September 24, 2020

The Ignitor (Sic): Paul Molitor’s Misspelled, Misconstrued And Misunderstood Hall Of Fame Career

December 13, 2012 by · 7 Comments 

What have you been working on lately?

An essay on the baseball player Paul Molitor.

Paul Molitor. Hmm. Is he a Hall of Famer?

Are you putting me on? In a 21-year (1978-98) career, he was one of the most consistent right-handed batters in baseball. The guy had 3,319 hits, still the ninth most ever (Derek Jeter is expected to pass him in 2013). He was The Sporting News‘s pick for Rookie of the Year in 1978. Set a record with five hits in the opening game of the 1982 Series. Had a 39-game hitting streak, the seventh best all-time, in 1987. Ran up these accomplishments in a 15-year career with the Milwaukee Brewers. But he wasn’t through. Molitor signed a free-agent contract with Toronto, finished second in the regular-season Most Valuable Player balloting and was MVP of the 1993 World Series when he hit .500 — at age 37, no less. His lifetime Series average of .418 is tied with Pepper Martin for first among players with at least 50 at bats. After three years north of the border, he finished his career playing for his home-state Minnesota Twins, with whom he had his most hits (a league-leading 225) and RBI (113) in 1996 as one of only 12 American League players to bat .300 over the age of 40. That made him the first alter kaker to get 200 hits since Sam Rice in 1930.

Please note that Molitor excelled in the field, playing every position but pitcher and catcher in a merry-go-round that at times distracted him from hitting. In fact, he played more than 50 games at each of the seven positions. After moving to centerfield in 1981, he was shifted to third base in 1982. “Last year they told me I was going to be the centerfielder of the future,” he grumbled. “I’m going to start working on my slider. If something happens to Rollie Fingers, I might be the relief pitcher of the future.” Playing his third position in three years, he hit .302, led the league with 139 runs and stole 41 bases. Hall of Famer? He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

O.K., he was a great player. I follow baseball pretty carefully. Why aren’t I more aware of him?

Good question, and sorry I ridiculed you. If it’s possible to be an underrated Hall of Famer, our guy fits the bill.  In his Brewer years, Molitor (generally pronounced MOLL-i-ter) usually got less attention than his sometime double-play buddy and fellow baseball immortal, shortstop Robin Yount, who made the majors as a teen-ager and was American League MVP in 1982 and 1989. “There were plenty of characters on those Brewer teams — Gorman Thomas, Pete Vuckovich, who became a movie star — but Molitor had character,” Tim Laudner, a former Minnesota catcher, said. “He was just a flat-out good ballplayer: 3,000 hits, runs well, plays anywhere you want.” And never, Laudner might have added, made a public spectacle of himself. As former Minnesota Twins manager Frank Quilici put it, “He was private in public.”

Where Molitor played most of his career didn’t help. Pat Gillick, the Hall of Fame general manager, told Sports Illustrated‘s Richard Hoffer, “It’s that small-market thing. Even Hank Aaron was underappreciated in Milwaukee.”

Is there any other player he reminds you of? has “similarity scores” comparing the stats of players, and Molitor’s Top Ten with comparable numbers are: Robin Yount, Johnny Damon, George Brett, Paul Waner, Roberto Clemente, Vada Pinson, Craig Biggio, Derek Jeter, Al Oliver and Tony Gwynn. Here’s a comparison of Molitor to the five Hall of Famers and two more (Jeter, Biggio) who seem certain to make it:

BA .306 .305 .281 .317 .338 .313 .333 .285
H 3319 3154 3060 3000 3141 3304 3152 3142
HR 234 317 291 240 135 255 113 251
BB 1194 1096 1160 621 790 1039 1091 966
R 1782 1583 1844 1416 1383 1868 1627 1632
RBI 1307 1596 1175 1305 1138 1254 1309 1406
SB 504 201 414 83 319 348 104 271
OBP .369 .369 .363 .359 .388 .382 .404 .342
SLP .448 .487 .433 .475 .459 .448 .473 .430
OPS•• .817 .857 .796 .834 .847 .830 .847 .772

• Through 2012

•• On-base percentage plus slugging percentage

Pretty fair company, eh? Molitor is one of only four players with at least 3,000 hits, a .300 career average and 500 stolen bases; the others are Ty Cobb, Hones Wagner and Eddie Collins. Paul’s the only one of the four with 200 homers.

