Yadier Molina is poised to establish a Cardinals standard for most stolen bases by a catcher in a season since 1920.
Entering the 2012 all-star break, Molina has eight steals (seven as a catcher and one as a pinch-hitter).
(Updated Sept. 16: Molina has 12 steals, 11 as a catcher and one as a pinch-hitter).
Since 1920, four Cardinals catchers had swiped nine bases in a season: Tim McCarver (1966), Tom Pagnozzi (1991), Eli Marrero (1999) and Molina (2009).
McCarver, 24, achieved his career high in steals on 15 attempts. Playing for the first time in spacious Busch Stadium II, he also led the major leagues in triples (13) that season. His nine steals tied him with first baseman Orlando Cepeda for fourth on the 1966 Cardinals, behind outfielders Lou Brock (74) and Curt Flood (14) and second baseman Julian Javier (11).
Marrero, 25, had 11 steals overall, nine as a catcher, for the 1999 Cardinals. (Marrero also swiped 14 for the 2002 Cardinals, but just one of those was as a catcher.) He ranked fifth in steals for the 1999 Cardinals, behind shortstop Edgar Renteria (37), third baseman Fernando Tatis (21) and outfielders J.D. Drew (19) and Ray Lankford (14).
Molina, who turned 27 during the 2009 season, got his nine steals on 12 attempts. He ranked third in steals on the 2009 Cardinals, behind first baseman Albert Pujols (16) and shortstop Brendan Ryan (14).
Pagnozzi’s achievement is the most interesting. He turned 29 during the 1991 season and earned the everyday catcher job for the first time.
Under manager Joe Torre, the 1991 Cardinals made stolen bases a key part of their offense. Their 202 steals ranked second in the major leagues, behind only the Expos (221).
Most impressively, the 1991 Cardinals became the first big-league team since the 1917 White Sox to have nine players with 10 or more stolen bases.
The Cardinals wanted more. They set their sights on having 10 players with 10 or more steals, something no big-league team had done since the 1912 Senators. Washington that season was led in steals by center fielder Clyde Milan (88). Its catcher, John Henry, swiped 10.
The Cardinals’ chance to match the Senators depended on Pagnozzi getting one more steal.
In the final series of the season, at Chicago against the Cubs, Pagnozzi attemped three steals but was thrown out each time by Hector Villanueva, a catcher “not renowned for his arm,” wrote Rick Hummel in The Sporting News.
The final attempt came in the ninth inning of the last game of the season, Oct. 6. After catcher Ray Stephens singled with one out, Torre sent in Pagnozzi to run. With second baseman Luis Alicea at the plate, Pagnozzi took off for second, but the throw from Villanueva to shortstop Shawon Dunston beat him, ending the Cardinals’ efforts to have a 10th player achieve 10 steals. It was the 13th time Pagnozzi had been caught stealing that season. Boxscore
“Wait until next year,” Pagnozzi said. “That’s what they say, isn’t it?”
But Pagnozzi would swipe just two bases in seven attempts in 1992. He never would achieve more than four steals in a season after that.
The nine members of the 1991 Cardinals with at least 10 steals were: outfielder Ray Lankford (44), shortstop Ozzie Smith (35), outfielder Felix Jose (20), third baseman Todd Zeile (17), outfielder Milt Thompson (16), second baseman Geronimo Pena (15), first baseman Gerald Perry (15), outfielder Bernard Gilkey (14) and utilityman Rex Hudler (12).