Shame on our heroes for getting old.
It amazes me to hear so many people complain about the efforts of the St. Louis Cardinals’ front office to retain All-Star catcher Yadier Molina.
According to credible reports, Molina will ink a three-year deal with the club worth at least $55 million that could be finalized as soon as Friday. It’s a rich deal by common-man standards, for sure. But it’s a fairly modest contract by the standards of what other major-league superstars command in annual value, total value and the length of the commitment.
Still, some people are so hung up on numbers – mostly Molina’s date of birth – that they can’t see the value of a player beyond the stat sheet. I’m sure glad most of them weren’t around back in the late-1950s. Back then, a fellow by the name of Stanley Frank Musial was nearing age 40 but wanted to hang around a play a few more years with the only team whose uniform he wore in the major leagues.
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“He’s a player on the decline!” the naysayers would shout. “You can’t pay a player for what they did in the past!”
And, at least on paper, they’d be right. From 1943 until 1958, Stan the Man averaged a 7.2 offensive WAR (Wins shares compared to an “average” major-league ballplayer) mark each season. He won three MVP awards and finished second four times. Over that stretch he was a .341 hitter and averaged 26 homers and 104 RBIs in a season.
From 1959 through the end of his career in 1963, Musial was a 1.9 offensive WAR player. The last half decade of his career, Musial was a .283 hitter who averaged 15 homers and 63 RBIs. Were the Cardinals’ leaders stupid to pay Musial to be a shadow of his former self?
On paper, Musial was past his prime. But he still meant a lot to Cardinals fans. He was the man who filled the stands, as the novelty song about Stan the Man noted.
Cardinals General Manager Frank Lane in 1956 unsentimentally began negotiations with the Philadelphia Phillies’ front office to trade the aging St. Louis star for pitcher Robin Roberts. Redbirds owner August Busch Jr. heard what Lane was up to and immediately put a stop to it, telling his GM that Stan the Man would not be sold at any price.
What if the statue of baseball’s perfect warrior stood in Philadelphia instead of St. Louis? What if Musial collected his 3,000 hits in red Phillies pinstripes? Cardinals fans still talk with pride about those legendary accomplishments and the franchise – our franchise – would be less rich because of it.
Besides his box-office draw, one of the reasons St. Louis chose to keep Musial is because he represented an ideal of what a Cardinals player was supposed to be. He always hustled. He was smart. He was a great teammate. He was an ideal leader.
Today, the guy who bleeds Cardinals red and shows younger players how the game should be played is Molina. He’s a guy the Redbirds would be wise to keep in the organization past the time when his playing days are over. Like Musial, Molina is a rare Cardinals player who was a part of four World Series. That’s more than Bob Gibson, Lou Brock or Ozzie Smith, all Hall of Fame players.
Molina probably could have made more had he gone through with a threat to see what he’s worth on the free-agent market. While it’s a lot of money for us average folks, Molina’s new contract isn’t the type of money that hamstrings teams. If St. Louis would have given Albert Pujols more than $200 million for around a decade, the team may not have been able to afford to put a decent supporting cast around him.
The team, thanks to new national and local television contracts and a supportive fan base, has a lot more money now than it did then. That fact, coupled with Molina’s more modest deal, ought to allow St. Louis to add a couple of players here and there to augment its roster of young talent including Aledmys Diaz, Alex Reyes, Carlos Martinez, Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk and Kolten Wong. It puts the team in perfect position to develop young catcher Carson Kelly, who could spend 2017 in the minors, 2018 as Yadi’s understudy and take on a time share with Molina in 2019.
And who would the Cardinals rather have mentoring the team’s young players and setting the example other than Yadier Molina?