I could get into more obscure categories where he places high, but I don’t want you to retreat in embarrassment.

I’m still here.

On a hunch, I looked up the word molitor. It’s more than that swimming pool name in the movie “The Life of Pi.” In Latin, molitor means a builder, an erector, a producer, a contriver, an author (I assume this doesn’t refer to a writer but more like someone responsible for bringing something about). The Molitor is a Stradivarius violin built by Antonio Stradivari in 1697 and sold in 2010 for $3.6 million, an auction record at the time for any musical instrument. Makes perfect sense: the guy was a precision instrument who got things done systematically.

Once described as “the most nondescript superstar in baseball,” I guess because consistency isn’t glamorous enough for some, Molitor didn’t get proper respect until he batted .500, with a record-tying 10 runs and 24 total bases (one off the record) as Most Valuable Player in the 1993 World Series. Sports Illustrated called him “The Complete Player” and “a template of the refined ballplayer.” Ted Williams said, “I watch him and I say to myself, ‘There is probably the best hitter in the game today.’ He’s the closest thing to Joe DiMaggio in the last 30 years. Matter of fact, every time I watch him, I say, ‘There’s Joe.’ ”

After scoring the Series-winning run, Molitor told SI, “I definitely respect the game, and that’s why I felt a somberness, a stillness, knowing how long I’d waited to feel that. It was everything I imagined. Days and weeks and months from now, I’m sure it will grow deeper and deeper in meaning. But right now I’m very peaceful with it. Yes, you get excited, and there’s a rush of adrenaline. But there’s something very peaceful about it.”

No wonder people said of him, “Is this guy for real?”

Wait a minute! I’m starting to remember. Didn’t Molitor spend a lot of time as a designated hitter? And with all due respect to the likes of David Ortiz, doesn’t that inflate a player’s career statistics and take some of the luster off Molitor’s glow?

You’re a tough sell. Let’s get something straight. Whether we like it not, DH is a legitimate position in the American League, and our guy was the best of his time. I’ll grant you this: There’s no question that Molitor extended his career by DHing in his last eight seasons. So did George Brett and Eddie Murphy, among other baseball immortals. After missing some 500 games with a myriad of injuries in his first 13 years, Molitor played about 97 percent of his teams’ games, mostly as DH, for six years before suffering injury-shortened seasons in 1997-98. I can’t help but imagine what numbers Ted Williams would have achieved if he’d become a DH after breaking his elbow in the 1950 All-Star game. Of course, the DH didn’t come into existence until 1973.

Now here’s something really on point. Molitor had barely 1,500 hits by the age of 32. His fans probably weren’t thinking of him as a future Hall of Famer, but it’s one of the miracles of the ages that he cranked out more than half his hits past that age. “It probably helped that, for the most part, I became a full-time designated hitter,” Molitor told Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “I was also smarter about stretching, getting my legs strong and loose, to avoid the muscle pulls that put me on the disabled list several times.” No longer would he, like so many players, return too soon from injuries he hadn’t fully rehabilitated.

O.K., you’ve built a strong statistical case for Molitor. Now give me a word picture of how he looked, how he played, his life story, what kind of guy he was.

In his salad days Molitor was a handsome man, with thick, dark hair, a winning smile and sleepy eyes: a regular chick magnet until he married the former Linda Kaplan (no relation) in 1981. At the plate or on the bases, he was a coiled and kinetic presence. A six-footer who weighed about 185 pounds, he was regular-sized for a major leaguer, but much stronger than most. The redoubtable Quilici told me, “He’s bigger than he looks.”

You had to see Molitor in action to appreciate his speed and strength. The description most often used to describe his hitting was “quick bat.” That refers, as you might expect, to how fast his bat was traveling when it made contact with the ball. Contrary to what you might think, bat speed has relatively little to do with arm strength or wrist flexibility, although Molitor certainly benefitted from blacksmith-strong forearms and wrists. Physicists who understand baseball say that the hitter’s wrists, elbows, arms and shoulders remain relatively stable during the swing. The head ideally shouldn’t move at all. As John Paciorek, who had a 4-for-4 major-league career before back troubles steered him toward teaching and writing (The Art of Hitting), observes, “The ‘turnstile’ action of a batter’s swing allows the vertical axis of the body to remain intact, which facilitates the least amount of head movement. The less head movement, the better the batter can detect the nuances of the speeding ball!”

