a part of more postseason victories (52) than Molina. 

3–In franchise history, only five players have played in at least 1,000 regular-season games won by the Cardinals:

  • Stan Musial, 1,653
  • Lou Brock, 1,177
  • Yadier Molina,  1,135
  • Ozzie Smith, 1,036
  • Enos Slaughter, 1,023 

4–In case you’re wondering, Molina’s 1,135 regular-season “wins” place him 150th overall in MLB history … and 44th in National League history. If Molina plays in at least 71 wins for the Cardinals in 2021, he’d move past Johnny Bench and into No. 31 on the NL list for most career victories by an NL player. 

5–Molina ranks 4th all-time among MLB catchers for playing in the highest number regular-season wins. He trails only Ivan Rodriguez, Carlton Fisk and Bob Boone. Don’t be confused by apparent discrepancies; this refers to catching-only wins. It does not include games that catchers started at other positions … for example, Johnny Bench started 376 games at positions other than catcher.

Molina already has put an indelible mark on baseball history, and Cardinals history. But he’s in position to advance in several categories. 

Molina is in line to move up to fourth place in MLB history for most regular-season games caught. His current total (1,989) ranks sixth. But with 37 games caught in 2021, Molina would elbow his way past Jason Kendall and into 5th place. If Molina catches 68 games, he’d go by Cary Carter for 4th place all-time. 

Last season Molina became only the 12th catcher in MLB history to amass 2,000 career hits. And with 2,001 hits he ranks 6th in Cardinals history. But if Molina gets 73 hits in ‘21, he’d jump over Slaughter and Albert Pujols and into the 4th spot. 

Molina has 932 RBIs, and 1,000 would look nice on his Hall of Fame resume. And if Molina can collect 68 RBIs this season, he’d become only the seventh player to reach 1,000 RBIs as a Cardinal. The first six are Musial, Pujols, Slaughter, Jim Bottomley, Rogers Hornsby and Ken Boyer. 

Molina also ranks among the Top 10 in franchise history in doubles (4th), total bases (7th), times on base (7th), and extra-base hits (10th) and homers (10th.) 

And defense? Molina can play it. Only Ozzie Smith has more Defensive WAR in franchise history than Molina. And Molina ranks 4th in MLB history in Defensive WAR for catchers. And his 40% caught-stealing rate is one of the best by a catcher in MLB history and is 12 percent above the league average (28%) since 2004. Molina’s 170 Defensive Runs Saved since 2004 are the most by a MLB catcher. By far. One other thing: the Cardinals’ team ERA (3.82) ranks second in the majors since Molina took over as the full-time starter in 2005. 

This is no coincidence. 

It’s all part of the sustained success by a catcher and his team. Molina has caught the most games with a single franchise in MLB history. So much competing, so much winning. Molina’s value to the Cardinals is immense and cannot be quantified by metrics. 

“The mentality and focus that I have to help my team win,” Molina told ESPN when asked about the source of his intense motivation. “Winning the game is the single most important thing. If you go 0-for-4, but you catch a shutout or a one-run game, and your pitcher goes seven, eight innings, and the closer closes out the game, that’s the ultimate satisfaction for a catcher. Much more than going 4-for-4 and losing.”

The 2021 Cardinals need that attitude. 

They still need Molina. 

Welcome back, Yadier. 

–Bernie 

You can listen to Bernie’s 590-AM The Fan KFNS radio show each Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Fridays from 4-6. Catch the show or show podcast anytime online at 590thefan.com