I was at the press conference where Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny dared to suggest that his all-star catcher, Yadier Molina, could use a day off.
Luke Weaver was making his first big league start of 2017 that night and Matheny elected to have him pitch to Carson Kelly, the rookie right-hander’s recently-promoted battery mate from triple-A Memphis.
It made total sense, and so I thought nothing of the skipper’s comments.
“Yadi’s caught a lot,” Matheny said. “Yesterday, just kind of watching him go around the bases, too, you could tell that he’s, you know ...”
In all of baseball history, only 27 times has a catcher caught 150 or more games in a season. Molina himself has only once in his 13 previous seasons caught more than 140 games. He’s on a pace to catch 138 games this year.
It’s not like Matheny is nudging his 34-year-old catcher out of a job.
Yet somehow Molina has taken offense to Matheny’s abbreviated comments, excusing a social media pot-shot at the boss by saying he was just “defending himself.”
Fans appreciate the fiery Puerto Rican for “training to play 174 games because that’s what it takes to make a Champion.” You can also understand his frustration in an underachieving team that’s been chasing .500 for the better part of the season.
But none of this excuses his petty and short-sighted slam on Matheny. It is, after all, the manager’s job to make the lineup every day.
Maybe Molina has finally come to his senses. Since this column was originally posted Wednesday night at about 5 p.m., Molina’s Instagram post has been removed. It could be he decided that his two home run over the Brewers was enough to convince the skipper that he’s not tired. Or maybe the Cardinals brass stepped in and made the catcher and manager shake hands.
Whatever the reason, it’s way too late for takebacks. That post lived on the internet for days and the media has already seized upon the drama.
So, what exactly is the source of Molina’s insecurity?
Is it his employer? You know, the one that just gave him a three-year, $60 million contact extension that will keep him in his catching gear until his 37 years old?
Or is this personal? Does Molina have some specific beef with Matheny?
The manager has no doubt lost some fans in recent months as his reputed struggle with bullpen management continues to manifest in one blown game after another, and as the once proud Cardinal Way continues to tarnish under his watch. This may be true in some corners of the clubhouse, too.
But is a social media rant the best way for Molina to express his frustration? He owes Matheny some respect.
Let’s go back to 2004, which is the last time somebody other than the current Gold Glover was the Cardinals’ starting catcher. Molina was the 21-year-old heir-apparent to Matheny, who took the understudy under his wing and helped to make him the franchise catcher.
Matheny subsequently was allowed to become a free agent at the end of the season.
He was 33 years old, had just won the second of three consecutive Gold Gloves and was leaving a team that fell a win short of the franchise record 106. A lesser man might have been bitter.
Instead, this is what Matheny had to say about his successor:
“I will stand behind the fact that Yadier Molina has impressed me more than any catcher I’ve ever witnessed,” Matheny said to mlb.com. “Yadi had a lot of people investing into him with his family and people from the outside, but he had to do it himself. He had to take what he was given and make the most of it, and he continues to get better.
“I don’t know that we’ve seen the best of him,” Matheny added. “I think there’s even more there. He’s special.”
Time, of course, has proven Matheny right. Through nearly 14 full seasons, Molina has been the consummate professional.
That’s all the more reason his decidedly unprofessional outburst is so decidedly disappointing.