There’s been a lot of speculation and reaction regarding Yadier Molina’s absence from Winter Warm-Up for the second straight year. As one of the bloggers that enjoyed special, media-level access to the Winter Warm-Up this year, I thought it would be helpful to offer a bit of insight from an inside perspective.
First, a clarification needs to be made about John Mozeliak’s comments. When asked about Yadi’s absence, Mo said, “I don’t think Yadi loves the autograph process.” The key word there is “process.” John did not say Yadi doesn’t enjoy signing autographs for fans (as a letter in the Post Dispatch suggested today). He simply indicated Yadi doesn’t enjoy the process – or, as I interpreted that, the way the autograph experience plays out for Molina.
To get a bit more insight, I spoke to a source that will remain unnamed. My source had a bit of inside knowledge about the last time Yadi did attend an autograph session at the Winter Warm-Up. Apparently, Molina asked the volunteer assigned to him (remember that WWU volunteers are assigned to sit and assist players as they sign autographs) to make sure fans knew he could only sign his name. In other words, he could/would not personalize autographs. In situations where a fan would insist that he add an inscription or personalize the autograph, Molina became flustered, uncomfortable, and occasionally struggled with the personalization.
It seems Yadi wrestles with a language barrier when it comes to writing English words. Because so many fans ask players to personalize autographs (for example, “Make it out to my son, John” or “Can you sign it ‘World Champions!’?”), the experience could possibly be embarrassing, frustrating, and more than a bit uncomfortable.
From a front office Public Relations perspective, teams hate to admit their players struggle with language barriers. It creates more distance between the fan and player and makes for uncomfortable interview encounters. So, you can understand why Mozeliak would be hesitant to specifically spell out Molina’s reluctance to engage fans at WWU – aside from also wanting to keep Molina’s experience private and personal.
My source also offered a bit of insight into Yadier’s fan focus. The source depicted Yadi as a “fan friendly and focused” player who loves to interact with fans – even smiling and giving his assigned volunteer a hug a year later when he recognized her. That description was compared – by the source – to Albert Pujols’ gruff and rigid interaction with fans (even reprimanding a fan for allowing his son to ask for more than one autograph).
Ultimately, it seems to come down to this: Yadier may have difficulty writing English phrases and words. Because the autograph experience often includes unpredictable interactions and signing requests, Yadi may become uncomfortable and embarrassed. This could easily explain his reluctance to participate in WWU, Mozeliak’s reluctance to “fine” him for it while also keeping the truth private, and Yadi’s willingness to make a donation to account for his absence.
Bottom line…let’s cut Yadi some slack. We may not know the whole story.