Paciorek goes on to say: “The front foot secures the ground with such force from the straightening front leg that the front hip is being forced open as the back hip is driven forward with equipollence [equal power] by the aid of a forward-driving back, bent-knee. If performed properly, the vertical axis of spine and upper body remains constant while the hips are rotating along a consistent horizontal plane. The angle formed, by a diagonal front leg and an upper body and head, as the swing is commencing and concluding is 180 degrees (or slightly less).”

I asked Paciorek specifically about Molitor, and he e-mailed me the following: “I just found a short video of Paul Molitor hitting a home run to center field. I had to keep replaying it and try to stop it at various points to follow the sequence of his mechanics. As far as I could detect, he seemed to do everything correctly. He wasn’t a big guy . . . but from his stillness he must have been able to see the ball well. His arms were more relaxed than most batters because he didn’t have his back elbow up high. As the ball was in flight, he didn’t seem to stride. He simply turned his front foot from 90 degrees (toes pointed to the plate) to about 120 degrees (pointed to first base — incidentally, as Ted Williams did) as he was ‘gathering’ to begin his swing. As his body started to rotate, the front leg was straightening, back bent-knee driving forward. The front shoulder quickly ‘shrugged’ upward, allowing the bat to start flattening as his back bent-elbow started pulling forward while his hands stayed back. Then, as the body rotation was intensifying to near ‘frontal’ position, the arms quickly extended to augment the power already provided by the turning hips and shoulders. A perfect swing, perfectly timed, perfect execution of all body parts, and minimum of head-movement. He made solid contact, and the ball went sailing over the center-field fence.

“I forgot how good he was, and at the time didn’t recognize the qualities that made him ‘great.’ ”

Following all this?

Ted Williams called hitting a baseball the toughest act in sports. Now I’m getting a word picture of how to do it right.

So bat speed comes primarily from the torque transferred by the large leg and back muscles to the hips and smaller arm, shoulder and wrist muscles. A good hitter pivots off the back rather than front foot, the better to adjust to the pitch without committing too early. In a hitting video, Molitor explained some of his mechanics. He stood with his feet just slightly more than shoulder width apart. From a slight crouch, he held the bat still while awaiting a pitch, gripping the wood lightly with his fingertips. Then, at the last possible instant, stride-free (he recommended a stride of no more than three inches), he uncorked with a short, quick swing, the barrel of the bat making a straight line to the point of contact. “Molitor’s special gift of stretching time until it almost seems to have stopped is akin to the way Michael Jordan appears to hang suspended in midair, or the way players of an opposing team seem to freeze in that instant when Wayne Gretzky pulls the puck around a goal post and puts it into the net,” Stuart Broomer wrote in the biography Paul Molitor: Good Timing.

Molitor was a noted first-pitch swinger rather than a batter who worked the count, but as Jerry Remy, an appreciative opponent, noted, Molitor only swung at good first pitches. Asked if Molitor, in the 20th century, was a model for the taut, simplified 21st century batting style, Minnesota general manager Terry Ryan exclaimed, “You got that right!”

“One of my most memorable baseball experiences took place in 1992, when I stood right behind the batting cage in Milwaukee during batting practice and watched Molitor take his cuts,” Gabriel Schechter, a leading baseball researcher and writer, told me. “Not a single Molitor muscle twitched until the ball was right in front of the plate, when suddenly he’d pivot and smack a line drive somewhere. His feet barely turned; it was all hips and wrists. Fantastic.”

Molitor was a fast runner, but his steals came from good instincts and considerable study as well as pure speed. He knew pitchers’ tendencies — what body movements signaled throws home rather than pickoffs, what pitchers threw on what count, what catchers were easiest to steal on. He could have written a PhD thesis on base stealing.

Called Paulie by some, Molitor also endured the nicknames Molly and Ignitor [sic], the latter misspelled apparently because it rhymed with Molitor. “Aside from it’s not even being spelled right, it’s a terrible nickname,” he said. “I never once entered a room, and my friends said, ‘Hey, it’s the Ignitor!’ ”

Those who watched him sparkling at the plate might defend the moniker — properly spelled as Igniter — because of the way he ignited rallies and teammates to perform at their best. “Paulie had a way about him where if you gave him a chance, he could always beat you,” the late Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson said. “He’s what I call a winning player, like Joe Morgan. They’re just winners.” Molitor’s teams had a 1,382-1,268 (.545) record with him in the lineup and a 281-349 (.450) mark without him.

