Yadier's Dad, Benjamin Molina Sr., who coached baseball when he wasn't working on a factory assembly line, taught his sons to play all over the diamond and to respect the game.
"When I was a kid, I liked to watch my brothers and learn," Yadier said during the 2009 season. "They played the game like I want to play right now, aggressive and confident."
They all still learn from each other, via TV, telephone and text message, because they are bound not only by blood but also by a communal sense of pride in their profession. They believe a catcher's sole responsibility is to work for the benefit of his pitcher. (Lindsay Berra-ESPN the Magazine-8/10/09)
- The Molina brothers grew up in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico, a community long known as "El Pueblo de los Nangotaos—the Village of the Squatters." The nickname refers to the pose local sugar-cane cutters to assume while waiting for the train, but it bolsters the notion that the Molinas were destined to play the position that made them famous.
The Molinas' house in Vega Alta was tiny: two bedrooms, one for the parents and one for the boys. The boys' room had two beds in it; Bengie and Yadier shared one, and Jose had the other.
Each morning Benjamin would rise early to go to work at the Westinghouse factory, where he made elevator parts. He would return each afternoon around four and, soon after, herd his sons across the street to Jesus (Mambe) Rivera Park, where they would exhaust the daylight playing baseball.
"When other dads were eating and sleeping, taking naps, he was taking us to the ballpark to teach us the right way to play the game," Jose says.
- Asked during 2013 spring training who had influenced him the most, Yadier said, "My dad and my mom. They cared about me. They taught me the right way to live and the right way to play baseball. My dad was a baseball player. He helped me and my brothers."
Molina is the younger brother of catchers Bengie and Jose Molina, both of whom were also long-time big league catchers. After they signed and moved to the Majors, Yadi covered his bedroom with newspaper clippings about Bengie and Jose. Over the next seven years, Yadi's drive to do whatever it took to rejoin them only increased.
"I wanted to be like them, you know?" he says. "At that age, the way I looked at them, it was like, Wow, they're in the big leagues, even when they were in the minors. When Jose would come back home during the off-season, he'd bring all this stuff from the Cubs: pants, jerseys, shoes. He'd be like, 'Hey, Yadi, don't touch this.' When he'd look away, I'd grab it."
- In 2001, Yadier was Rick Ankiel's catcher at Johnson City (APPY), when the pitcher was "coming back" from a wild streak. Ankiel raved about Yadier's work behing the plate.
- During the offseason before 2004 spring training, Baseball America rated Molina as the #3 prospect in the Cardinals' organization.
- Yadier made his Major League debut, as catcher for the Cardinals on June 2, 2004, against the Pirates. He had shot through the minors and was just 21 years old. In his first at-bat, he popped out, but finished the game 2-for-4 with a single, a double, and a run scored.
- In 2006, Molina became just the third catcher to earn the distinction of playing in two World Series before age 25, following Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra.
November 2008: Molina's father, Benjamin, collapsed and died while coaching a youth league game in his native Puerto Rico. Yadier was at the field. The elder Molina was a standout amateur player and fostered a love for the game and a sense of purpose in each son.
A thousand people turned out for his funeral, many of them boys and men he had coached.
Yadier dedicated his performance for Team Puerto Rico in the March 2009 World Baseball Classic to his father.
Yadier was named to the 2009 NL All-Star Team. He flew more than a dozen friends and family from his native Puerto Rico to St. Louis for the festival.
"It's a great thing. My brothers and I grew up in a family that loved baseball. It's something we shared. My family loves to watch the game. It's part of what is special about this," Molina says.
October 2009: Molina was being sued by Steiner Sports Marketing, a New York sports memorabilia company. Steiner says they had a contract with Molina dating to October 2006. It says Steiner paid Molina $90,660 in advance when the contract was renewed in July 2008, but that the player later refused to attend autograph signings and would not return the money.
Steiner was seeking damages in excess of $175,000.
"He owed us autographs and appearances, but he was not willing to do that," CEO Brandon Steiner said. "He thought he could blow us off."
On April 17, 2010, Yadier caught all 20 innings of the Cardinals' 2-1 loss to the Mets. He went 3-for-9 and drove in the lone run for manager Tony LaRussa.
