#50 - BENGIE MOLINA, C
The catcher who guided the pitchers through the 2002 season, playoffs and world series was elevated to the role by a manager who privileged catching defense. Bengie Molina was Mike Scioscia's favorite Angel. After a cup of coffee in 1998 and 100-some plate Apppearances in 1999, the new skipper Scioscia went with Bengie, then 25, as his fulltime backstop. He responded the to the 513 PA with a batting average of .281, and an OPS of .739 with 14 home runs and 20 doubles. And most importantly to Scioscia, great catching defense - Bengie caught 1,090+ innings.
With the bat, Bengie was a Sciosica favorite, leading the league with the most AB (14.3) per K in 2000 - putting the ball in play (in order to challenge the defense) is a Scioscia mantra, even if you are the slowest runner in all of professional baseball. Swinging and missing is bad. Grounders that put a man dead in the water on his way to 1B made Bengie a superstar in Mike's eyes.
Bengie came in fourth place in the 2000 Rookie of the Year vote, but he was number one in Scioscia's heart. 2001 saw him falter a little bit offensively, and his defense stats paint a picture of averageness, competency, but nothing approximating the greatest defending catcher in baseball. Mike saw something and by now, Bengie was the unmovable object in the Halo lineup.
He was at his best as a backstop in 2002 and 2003. He lead the league with a 44% Caught Stealing Percentage each year, throwing out 71 would be basestealers over these two seasons. He also led the AL in Total Zone runs in both of those years. Those were he is peak seasons in his streak of
Bengie was a fan favorite. He caught 685 games - 650 of them in a six season stretch of 2000 thru 20005. His 10.8 AB per K ranks eighth in club history for Halo players with more than 1,500 PA. His 6.5 Defensive Wins Above Replacement ranks tenth in club history but is even more impressive when one considers that it is just 0.2 behind longtime Angels catcher Buck Rodgers in about 75% of the playing time. He held the record of most HR by an Angels Catcher at 65 until Mike Napoli broke it. He and Napster are tied with 175 Extra Base Hits as Angels, 29th best in club history.
He doesn't rank higher on this list because he ranks high in a few lousy categories, such as being in the all time top ten of grounding into double plays (his 94 GIDP is tied with Jim Fregosi for ninth place in franchise history. Fregosi did that in 5,945 PA while it only took Bengie 2,679 PA).
Although the scenes of him hugging Tory Percival after the final out of the 2002 World Series are his iconic moment, Bengie's greatest postseason contribution was the 2005 ALDS, really his swan song as he signed with Toronto as a free agent prior to the 2006 season. He had three home runs, including a big one against Randy Johnson in the driving rain of pivotal Game 3 at Yankee Stadium. He batted .444 with a 1.418 OPS in a series that went five games and eliminated the Bronx Payroll from the postseason and advanced the Angels to the ALCS.
My indelible memory of Bengie is the triple he he hit in Game 4 of the 2002 ALDS. Twins outfielder Torii Hunter chased a long ball to Centerfield and slammed into the wall, unable to grab it. He was out cold as teammates scrambled to get the ball. Any player in baseball would have made it an inside the park home run but "Wheels" Molina made it to 3B. It was only one of three triples he hit as an Angel and his only postseason one. The next day, Sunday, Game Five, in what would come to be known as the "Adam Kennedy Game", I got into the stadium early and looked out toward Centerfield. There was still an imprint on the CF wall of Hunter's body, chalk outline not needed.
Hunter would eventually become an Angel and finish with 713 games as a Halo, just three behind Bengie's 716 Games Played for the team.