Mike Matheny is the young, second-year manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, the 2013 National League champions.
He is soft-spoken, a student of the game and runs his ship by committee. In the dugout, the former Redbird’s catcher often huddles with his lieutenants, bench coach Mike Aldrete and Jose Oquendo, before making a decision. And on the field, everybody accepts the fact that the Cardinals current catcher, Yadier Molina, is the trusted chief and man in charge.
Understood, Yadier Molina is not just the best catcher in baseball. The five-time Rawlings Gold Glove-award recipient is more like a player-coach. Young Cardinal pitchers, which includes almost everyone, rarely dare to shake off Molina before attacking a batter. When the 31-year-old veteran trots to the mound, pitchers listen with respect. Molina often flashes signs to his infielders and shifts outfielders when necessary.
It’s true that Molina makes a lot of money. His contract was extended in March of 2012, something General Manager John Mozeliak desperately needed to do after Albert Pujols fled the nest. The man rakes in around $15 million per season in a deal good through 2017. But he’s worth every penny.
“Yadi’s one of the smartest baseball people I’ve ever been around,” notes Skip Schumaker, a valuable utility player who was Molina’s teammate for nine years. “In my opinion, he’s not only his team’s MVP, but also for the entire league.”
Molina also had one of his best seasons as a hitter in 2013, with career highs in batting average (.319) and RBIs (80). Although he won’t admit it, Molina’s success with the stick might be due to the presence of his brother, Bengie, who signed on as the Cardinal’s assistant hitting coach last winter. Did Yadier have any influence in the hire? Of course. But Bengie has teamed up well with club’s main instructor, John Mabry, especially when working with right-handed swings.
“It’s been great having him here,” says Molina of his older brother. “He supports me and has helped a lot of the guys.”
After coming so close to winning a National League pennant in 2012, St. Louis spanked the Los Angeles Dodgers and are in the World Series once again. And Yadier Molina is pumped, not necessarily for himself but for his friend, Carlos Beltran, who has never won a ring.
“Carlos played so well in the (NLCS) series, and he really deserves this opportunity,” beams Yadi. “I’m so happy for him.”
So, it’s Molina and Beltran, the two veteran warriors from Puerto Rico, who will steer a very young Cardinals team against the grizzled, bearded Boston Red Sox. The sound-minded Matheny will be well prepared, and the colorful Oquendo will have a few tricks hidden in his hoodie.
I’ve been wrong before, but I like the Cardinals’ chances.