June 3 – Happy Birthday Jose Molina
Former Yankee catcher, Jose Molina was born on this day in 1975, in Bayamon Puerto Rico. He became Jorge Posada’s backup receiver on July 21, 2007 when the Yankees acquired him from the Angels for a Minor League pitcher named Jeff Kennard. In what I always thought had been a cool arrangement, up until that deal was made Jose had been sharing the Angels’ catching position with his younger brother Bengie. He also has another brother with the absolute best first name in baseball (Yadier; pronounced yah-dee-yay), who has been a very good starting catcher for the Cardinals since 2005. Together, the catching Molina brothers have collected five World Series rings during the past decade. Both Bengie and Yadier are better hitters than their older brother and have each won multiple Gold Gloves. Jose’s inability to hit right-handed pitching usually prevents him from taking over a team’s starting catcher role but his arm and his abilities behind the plate are every bit as good if not better than his younger brothers.
The Yankees had been using Will Nieves as Posada’s backup during the first half of that 2007 season, but he was only hitting .164. When Molina took over that role he became an instant hit with Yankee fans, impressing us with defensive skills that were superior to Posada’s and also hitting a surprisingly robust .318 during his first half-year playing in the Bronx. In fact, it wasn’t till Molina put on the pinstripes and I got to watch him semi-regularly that I really began noticing Posada’s weaknesses behind the plate. I will never forget the evening Molina left me stunned with my mouth open staring at my big screen after he threw a would-be base-stealer out at second from his knees.
His play impressed the Yankee brass too. New York signed him to a two-year-$4 million deal to play for them in 2008 and’ ’09. When Posada was injured in ’08, Molina got the opportunity to start. Unfortunately, by then he had stopped hitting and the Yankees eventually felt forced to go out and get Ivan Rodriguez in a failed effort to put some more offense into their lineup. The move didn’t help New York, as the team missed postseason play for the first time since 1993 but I-Rods inability to hit did help convince the Yankee front-office to keep Molina as Posada’s backup the following year. Jose did get the opportunity to engrave his name in Yankee lore that season. On September 21, 2008 in the bottom of the fourth inning in a game against Baltimore, Jose hit a 2-0 pitch off the then Orioles Chris Waters deep into the left field stands for a two run home run. That blast would turn out to be the very last home run ever hit in the original Yankee Stadium.
In 2009, A.J. Burnett became a Yankee and Molina pretty quickly became Burnett’s personal catcher. Jose helped guide the whacky right-hander to what would turn out to be his best season in pinstripes, helping New York capture their 27th World Championship. But Molina’s bat continued to fail him as he hit just .217 during the ’09 regular season. The Yankees chose not to re-sign him when his contract expired and rookie Francisco Cervelli took over the back-up catcher’s role in 2010.
Jose ended up playing two seasons as Toronto’s second catcher before signing a rather surprising two-year deal With Tampa Bay last November. Rays’ manager, Joe Madden intends to use the now 37-year-old Jose as his team’s starting receiver. Through yesterday’s games, Molina was hitting an anemic .188.