Now let’s talk about him as a man. I’m going to restrict this summary to his youth and playing days, because the subject of post-career lives of athletes is a complicated matter we’ll get to later.

The fifth of eight children to Kathy and Richard Molitor, the latter an accountant with the Burlington Northern Railroad, Paul learned early in life the value of teamwork. He knew the world didn’t rotate around him. But because his family was nothing if not baseball-crazed, he did get a lot of attention. Paul’s mother named the cat Camilo, after Twins pitcher Camilo Pascual. Richard tossed Paul high throws in front of a fence, and the kid imagined himself as Twins outfielder Bob Allison robbing someone of a homer. He advanced successfully to school, Little League and American Legion teams. The one jarring note — and an omen for his later life — was young Paul’s penchant for freak injuries. When he was eight, he fell out of a tree, breaking an arm. Later he fell out of a tree again, injuring a back muscle. On another occasion, he hurt a foot when he tried to ride a bike with no shoes on.

At St. Paul’s Cretin High School, a boys/Catholic/military academy at the time, he lettered in soccer, basketball and baseball his sophomore, junior and senior seasons, winning state titles in each. Baseball coach Bill Peterson instilled discipline by punishing kids for bad practices with repeated headfirst slides. Molitor once missed a sign and tomahawked a high 3-0 pitch he was supposed to take, hitting it for a grand slam in the state tournament. “It was a bad pitch, really upstairs,” he remembered. “It was right about my chin, and I couldn’t pass it up. I hadn’t had an extra-base hit in four games. It was a good thing I hit it out or it would have been my neck.” This time Peterson was forgiving, saying, “How can you get mad at a guy for hitting a grand slam home run?” Molitor wrote in his senior yearbook that he wanted to “play pro ball and work with people.”

After missing most of his senior year with mononucleosis, Molitor was a low draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals, and they offered him only $4,000. Molitor took a partial baseball scholarship to the University of Minnesota, whose celebrated coach, the late Dick Siebert, a k a The Chief, was a stickler for fundamentals and game-situation drills. That was a must for a northern school with a much shorter schedule than Sun Belt opponents, and Siebert managed to win three NCAA titles.

Siebert had cataracts and didn’t recognize freshman Molitor when he entered the coach’s office with a beard and long hair grown during the summer. “Who the hell are you?” Siebert said. When he realized it was Molitor, he said, “Let me tell you something Paul, we’ve got tougher rules than the Oakland A’s.” They subsequently had a good laugh over the episode.

“We became fundamentally sound players from practicing indoors all those months,” Molitor said. Writing the Foreword to Joel Rippel’s 2012 biography of Siebert, Molitor said that a big reason he made the majors after just one half-season in the minors was playing for Siebert. He elaborated:

“We probably spent a majority of our time in the field house practicing. I think there is some validity to what University of Texas coach Cliff Gustafson was saying about northern programs like Minnesota having an advantage because they worked on fundamentals more. With the limited resources we had, we spent eight to ten weeks in the field house before we even saw an outdoor practice field, so it forced us to work on the minute details of the fundamentals, like pickoff plays. There was not a lot of space in the field house and it was a dust bowl. There were people running on the track around the field, so it didn’t leave us much room. It forced us to concentrate on the smaller details of every practice.”

Jack McCartan, who played for the Gophers in 1957-58 and later was goalie for the 1960 U.S. Olympic gold medal hockey team, told Rippel, “For me, baseball was never an interesting sport to practice. Too much standing around. But Dick kept things moving. While the infielders were taking batting practice, he’d hit fungos to the outfielders. While the outfielders were taking batting practice, he’d hit to the infielders. He made it go faster than usual. It was more interesting. At the end of every practice, we had a situation we would work on.”

A typical example of Siebert’s disciplined yet creative thinking was a play he used when the opponents had men on first and second and an obvious bunt situation approaching. He positioned the first baseman and the third baseman halfway in, and brought an outfielder in to cover third. Usually, there’s no way to prevent the runner on second from advancing, because the shortstop has to cover second and the third baseman doesn’t have enough time to retreat to his bag. Siebert’s strategy had everyone in useful roles: the third baseman and first baseman charging in to field the bunt quickly and get the lead runner, the shortstop covering second and the second baseman covering first, with the pitcher and catcher also available to field and throw.