The next night, he caught another nine innings in a 5-3 victory over New York.
- July 6, 2012: Molina was placed on the bereavement list after his wife's grandfather died. The team said the catcher had returned to his native Puerto Rico. That grandfather raised Yadi's wife, and he was close with the man, also.
- March 2013 Worlde Baseball Classic: Molina was named to the All-Classic Team after hitting .259 and catching a Puerto Rican pitching staff that compiled a 2.88 ERA.
Off the field, Yadier said, "I love music. I have a studio in my house, and when I'm there I try to make some music."
Other "likes": Food: Rice and beans, Sports team (not baseball): Dallas Cowboys, Music: "Everything from salsa to reggae and merengue." Movie: Men of Honor, Actor: Cuba Gooding Jr., Car: Cadillac Escalade, Hobby: "Being with my family is my hobby," Molina said.
- Yadier says, "I would have loved to have watched Roberto Clemente."
It was against the wishes of most everyone who had a vested interest in Yadier Molina's budding baseball career -- family members, baseball coaches, long-time friends—but Benjamin Molina Sr. refused to listen to outside opinions. He was insistent that his son would keep playing, even if it were in a league with men as much as twice his age.
Yadier Molina had been suspended from his youth league, and his dad feared the repercussions of a layoff. He believed the Double-A league, which featured the best amateur players in Puerto Rico, could be an option.
Double-A players ranged widely in age, the youngest usually 17, some as old as 40. When baseball was still a sanctioned sport in the Olympics, these were the players chosen for the national team.Yadier was 15 when his father scheduled a workout. It took one practice session before Molina was added to the Hatillo Tigres roster. Right away, he earned a starting job.
"Nobody thought that he could do the job with those big old men," big brother and Cardinals assistant hitting coach Bengie Molina said. "They thought he was good, but nobody thought he could play at that level. My dad said, 'You know what, play through it. Whatever.' For some reason, my dad had a feeling he was going to be alright."
Once himself an amateur player in Puerto Rico, Benjamin Molina reared his boys on the baseball field. He dreamed that they would one day become professional players, never knowing that he would eventually become the patriarch of Major League Baseball's most acclaimed catching family.
Bengie spent 13 years in the Majors before beginning his coaching career this season. In 2013, Jose completed his 14th season after two years in Tampa Bay. Neither, though, has been as elite as the younger. He's considered the gold standard behind the plate, the rudder that keeps a pitching staff on course. Bengie insists it is all a product of the unpopular decision his dad made all those years ago.
"He was a kid who was playing with men," Bengie said. "That right there made Yadi who he is right now. People think that the Minor Leagues did it. Yes, it helped. But in my mind, when my dad took him and put him in that amateur league, that's when he became a man."
As a child, Yadier Molina floated around the baseball diamond. Almost always, though, he found his way back behind the plate. He began catching around age 5, and Bengie recalls how his younger brother would always be the first player taken in the youth league draft.
Yadier got noticed in the amateur leagues and was eventually taken by the Cardinals with their fourth-round pick in the 2000 draft. Once in the Cardinals' system, he learned from famed instructor Dave Ricketts, as well as Mike Matheny, who, after one Spring Training workout, broke the news to his wife, Kristen.
"I saw the kid," Matheny told her, "who is going to steal my job."
Matheny continues to be amazed. In a year when the Cardinals were boosted by the contributions of so many rookie pitchers, Molina was the constant. "Follow Yadi," became a mantra of sorts as each new wave of players arrived. The young pitchers certainly had the prerogative to shake off their catcher; regardless, most didn't.
"It definitely takes a lot of pressure off of us," rookie Kevin Siegrist said. "He encourages us to throw what we want to throw, and pretty much 100 percent of the time, he's right. If we execute what he calls, we're going to have good success."
In 2013, Molina posted a catcher's ERA of 3.16, the lowest of his career and fourth lowest in the Majors in 2013. He also caught a National League-most 1,115 innings despite battling a knee injury that put him on the disabled list for two weeks.
He has navigated several kids through the biggest appearances of their career, oftentimes initiating mound meetings to calm them down as things look to be going awry. Matheny has joked that he wants to learn what exactly it is that Molina says, since more times than not instant execution follows.
