JUPITER, Fla. -- The St. Louis Cardinals have followed an amazingly reliable competitive cycle over the past eight decades, with world championships coming in alternating decades. The Cardinals popped champagne in the 1940s, the 1960s, the 1980s and the first decade of the 2000s (though 2011 narrowly spills into the following decade).
What’s more amazing is that the team can maintain connections between those eras. Red Schoendienst, who broke into the league in 1945, still shows up almost every spring at the team’s camp. Fellow Hall of Famers such as Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and Ozzie Smith from the 1960s and 1980s championship teams are around both during spring training and at times in the regular season.
The Cardinals may be in transition, overshadowed for the first time by the rival Chicago Cubs and relying more than usual on young players, but those connections still resonate with some players. In this era of free agency, right-hander Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina, with 10 All-Star appearances between them, are the last holdovers of the 2006 and 2011 world championship teams. We caught up with the two Cardinals stalwarts on the state of the proud franchise going into the 2017 season.
Molina: We have been together since '04 and he’s like my brother. I’m spending time with him every day here at the ballpark and I’ve learned a lot of things from him.
Wainwright: When you share moments like that, there’s something that is unique and something you don’t have with just anybody. We popped a lot of champagne together and we’re hopefully going to keep doing it, but I think even more than that, just the time you spend together, that you put in with a guy. With Yadi, we’ve been together since '04. We’ve had times when he was mad at me and some times where we had great success and won and sometimes where we lost, and we’ve been through all that together.
How would you describe [the other guy’s] legacy as a Cardinal?
Molina: He will be seen as one of the best starting pitchers we’ve ever had, all time. The person he is, he deserves everything. Hopefully, we can see him in the Hall of Fame.
Wainwright: I have great respect for Mr. [Ted] Simmons and I didn’t see him play, but I find it hard to believe anyone could be better than Yadi defensively. I think he’s easily going to go down as one of the great catchers in Cardinals history, but in my mind, in baseball history. I would love to see a statue of him outside Busch Stadium one day. That would be great. Who knows with the way it’s gone now with the Hall of Fame, but I don’t know what else you’ve got to have.
Can you describe the relationships you have with Cardinal players from other eras?
Molina: Every time those guys come to the ballpark, we talk to them. Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, when Stan Musial was alive, Jose Oquendo, Willie McGee -- we talk to them and have fun. It’s like being part of a family. You want to be part of a family with those guys.
Wainwright: One of the very first autographs I signed as a St. Louis Cardinal was to Mr. Brock. He walked in and brought me a baseball and said, 'Hi, I’m Lou Brock. Nice to meet you.' He said, 'I want you to sign this for me,' and I’m like, 'I think you’ve got that backwards. You want to sign that for me?' I didn’t know him. I didn’t know if this was going to be a joke. One of the greatest ever is asking me for my autograph. Knowing him over the years, it’s apparent how humble he is and how excited he is for baseball on the St. Louis Cardinals and for young prospects coming up. That was neat for me. I’ve had some great pitching talks with Mr. Gibson over the years, just really exciting stuff. You’ve got a guy who had a 1.12 ERA with 28 complete games in one year, not to mention all the other great things he did. That was maybe the best single pitching season in the history of the game. I don’t even know if it’s arguable. MVPs, World Series MVPs. Cy Young winner. Every time he tells me a story about his career, I just soak that stuff up. I heard a story about him and Dave Winfield and their battle when he was getting older and Dave was just kind of coming up. Dave ended up hitting a home run on him and I think Bob buzzed his tower on the next one. I just love that stuff. I love that that stuff used to go on. Listening to Red over the years and I think this is his 77th spring training -- just an amazing man.
Is there a common trait, in your opinion, that the Cardinals teams from those different eras shared?
Molina: We play small ball and we never quit. I think those guys never quit. They had different teams. Maybe in ’82 or ’85, they didn’t have too much power. They depended on speed more than anything else. I feel we find different ways to feel the game. I feel like any team that wears the birds on the chest finds a way to win.
Wainwright: Well, I think there are like characteristics about all those guys, but the one that’s glaringly obvious is they’re all winners. When Tony La Russa finally won a World Series, Bob Gibson walked up to him and said, 'Welcome to the Cardinals. Now, you’ve finally arrived. Now, you’re part of the team.' I think their legacy is they went about it the right way -- they worked their tails off and they won. They won and they won and they won. They kept winning. That just fuels the next generation to want to keep carrying that on. The history of what’s gone on here, who’s come through these doors and worn those birds on the bat, starting even before Stan the Man and with him and carried on with Mr. Red, Mr. Gibson and Mr. Brock on down the line to Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee and Matt Morris and Darryl Kile, all these people. I think the brand has proven itself that we’re going to show up, we’re going to work hard, we’re going to work like we expect to win and we’re going to win.
What would it mean for you to spend your entire major league career in one uniform?
Molina: For me, it would be awesome. It would be great. Obviously, you can [be] part of different teams, but to be part of the same team here in St. Louis would be special for me. Looking back on my career, yeah, it went fast.
Wainwright: That would mean the world to me. It would, and I hope it’s possible. I hope it happens. I don’t foresee me going anywhere else, I don’t want to go anywhere else, but you never know what happens in this game. I don’t want to go anywhere else. This is where I want to be, where I want to retire. I just hope that all the little things that have to happen end up so that that can happen. Certainly, my time with No. 4 over there is going to be one of the highlights of my career, looking back.
As you look around this clubhouse this spring, do the Cardinals have the kinds of young players to launch a new era of championship baseball?
Molina: That’s what it’s all about, helping the young guys learn the way we’ve been doing things for many years, to see the progress they’re making and the success they’re having is fun. It’s good.
Wainwright: I see maybe one of the hungriest, sponge-like groups coming up that I’ve seen, maybe the most. A lot of guys are really doing a great job of watching, paying attention, learning, asking questions. It’s very exciting. I told my wife that the other day. I said, "I don’t know if I’ve seen a group of guys want to be better than the group that’s coming up." It’s cool.