In 1955, Minnesota began its season with a southern tour and beat a Texas team that had already played 25 games. “As a player, you didn’t realize how he [Siebert] manufactured that, but his teams were better than ninety-five percent of the teams in the country, no matter what time of the season,” said Jerry Kindall, who starred for Siebert and played nine years in the majors before himself becoming a college coach.

A left-handed first baseman who played 11 seasons in the majors and was an All-Star in 1943, Siebert studied opponents’ tactics, read books by other coaches and tried to learn something in every game before passing on his knowledge to players like Molitor. Borrowing from Ohio State’s Marty Karow and Iowa’s Otto Vogel, he freely used steals, bunts and hit-and-run plays to good effect. Siebert also adopted Hall of Fame manager Connie Mack’s practice of filling in a scorecard during games. Seeing how players had fared in previous at bats, he could re-position fielders and change his offense in later innings. A trailblazer himself, Siebert in 1954 became the first college coach to fit his players with fiber-glass batting helmets.

Siebert felt players were mature enough when they enrolled at the “U” that he didn’t need rules other than a midnight curfew and suits on the road. He conducted clinics and created the Midwest Collegiate League, allowing players in the Upper Midwest to play 35-40 games in the summer. The league also kept good high school and college players close by and allowed him to train and recruit them. Here’s an anecdote about Siebert’s technical style taken from his bio on the SABR website, regarding Paul Giel, a Minnesota All-America pitcher in 1953 and 1954 who later played in the majors:

“Giel told a story to Dwayne Netland of the Minneapolis Tribune of meeting Siebert back on campus after his 1954 rookie season with the New York Giants and having Siebert pepper him with questions such as how did Leo Durocher defend against the squeeze or how did he work the pickoff play. Giel says, ‘I’ll never forget it. Here I was a rookie in the big leagues, and there was Siebert, who had been an All-Star first baseman, asking me about baseball strategy.’ ”

I’ve spent so much time on Siebert to give you an idea how sophisticated and trained Molitor was at the end of his college career. To be sure, some of this came from his high school and other amateur league coaches in St. Paul, who were highly respected around the state. And some of it came from Molitor’s confidence, aggressive style. When Minnesota visited Texas in his freshman year, Molitor reached third, noticed the Longhorn pitcher had a slow motion, got permission from the third base coach and stole home. “What the hell are you doing here?” Siebert, blind as ever, said to Molitor when he sat down in the dugout. “I stole home,” Molitor said. And he stole home a second time in the same game.

After Molitor hit .375 as a freshman second baseman, Siebert called him “the most exciting player I have ever coached.” In his junior year, shortstop Molitor hit .325, led the league with 20 stolen bases, propelled the Gophers into the College World Series and played so well his number 11 was retired. For his college career he hit .350, with 99 RBI and 52 stolen bases. “I have made the statement before that I thought he had more ability than any player I have ever coached, and I’ve coached Dave Winfield, so that’s a tall order,” Siebert said. Siebert, who rarely spoke about himself, didn’t add that it was he who had so much to do with making Molitor such an exceptional player.

Though he was far and away the best player on the team, Molitor and his buddies elected as team MVP the student manager John Anderson, who became Gopher coach in 1982 and hasn’t left. “He embodied what we had in mind that season,” Molitor explained. “He did everything but play. He was a groundskeeper, equipment man, assistant coach and even confidante for many of the players. He was very exceptional, so we decided that he should get the award.”

That’s what kind of guy Molitor was. After his junior year, the Brewers selected him as the third overall pick in the Major League Draft and gave him a $77,500 signing bonus. Before assigning him to the Burlington (Iowa) Bees, a Class-A team in the Midwest League, the parent club summoned him to Milwaukee’s County Stadium for VIP treatment. Molitor arrived in a suit “way too big . . . totally geekish.” He was sitting next to Yount in the dugout when third baseman Sal Bando threw Yount an outfielder’s glove, saying, “Well, I guess this will be your last year at shortstop, kid.” Molitor’s reaction: embarrassment, humiliation, fervent wish to be anywhere else.

The Bees were 28-42 over the first half, but with Molitor added to the team, Burlington improved to 43-16 in the last half. He was only supposed to play A-ball for three weeks, then advance directly to Triple-A. Not so fast, said Milwaukee’s first draft choice: Molitor wanted to help the Bees win a title! The Brewers acceded. In his 64-game 1977 season at Burlington, Molitor batted a league-best .348, with eight homers and 50 runs batted in, to earn both Most Valuable Player and Prospect of the Year honors. The Bees beat Cedar Rapids and Waterloo in the playoffs to win the league title. Not to be overlooked, Molitor’s manager, former National League infielder Denis Menke, made a change in his hitting that produced a more versatile approach.

