Yadier Molina, Mike Matheny, Tony Pena, Darrel Porter, Ted Simmons, just some of the names that have served as the backstop for the Cardinal hurlers. The St. Louis Cardinal organization has had a strong list of former catchers throughout the years. Some of them were hitters. Some of them were great defensively and there were some that had cannons for an arm. Then there were some that did a little bit of all of it. Who was the best?
Here is a comparison of some of the catchers that have worn the Birds on the Bat. Every generation has had their favorite. The catchers have all had their unique styles. The mullet of Ted Simmons, the visor extension on the batting helmet and the big glasses of Darrel Porter, the crazy catcher’s stance of Tony Pena, the grit of Mike Matheny and the bravado and the cannon Yadier Molina calls his right arm. But which one was the best?
Ted Simmons: Simmons backed up Cardinal hurlers for the thirteen seasons. He came up in 1968 at the age of 18. In 1971 he caught 81 games. This was the lowest amount until he was traded away in 1981. Every year during that period he appeared in 120 plus games per year. Most of those years he was well over the 130 games per year. In 1973, he played in 161 games. So there is no question about his durability. He was a six time NL All-Star and he won the Silver Slugger Award in 1980. During his tenure in St. Louis he was a .298 lifetime hitter, connected for 172 homeruns and 929 RBI’s. I think one of his most impressive stats was that he hit 37 triples during his time. His name has been bounced back and forth for the Hall of Fame for years. I think he definitely needs some serious consideration for this honor. Simmons took over the starting spot from Tim McCarver. McCarver put up respectable numbers but really nothing compared to Simmons.
Simmons was the last long time catcher until recent years for the Cardinals. As the team entered the 1980’s and 90’ we saw some quality catchers come along. When the Whitey Herzog began we became acquainted with the fan favorite, Darrel Porter.
Darrell Porter: Porter was signed before the start of the 1981 season as a free agent. He had caught for Herzog in Kansas City. He was a good fit for the Birds. Statistically he didn’t put up crazy numbers but he always seemed to come up big in situations when he was needed. The 1982 post season is what endeared Porter to the Cardinal fans. He was selected as the NLCS MVP as well as the World Series MVP. In 1985, he caught about half of the season’s games and his production dwindled and he was released. He had a few good years, but again like McCarver the numbers do not compare to Simmons.
1986 saw three different catchers, Steve Lake, Mike Heath and Mike LaValliere. Prior to the 1987, he Cards signed one of the better catchers in the game, Tony Pena. Pena came to the Cardinals as a former Rookie of the Year, a 3 time Golden Glove winner and a 4 time All-Star.
Tony Pena: In his three seasons Pena was solid and provided many highlights for the Cardinals. He was consistent and was selected as an All-Star in 1989, his final All-Star nod. He was granted free agency that winter and signed with the Boston Red Sox.
Tom Pagnozzi: A Cardinals’ catchers list would not be complete without a few words about the “Pagz”. The 1990’s saw a few different catchers during the decade. The most consistent would have been Pagnozzi. A true Cardinal favorite as well, Pagnozzi didn’t put up huge numbers as well. But the fans loved him. He was a five time Gold Glover and was selected to the All-Star team in 1992.
The new millennium saw the beginning of the Mike Matheny era. Matheny was loved for his hard-nosed gritty style of play. I think Redbird nation is hoping for the same out of him as the new skipper for the Birds. Matheny was solid no doubt. But, I honestly feel the biggest contribution that he made to the organization was the training of the final catcher in the comparison, Yadier Molina.
Yadier Molina: Yadi, I feel no doubt is the most loved catcher the Cardinals have had. To this date Yadier is a lifetime .274 hitter. He has won four Gold Gloves and three All-Star nods since 2004. His defensive skills and the nuclear explosion he calls a right arm are legendary already. He has changed the running game for clubs that face the Cardinals. His laser pick off plays to first base are moments that all fans wait for. I am hesitant to give compete stats on Molina, for the simple reason I believe we still have some great years ahead of us watching Molina behind the plate (if we get him signed).
Overall, right now I think with career stats that Simmons had put up; he is the best, for now. I personally feel we are seeing the best play, Yadier Molina. Time will tell.