During Spring Training, Molina is among the earliest to arrive each morning. He's typically among the last to leave the field, too. In between, not only is he working to get better, but he is tutoring the organization's young catchers on how to also improve.
"I never worked that hard, to tell you the truth," Bengie Molina said. "It's not that I didn't work hard, but not that hard. It was amazing the way he worked. It was no wonder he's the best in the world. It doesn't happen by accident. It happens through a lot of work."
Molina has emerged as the face of a Cardinals franchise now seeking its third World Series championship since the catcher made his Major League debut.
"You have the baseball tangibles that he displays, whether it's defense, what he does from an offensive standpoint now that he's put himself in an elite category, especially with what position he plays," Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said. "But I also think there are things that he's grown into, like his leadership. He's almost sort of the glue of the club. You see it in the way he carries himself and the way his teammates respect him. When you combine the baseball skills with all that, it shows the importance of what he brings to the team." (Jennifer Langosch - MLB.com - 10/21/13)
A few hours before the Rays and Cardinals opened their two-game series at Tropicana Field in June 2014, Yadier stood on his dugout steps. He leaned on the railing and looked out toward center field, where his 5-year-old son was stretching with his brother, Jose, and the rest of the Tampa Bay players.
"Right now, he's having a blast," said Molina as the one red shirt bobbed back and forth among the Rays' light blues. "He loves baseball, he loves to be around players, he watches highlights every day and every night. Just to be here with his uncle, it's a great time for him." (Adler - mlb.com - 6/10/14)
Yadier is the youngest of the three Molina brothers, at age 33. Jose, who catches for the Rays (all the Molinas are catchers by trade), is likely toward the tail end of a long career, having turned 39 on June 3. (Bengie, who is almost 40, is retired, and coaches first base for the Rangers.)
"It's always fun, it's always good to see him, and I'm always happy to have him on the same field that I am," Jose Molina said. "And I just want to go out and try to beat him."
Yadier, on the other hand, said it's weird to have two Molinas in one stadium, but nice for the family and their friends. "It's always weird, you know, because you want him to do good, too, and you want to win games," Yadier said. "You want him to do good, but at the same time you want him to do not that good."
Yadier isn't quick to forget that when he was drafted in 2000, he had the benefit of having two older brothers already ahead of him, further along the same path and ready to show him the way. Jose, looking back, said that while he was of course ready to show Yadier he could, only Yadier could tell you how much of an impact he actually had.
"I tried to help him all the time, and whether I helped a lot, or less, that's his thing," Jose said. "You know, he has to answer that."
Yadier was glad to. He ran through a list of lessons his brothers had taught him: Stay calm. Be patient. Just play hard. Play the game the right way. "You know, I was blessed to have those guys, Bengie and Jose," Yadier said.
Jose is pretty happy for Yadier himself. "You can't imagine. I'm really proud of him, just being where he's at at this point of his life. I'm just proud of him," Jose said. (6/10/14)
Matt Carpenter said leadership is what makes Molina truly indispensable to his team.
"One of the things about him is, as big of a superstar as he is, as great of a player as he is, he's an even better person, a better teammate," Carpenter said of Molina. "He takes time with guys, getting to know them, and helps teaching young guys the things that he knows. That's what makes him great." (7/14/14)
Molina has never won a National League Most Valuable Player Award. A third-place finish in 2013 (the trophy going to a deserving Andrew McCutchen) is the closest he has come to claiming the hardware. But a strong case can be made that Molina has been the league's, and the sport's, most valuable player across the past 12 seasons.
The Cardinals had reached the postseason eight times in Molina's first 11 seasons. The one constant from 2004 to 2015 time is the man from Bayamon, Puerto Rico, who 11 years ago almost to the day, on June 3, 2004, was summoned to replace Mike Matheny. The club's manager now, Matheny won four Gold Gloves. His successor has taken seven in a row, and good luck snapping the streak.
"You have to have fun," Molina said. "And I'm still having fun doing this. It happened fast. It doesn't seem like 12 years." Time flies when you're having fun, they say.