“He wasn’t pulling the ball, so I moved his hands back,” says Menke, who would reappear later in Molitor’s career. “From then on he became a natural. I’ve never seen a guy who had better baseball instinct. If Paul was on second, usually with two outs, and the ball was hit deep to the shortstop, whose only play was to first, if the throw was just a little off, Paul never slowed down and headed home. In the field, he would surround the ball when he was going to backhand it. He would swipe at it rather than give with it, and the momentum would take him toward first base. He also had great footwork. Anyone with good feet has a chance to be a good infielder.

“Paul was as close to a finished product as anyone I’ve ever seen, and I give Siebert a lot of credit for that. He was fast, but he also knew when to steal. Everything was smooth in the field. When the Brewers asked me after the season, I said he was ready for the big leagues right now.”

But he was still in the A-ball, wasn’t he? How did he fare in Triple A?

As Menke had all but predicted, Molitor leaped right over Triple-A. His stellar play in A-ball earned him a trip to the Brewers’ Chandler, Arizona, spring training camp in 1978. He did well enough, but the Brewers understandably wanted to ship him to Triple-A Spokane of the Pacific Coast League for fine-tuning. Molitor was willing and had his bags packed. But as it happened, Robin Yount, who had an injured foot, was holding out and wrongly rumored to be considering a career change to professional golf. As Opening Day approached, manager George Bamberger named Molitor his starting shortstop in Yount’s place. In his first weekend of play, Molitor went 7-for-16, with a homer and seven RBI. But what may have most impressed Bamberger was a successful bunt Molitor laid down when he noticed the third baseman playing back. Bamberger said that “nine out of 10 guys wouldn’t have thought of that. He’s a heads-up guy.” And one who had to remain in the lineup. When Yount returned to the club four weeks later, Molitor — by now, “Mr. Clutch” to Bamberger — moved to second.

As good as Molitor was, he wasn’t shy about asking for advice. “I can remember before one game, when I was coaching with Toronto and he was with Milwaukee,” Menke says. “He was slumping and he asked me to take a look at his swing. I said, ‘Try to get barrel in front of plate.’ He went 4-for-5. I told him, “Don’t ever ask my advice again!’ ”

“Look at his body,” Menke went on. “He never had to worry about his weight. The amazing thing to me is the number of positions he played — from shortstop to second, from second to center — and how well he handled the transitions. When I was moved from short to second, everything was completely opposite. He was a natural.”

The rest was history, at least in baseball terms.

What do you mean?

As his agent Ron Simon wrote in The Game Behind the Game, “He was everybody’s All-American. Jack Armstrong. In the flesh.” Molitor wasn’t comfortable in that role. He’d return from night games to find 20-25 messages from girls and women awaiting him at Milwaukee’s Astor Hotel, where he was living.  “It isn’t easy being Mr. Squeaky Clean 24 hours a day, and Paul was burdened with the unrealistic expectations of family, friends, and baseball fans,” Simon wrote.

During a lengthy period rehabbing an injury in 1980, teammates urged Molitor to try cocaine, and he got hooked. It was a handy escape from the image that had been forced on him, and it got out of control. There were times when his family couldn’t find him, and in 1981 his future wife Linda told him she’d leave if he didn’t stop using. He complied without going through formal rehab, but his ordeal continued. As one of four players named as customers in the 1984 trial of Tony Peters — Molitor wasn’t charged, and Peters was sentenced to 27 years — he bore the embarrassment anew. But once he started giving anti-drug talks to kids, calling cocaine “the Devil’s drug,” all was forgiven. Confession is good for the soul, and baseball pardons its penitent players.

I was beginning to wonder if he was human.

A sinner like the rest of us. During his rehabilitation he underwent a religious reawakening that changed him. “I believe that God answered my prayers,” he said, “and gave me the strength to fight the addiction and finally to stop using cocaine.” He references his beliefs frequently.

There’s a lot of that in baseball, isn’t there?

