ST. LOUIS - Frank Lucas once said, "you are what you are in this world."
In essence, you can't run from your DNA, or who you are. The way you're built is unique and important. It's inevitable that you will come back to the true you in no time if you were to stray. For the past 13 years, Yadier Molina's identity, on and off the baseball field, has been unmistakable.
Unafraid to stand up for what he believes in, Molina will take a run at anyone who says something negative about St. Louis, the Cardinals, or the people who live there. He's the unofficial Mayor of our town, the guy with a badge on his chest who will defend the honor of it at all costs.
Here's the thing about standing up for what you believe in. It doesn't matter whether it is right or wrong; the decision is 100% emotional, and it should be.
When Chicago Cubs' slugger Kris Bryant told Ryan Dempster on a mock talk show this past Friday that St. Louis was boring and made it sound like he was describing grandma's nasty-tasting chili, he fired up a lot of people in St. Louis. John Brebbia told him to cry a river and Cardinals fans on Twitter launched their spears, 280 characters at a time. Deadspin got happy feet.
No one was more fired up and full of rage than #4 himself, Molina. If his reaction to the Cardinals signing Paul Goldschmidt was asking for a beer, he probably asked for a hammer when he saw Bryant's comments. What did you expect? A tepid response from one of the most passionate athletes in all of sports?
Molina's retort came via Instagram, where he said, "only stupid players and losers make comments like the ones Bryant and Dempster did." Molina included a hashtag that said, "zero respect for these stupid players." Yes, he went there.
This shouldn't be surprising, and I'll be the first to admit that Bryant's comments weren't shocking or bad either. He's having some fun and playing the heel, and Dempster reveled in the moment as well. This is pure theater, and should lead to some testy and rather juicy moments when the team's meet up in May for two three-game sets, one in Chicago and the other in St. Louis. Bryant will walk to the plate, and if he's ever seen the Brandon Phillips incident in 2009, he'll do best not to tap Molina's shin pads.
Did Molina go too far in calling Bryant stupid and a loser? Yes and no. Once again, an emotional response isn't going to be steady, well thought out, or fully righteous. It's a war of words, and Molina went for the body slam instead of a light, distant smack across the face. It was silly, passionate, and all together, fun to watch.
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Here's another thing. This is a perfect recipe for the rivalry. It was heading into late January, and the cold air of the free agent market had spread to the Cards/Cubs sector. The cold stove had taken over one of the best rivalries in sports, so this little back and forth heated things up. Imagine throwing a few logs on the fire, stoking it, and letting it build up. And then imagine spraying a 20 ounce bottle of lighter fluid on top of it. That's what happened with Bryant, Dempster, Brebbia, and Molina this past weekend.
All of this fire will only make the games this summer much more hotly contested, fiery, and amp up the pride factors. For the past 2-3 seasons, with the Cardinals living on prayers instead of pure talent, the rivalry has taken on a diet soda feel for fans and audiences.
Remember the good old days of Tony La Russa and Dusty Baker threatening to beat each other up? Those days could be coming back soon. Can you see it? Mike Shildt kindly removing his glasses like a Doctor who knows Kung fu, and then lunging at the spiritually hip Joe Maddon. Molina sweeping Anthony Rizzo off his feet before Jose Martinez drops an elbow and screams, "THE CAFE IS OPEN!" Okay, maybe not exactly like that.
The Cards-Cubs may not go full Wrestlemania on us in 2019, but the match was lit and tossed on top of the match-up. This season will be different, and Molina assured the media and fans on Monday that this exchange will not be forgotten, most likely by either side.
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It's important to remember that there's a good chance that if Yadier Molina and Kris Bryant ran into each other on the street today, a fight wouldn't break out. Possibly a stare-down, but not a fight. Against the hype surrounding this inevitable showdown, the eventual result would be more calm and professional confrontation. Two completely different guys sharing space on a field of competition, trying to help their team best the other.
Will Molina call for an up and in pitch to Bryant? You bet. Benches will clear. Middle School shoves will be delivered by the active rosters of grown men. Shildt will get that bug-eyed crazy look in his eyes. Maddon will whine about the return of the vigilantes, possibly citing the production of a Sopranos prequel as a fateful occurrence. The game will go on.
No matter what, there will be heat. A lot of it.
Yadier Molina's comments were example #4,444 of "Yadi being Yadi." The last time I checked, that's not only good for the rivalry, but great for baseball.