Yadier was the third Molina brother to reach the big time. All along, Bengie and Jose repeatedly had informed anyone who would listen that their kid brother was something special, the best in the family.
"That guy is everything to this team," said second baseman Kolten Wong. "He's the leader on the field, the leader of the pitching staff. He takes control of the game to make sure everyone's on the same page. When he says something, you better listen. He definitely keeps this team on track."
Molina played in the 2014 NL playoffs, extending his franchise postseason records to 86 games and 89 hits. But a strained oblique took him out of Game 2 of the NL Championship Series against the Giants. (Spencer - mlb.com - 6/4/15)
June 20, 2015: The field is distinguishable now, thanks to the sizeable donation Yadier Molina made in 2012 to transform the tired plot of land back into a place where young Puerto Rican ballplayers flocked. It needed a new caretaker.
Benjamin Molina Sr. had long watched over the field at Jesús Mambe Kuilan Park, that diamond basically existing as an extension of his home, which sat just across the street within their barrio of Espinosa. It was where he raised three sons (Bengie, Jose, and Yadier) who went on to become three Major League catchers, each of whom has multiple World Series rings.
But the accolades were mostly asterisks to the senior Molina, or Pai, as he was affectionately called by his family. For Pai's legacy wasn't in raising three Major League players. It was in developing generations of wholesome young men. Pai would still be coaching in Puerto Rico had it not been for his sudden death from a heart attack in 2008. He was 58 when he died, collapsing before the start of another youth game on his beloved field.
So much of his life before that, though, had been as a father to a community. He was a superstar player in Puerto Rico for many years but never bragged about it. In fact, it wasn't until Pai died that his sons learned their father had once sat in a dugout with Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, whose photo has long adorned a wall at the Molina household.
Pai never told his sons, either, that he had given up his own Major League dream for them. He didn't care to dwell on the sacrifice. He preferred to appreciate the gain. Offered the chance to try out in front of a Major League scout, Pai, who would later be inducted into the Puerto Rican Baseball Hall of Fame, never showed up. He had just found out his wife was expecting their first child, and decided their growing family needed a steady income.
Pai went on to spend decades working at a Westinghouse factory during the day before assuming the role of coach in the evening. Pai's objective as a coach was to do more than improve the boys' baseball IQ and skill set. He wanted to raise them to be humble and respectful men.
"He would say, 'You guys need to make sure you respect the umpire, respect your mother and father, respect the teacher, respect the game and play the game the right way,'" Bengie recalled. "'You don't show up anybody. You run the bases when you hit a ground ball.' That's what he taught us. I think that goes with life."
Pai's mark was left on many future Major Leaguers, among them Ivan Rodriguez, Bernie Williams and Jose Hernandez. Pai once kicked Rodriguez off an All-Star team for throwing his helmet. Rodriguez rejoined the club a week later, but only after an apology and a promise that he'd play the game with more respect.
The matriarch of the family, Gladys, was much more affectionate than her husband, though Pai had his moments. Bengie's favorite story to share about his dad is the one when Pai interrupted dinner one night and ushered his eldest son across the street to the field. Bengie, feeling he had disappointed his father for not being a better player, had been downcast all night. They stepped over the white lines and Pai put his arm around Bengie.
"He told me that he loved me," Bengie said. "For me, that was very special. He said, 'You see, right here, you're going to be fine.' He tried to explain to me that it was going to be OK. It was one of the few times he said I love you to me." (J Langosch - MLB.com - June 19, 2015)
April 8, 2016: The most distinguished catcher in franchise history has set another benchmark. With his start behind the plate in the 7-4 win over the Braves, Yadier Molina passed Ted Simmons for the most games caught as a Cardinal.
Beginning with his Major League debut in 1968, Simmons caught 1,439 games with St. Louis over a 13-year span. Molina matched that total in Pittsburgh and surpassed it with his fourth start in this, his 13th season in a Cardinals uniform.
"To be at this level is hard to do for a long time," said Molina, an eight-time Gold Glove Award winner. "Obviously, when I signed after the 2000 draft, I never thought I would be in this position. It's a great feeling." (J Langosch - MLB.com - April 9, 2016)
Five years after Yadier and his wife, Wanda, brainstormed the idea of beginning a business that could connect with the Cardinals fan base, Molina is ready to begin selling items from his M4 clothing apparel line in the Cardinals' Busch Stadium team store.
