You thought Yadier Molina was too intelligent to play a race card? You didn’t hear him when the Gold Glove finalists were announced and the longtime St. Louis Cardinals anchor didn’t make the cut.
“Respect to all the finalists in the 2020 National League catcher!” Molina began a furious Instagram post during the week. “Now . . . I see an injustice to those who decide or not . . . I don’t know if it’s @mlb or whoever but it’s clearly that they don’t want this Boricua Jibarito to draw with the great @johnnybench_5 . . . or me at 38 years I’m still the best.. ask every catcher in the mlb and they’ll tell you!!!”
The problems with Molina’s fury only begin with his apparent forgetfulness that another Boricua Jibarito—English translation: Puerto Rican little yokel—hold the major league record for catchers with thirteen Gold Gloves. You may have seen his Hall of Fame plaque: Ivan Rodriguez.
Molina has nine Gloves. Hall of Famer Johnny Bench has a National League record ten. If there’s a move among Gold Glove voters to deny a Puerto Rican little yokel a tenth Glove, it’s not as apparent as Molina thinks.
Under normal circumstances, the Gold Gloves would be chosen by about 75 percent managers and coaches and 25 percent statistics, surface and sabermetric alike. In pandemic-pressed 2020, the Gloves candidates were chosen by statistics (surface and sabermetric alike) alone. And they say Molina at 38 years old isn’t the best behind the plate this year, and maybe anymore.
Specifically, Rawlings, who present the Gloves every year, elected to use strictly the Society for American Baseball Research’s Defensive Index. This has only been a decade or so overdue, unless you’d like to continue seeing Gold Glove winners chosen past their primes on reputation more than real results or by highlight reels over hard season-long truth by managers and coaches with familiarity bias.
The National League’s Gold Glove catching finalists are Tucker Barnhart (Cincinnati Reds), Willson Contreras (Chicago Cubs), and Jacob Stallings (Pittsburgh Pirates). Molina thinks he’s still better than the rest of the National League pack when he didn’t even make the top five Glove candidates in a year the numbers alone picked the contenders.
The numbers say Molina committed five errors in 42 games, the five being his most in a season since 2017, a year in which he won the Glove. They also say three passed balls in 42 games equaled his full-season total from 2014, another year in which he won the Glove. They say Molina tied for the fifth-most wild pitches escaping him this year with fourteen and finished seventh in the league in defensive runs saved.
He may take this as adding insult to injury, but Molina was easier for baserunners to commit crime against than Austin Nola (Philadelphia Phillies) and Austin Hedges (Cleveland Indians) this year. He hasn’t been as high as second among arresting officers behind the plate since 2010, and he hasn’t been as high as the number four handcuff clapper since 2017.
What Molina seems to have wanted—especially becoming a free agent hoping for one more, maybe two-year payday—is a Lifetime Achievement Gold Glove. As if there haven’t been too many Gold Gloves awarded on just that basis when all else was said and done. At this writing he’s the number one active catcher for games caught, catching putouts, catching assists, total zone runs for catchers, and fielding percentage.
Handling pitching staffs? The pitchers who’ve thrown to Molina lifetime have a 3.68 overall ERA teaming with him. That puts him ahead of Rodriguez; the pitchers who threw to I-Rod lifetime had a 4.68 overall ERA teaming with him. It puts him behind freshly-minted Hall of Famer Ted Simmons (3.65), Bench (3.52), Berra (3.41), and Carter (3.31). Essentially, he’s handled pitching staffs the way you should expect a Hall of Fame catcher to handle them.
Unfortunately for him, the Gold Glove doesn’t reward lifetime achievement. That’s what the Hall of Fame is for. (For all we know, maybe Rawlings strikes a Palladium Glove for lifetime achievement one of these days.) And Molina knows exactly what we know, that his Hall of Fame case rests entirely on his work behind the plate. As a hitter, Pudge, Simba, the Little General, Yogi, and The Kid he ain’t and never was. (And why didn’t someone think to give Bench his own nickname and not make him share with Gene Mauch?)
If Molina wants to play another couple of years and a team thinks he can do so—most likely as a solid veteran presence and the shepherd of its next generation behind the plate—let him have that one more payday. But when he says the Gold Glove people just don’t want some Puerto Rican little yokel meeting the great Bench while some other Puerto Rican little yokel has more Gold Gloves in his trophy case than even the great Bench, Molina is talking through his sombrero.