When GIFs first asked me to write this piece, it was kind of tough. The timing of Yadi week and of the request was an interesting coincidence, and not exactly the fun kind. But more on that later.
I, of course, gladly accepted the opportunity. But as I tend to do, I started procrastinating. And then the Cardinals started procrastinating on winning. And the motivation was hard to find.
But, this is too good of an opportunity to pass on. Logos, uniforms, numbers, arm sleeves — I’ve got opinions about all of them, so why not honor Yadi, in this his week, by ranking his catcher’s gear over his career.
He’s never looked bad behind the plate, so let’s start with the least good and move towards the best.
In Yadi’s rookie season, he took the field wearing #41 (weird now, right?) with red gear, navy trim, an oval-R Rawlings logo, and a mask adorned by a bunch of small Cardinals logo decals. While I loved that MLB used to allow more decorated masks, this one felt more like a 12 year old got a Cardinals sticker book and set about decorating. And the oval Rawlings logo on the chest wasn’t my favorite.
4. 2018 – 1st half
I’m a pretty big Nike brand loyalist. I love that Swoosh. It says cool. It says top tier. It says athlete. So it’s a surprise to me that I’m ranking the gear that prominently features it second to last. But it comes down to colors.
While it’s great that Yadi had both a red set and a navy set (for when the Cards wear the beautiful navy hats), neither set featured the other color outside of the two helmets. The red set was red with white trim, and the navy set was navy with white trim (could have at least been gray to match the uniforms). Not actually bad, but bad enough for me to rank those sets fourth.
3. 2018 — 2nd half
Mid year this year, Yadi switched from Nike to Nike’s Jumpman brand. And it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
The trim is fixed with this set—red gear with navy trim. That’s good. But I can’t find any evidence a navy set exists now. That’s unfortunate.
And then there’s that Jumpman logo. It looked weird when college football teams started wearing a little basketball player on their uniforms, and it looks weird that a star baseball player is wearing that same little basketball player on his gear. Also, it’s yellow, and I’m not sure if that’s supposed to be yellow from the Cardinals logo (probably) or gold and a nod to his gold gloves, but either way, I’d prefer it was just white or navy.
2. Circa 2009–17
Sometime around 2009, MLB banned designs on catcher’s masks. Never had they been as artistic as NHL goalie masks, but at least they had some logos to add some flare. No more. Now they were basically limited to some generic two-tone coloring that followed the curves and vents of the mask.
Then, in 2010, Yadi decided to celebrate his Gold Gloves, which he started winning in 2008 and would win through 2015. Where there was previously a red or black Rawlings patch on his chest protector, now there was a metallic gold patch. The patch was also on his glove, and his “YADI 4” identifier just beneath his chin was either sewn in all gold or trimmed in gold depending on the year.
It was the perfect amount of bragging for Yadi’s personality. “See this? It means I’m the best. You should know that. Now I’m gonna prove it.”
If it weren’t for MLB sapping the personality out of the mask design, the gold trimmed gear would have been my favorite.
1. Circa 2005
I’m lumping a few variations together here because this is already more words than you cared to read about catchers gear. Nonetheless, I present to you the best set of gear Yadi has ever worn.
In 2005, Yadi’s padding didn’t change all that much from 2004. Still red, still navy trim. But there were some key improvements.
First off, the oval-R Rawlings logo was gone, replaced with a more traditional rectangular patch. In 2005, the patch was red. In 2006, it switched to black. Additionally, a navy set was introduced, I believe for the first time, in 2006. Straight reverse of the red gear, but with a red Rawlings patch.
The real key here, though, is the helmet. One oversized Cardinals logo on each side of the mask, the bat angle nearly perfectly running down the jawline, and the beautiful STL mark centered above the mask. And he had a navy counterpart to match. Near perfection for a catchers mask. If I’m being picky, the STL on the navy cap should have been red outlined in white (it was just white), and the masks on each should have been navy. But that’s nitpicking, indeed.
This was a wonderful look. And it was the set Yadi wore when he fully announced his presence to the national baseball scene in 2006. Can’t beat that.
Other notable gear:
Yadi’s World Baseball Classic mask featuring a large Puerto Rican flag design was wonderful. If you can’t tell, I’m a sucker for cool masks, and I miss them dearly during the MLB season.
Yadi’s 2015 and 2017 All Star Game gear took all the bragging from his 2010–17 regular season gear and ditched the subtlety. Bright, shiny, metallic gold. In 2015 it was just the chest protector. In 2017, he thought that wasn’t enough, and went with the gold mask too.
Remember the sad coincidence I mentioned at the start of this article? Well, the night GIFs contacted me—probably less than 2 hours prior even—I found out that my family’s dog was unexpectedly going to have to be put down. That night. Instead of going home with some pain meds for sore muscles or joints like my parents expected, they found out he had a tumor on his spleen causing internal bleeding. Surgery was a big risk with little hope to do more than very briefly extend his life—and at what quality after a major surgery? Doing nothing would have meant suffering for another day before the inevitable. My parents really had no choice, but it was still the hardest one to make.
They had to say goodbye to Yadi that night.
Now, I should clarify that Yadi was never “my” dog per se. Both my sister and I had long begun our adult lives when Yadi joined the family. He was my little brother’s and my parent’s dog. But I saw him frequently, and I loved him. And he loved me. And he would have loved you too. I can’t remember meeting a dog I didn’t like—and I love my own dearly—but I have never met a dog as sweet as Yadi.
Yadi didn’t just want to be in the same room as you. He didn’t just want to be near you or next to you. He wanted to be right up against you. As close as possible. Really, he wanted to lay on top of you, if you’d let him. He was no tiny toy dog, by the way. Yadi was probably a 70–80 pound stout lab beagle (and who knows what else) mix.
He wanted you to pet him. Always. If you stopped, you’d get a sweet and slightly sad look and a kiss with the hope you’d start again. He was the sweetest.
I get sad knowing I won’t get to pet him again. I get sad thinking about how my dog will react the next time she’s at my parents house and can’t find her cousin. Dogs are family, and Yadi was part of ours. I’ll miss him.
And for that reason, I think his Cardinal red collar deserves the actual top spot on this list of Yadi’s gear.
Thanks for reading. Here’s to a memorable last weekend of the regular season.