"I wanted to do this because St. Louis is my home and fans here have been so supportive of me over the years," Molina said. "I'm very excited to share these items with the best fans in baseball. We've worked hard to develop something that we hope fans will love and that allows me to communicate my passion, as well sharing more of me, my values and my heritage with Cardinals Nation."
The items that will be sold at Busch Stadium have been designed specifically for Cardinals fans and will not be available at any other locations. They include shirts for men, women and children, as well as caps. Merchandise prices for the items will range from $36 to $45.
Planning for this partnership between the Cardinals and Molinas began back in Spring Training. "M4 is about adventure, with fun, bright colors," Molina said. "The name is simple—M4. It is adaptable. It is memorable. It is timeless. I really hope fans will like the line as much as we enjoyed designing it for them." (Langosch - MLB.com - 6/30/16)
July 2, 2016: Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina became the 34th catcher in Major League Baseball history to collect at least 1,500 career hits with a fourth-inning single in the 3-0 Cardinals win over the Brewers. Molina singled to center off Brewers pitcher Jimmy Nelson to reach the milestone and received a standing ovation. He tipped his helmet to the crowd as he stood on first base
.While he'll remember the moment, it doesn't carry too much weight in his mind. "Right now, it doesn't mean anything for me," Molina said. "All it means is that we got the win today and [Adam Wainwright] pitched a great game and we played good defense today. Obviously 1,500 is a lot of hits, but I've got to keep going."
Molina is the second catcher to reach the mark in a Cardinals uniform. Ted Simmons collected 1,704 hits in St. Louis from 1968-80. Earlier this season, he broke Simmons' franchise record for innings caught. (N Krueger - MLB.com - July 2, 2016)
September 29, 2016: The Cardinals set out to celebrate Hispanic heritage with a Spanish-language radio broadcast of their game with the Reds. They received a 4-3 walk-off win and much more—a special moment between two brothers, members of Major League Baseball's first family of catchers.
Bengie Molina was on the call as his younger brother Yadier hit a home run and a walk-off double to give the Cardinals the victory. "I started just yelling in the background," Bengie said of the game-winner. "I didn't know what to do. I was so happy, I just didn't know what to do. It's a dream, man, it really is."
As Yadier rounded third after his home run, he pointed up to the broadcast booth, and Bengie pointed right back at him. "I can't wait to listen to [the call]," Yadier said. "I'm happy for him, and I'm happy we got the win for him."
"Man, I didn't know if I should cry, laugh, I really didn't," Bengie added. "It's so much joy for me, but also for him. He's been battling all year."
But the moment also went beyond family ties. The broadcast was available on La Ke Buena Spanish internet radio, KMOX's sister-station Sports Radio 98.1 HD3, cardinals.com and the MLB.com At Bat mobile app, giving some listeners a chance to hear a game in their native language, perhaps for the first time.
"It's very significant," Bengie said. "I think it's very important for the Hispanic population that we have here, I don't care if it's small or if it's big. I think it's very important for them to hear it in their own language, and not only for the good games but also so they can start loving the game if they don't already.
"God had a reason for us to be here for the first Hispanic show ever in Cardinal history," Bengie said. "To end up like this, it's just amazing." (Krueger - MLB.com)
November 28, 2016: Molina made the decision to represent Puerto Rico in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
Feb 8, 2017: Though the Cardinals' core is taking on a more youthful look, the longest-tenured member of the organization remains its pillar. That'd be Yadier Molina, who is poised to play his 14th season for the Cardinals in 2017. Molina has been the backbone of this franchise for years, but 2017 will bring with it some interesting wrinkles. Molina is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract, and both he and the Cardinals have expressed an interest in discussing a potential extension.
For the Cardinals, the most challenging part of those negotiations will likely be determining how much to invest in a catcher who will be 35 years old in July. The rise and potential of young catcher Carson Kelly further complicates that decision. For while there is no debate about how valuable Molina has been to this franchise since 2004, there is the competing reality that Molina will eventually endure a performance decline. The Cardinals, however, are bullish that such a decline is not coming this season. Molina is coming off a year in which he started a career-high and Major-League-most 142 games behind the plate. Asked if he might back off in his use of Molina this season, manager Mike Matheny instead forecasted more of the same.
"My job description is to win games," Matheny said. "And if I have a player that I feel like is going to help us win games and that I feel is able to answer the bell, he's going to be in the lineup."
Molina earned his manager's continued vote of confidence by matching last season's durability with impactful production. Not only did he stay healthy, but Molina emerged as the Cardinals' most consistent offensive producer in the second half. His .365 batting average after the All-Star break ranked second best in the Majors. Furthermore, Molina finished the year leading all catchers in average (.307), hits (164) and doubles (38).
Molina's ability to nurse the pitching staff through the season has made him the most indispensable and irreplaceable player on a Cardinals team that has made it to the postseason nine times since Molina debuted. His continued mentorship will be invaluable especially to young pitchers Carlos Martinez and Alex Reyes, both of whom are expected to anchor the Cardinals' rotation for many years.
Molina has said he's motivated by the fact that he was denied a ninth consecutive Gold Glove Award last fall. The drop in Molina's caught-stealing percentage (it was 21 percent in 2016) hurt his case among voters. The playing time, contract status and attempt to defy typical age regression all put Molina back in the spotlight as the start of camp nears. (J Langosch - MLB.com - Feb 8, 2017)
There are the things his teammates see and admire in Yadier. That he's tough and smart and durable. That his relentless work ethic and consistent production are the gold standard for every player wearing the Cardinals uniform.
He's a mentor to young players, especially young pitchers. Veterans trust him, too. The Cardinals have a 3.79 ERA over the last 12 years, second-lowest in the Majors, and if you don't think Molina is a big part of that, ask Adam Wainwright or Lance Lynn or Carlos Martinez.
Sure, we've become accustomed to players changing teams. Happens all the time. Part of the landscape. But some players are just different. They become embedded into the fabric of both the team and the community. That's what Molina represents to one of baseball's crown-jewel franchises. As marriages go, there have been few better. No player represents what the Cardinals would like to be more than this one. (Justice - mlb.com - 3/30/17)
At the start of the 2017 season, Molina had logged nearly 13,000 regular-season innings since 2005, the only other team whose primary catchers have crossed the 12,000 mark during that span is the White Sox (12,045 2/3), thanks mostly to Pierzynski. The Dodgers, A's, Braves and Royals come next, each reaching at least 11,500.
The 29 teams other than the Cardinals have used an average of 5.5 different primary catchers over those dozen seasons and received an average of about 2,344 fewer innings from them, compared with Molina. (Considering that the average team caught a total of 1,444 innings in 2016, that is a significant gap).
The Angels bring up the rear on the list, more than 4,100 innings behind St. Louis, with their primary catchers ranging from Molina's brother Bengie in 2005 to Carlos Perez in '16.
During this period of Cardinals catching continuity, the club has averaged 89.6 wins per season (second in the MLB), made the postseason eight times, and won six division titles and two championships. As St. Louis tries to add to those totals, Molina figures to remain an integral -- and hard-working -- part of that quest. (Simon - mlb.com - 4/6/17)
- 2000: Yadier signed with scout Michael Crespo of the Cardinals after they drafted him in the fourth round.
January 21, 2008: Molina and the Cardinals agreed to a four-year, $15.5 million contract. Yadier gets a $250,000 signing bonus, $1.75 million this year, $3.25 million in 2009, $4.25 million in 2010 and $5.25 million in 2011. The deal includes a $7 million club option for 2012 with a $750,000 buyout, and the option increases to $7.5 million if he is traded.
But the Cards picked up that $7 million option for 2012 for Yadier.
- March 1, 2012: The Cardinals and Yadier agreed to a five-year, $75 million contract that keeps Molina in St. Louis through the 2017 season. And, there is a mutual $15 million option for a 6th year (in 2018).
- April 6, 2017: Molina agreed with the Cardinals to a three-year, $60 million extension that will keep the franchise cornerstone in place through '20.