Yes, baseball is all religion all the time, or so it can seem. But people who are uncomfortable with this culture should understand that religion has helped many a player rehabilitate himself from drug and alcohol addiction (See: Josh Hamilton) or avoid bad habits altogether. There’s little pressure, however, on non-Christians and nonbelievers to convert.

Back to our boy. As I’ve said, he emerged from addiction a changed man. Molitor immediately involved himself in too many charitable causes to name here; he was way ahead of the “give-something-back” movement that has encouraged virtually every major leaguer to do good works. Among other things, he worked with Linda to fight AIDS (no small feat for a guy in a homophobic profession) and children’s cancer, A player rep for years, he was constantly helpful to his teammates, but he wasn’t one of the hardest of the hard-liners. At times, perhaps naively, he conceded that some owners’ demands had merit, earning him a rebuke in the memoir of the late Marvin Miller, longtime executive director of the players association. Molitor also wanted to ask Miller’s successor, Don Fehr, why so many clubs supposedly had no chance to win a championship because they couldn’t afford to keep the best players on their payroll.

While other players had no compunctions about jumping from small-market teams to big-city clubs that paid them more, Molitor had a wrenching, painful interlude before he left the Brewers for the Blue Jays. He made the announcement fighting back tears. Months later, he called his departure from Milwaukee “very disappointing.” Molitor was, and for all I know still is, close to former Brewers owner Bud Selig, who went on to become commissioner of baseball. All of which documents Molitor’s bent for considering others’ needs: his clubs’, his fans’, his teammates’.

There was a telling moment midway through Molitor’s career.  It was August 26, 1987, a few days after his 31st birthday, and his hitting streak had reached 39 games to trail only Ty Cobb (40), George Sisler (41), Bill Dahlen (42), Pete Rose (44), Wee Willie Keeler (44) and Joe DiMaggio (56). The Brewers faced the Indians in Milwaukee’s Country Stadium. In the last of the 10th, neither the Indians nor the Brewers had a run, and Molitor didn’t have a hit. Cleveland reliever Doug Jones hit Rob Deer with a pitch. Mike Felder pinch-ran for him, and a groundout moved Felder to second. Dale Sveum was walked intentionally. As Rick Manning headed to the plate, Molitor, who was on deck, said, “Come on, get a hit.” Manning thought, “I’ll get an infield hit,” giving Molitor a chance to bat with runners on first and third. Instead, Manning singled past the infield. As Felder rounded third, Molitor raised his hands, telling Felder to score standing up. When he crossed the plate to end the game, the crowd sat stunned for a few seconds, and then booed Manning! But Molitor was running up the first-base line to congratulate him.

“Sorry,” Manning said.

“Sorry?” Molitor replied. Standing and clapping now, the crowd called Molitor out of the dugout for an ovation that visibly moved him. Only then did he allow himself to ponder what he had achieved.

There was another telling moment in a spring training game late in his career. Now with the Twins, Molitor was hurting. But when a teammate singled, he tried to go from first to third, his legs and arms churning like pistons, and was thrown out by 20 feet. If an ailing old-timer could hustle like that — and in a game that didn’t count, for pete’s sake — his younger teammates got the message.

I concede. Molitor is one interesting guy. But you’ve said you wanted to reserve discussion of Paul Molitor’s post-baseball career for later. Well, it’s time.

O.K. Stay with me on this, because it’s going to be a little while before I actually refer to him. When author David Halberstam asked The New Yorker‘s Roger Angell what ballplayers are like as people, Angell famously replied, “They are what they do.”

But what happens when they don’t?  I know, I know. Of course there are athletes who have invested well and spend their retirement happily traveling from one charity golf tournament or memorabilia show to another. But there’s often a void few old jocks can fill. Referring to Tom Buchanan, a former football star in The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of “men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savors of anticlimax.” Couldn’t have put it better myself.

There’s more. Athletes routinely consume megadoses of calories to build up the energy they needed to perform. In retirement, too many of them keep eating without exercising and blow up (See: Kirby Puckett). By contrast, when Alan Page hung up his Hall of Fame football cleats, he began jogging and lost 25 pounds. Page currently sits on the Minnesota Supreme Court, an exemplar of an athlete finding an equally satisfying and impressive post-competitive career. But Page stands out precisely because he’s the exception.

Other ex-jocks missing the competitive fix segue into criminal activities (See: Lenny Dykstra). Athletes whose errant behavior was protected or ignored when they were competing become liabilities when they stop (See: Dennis Rodman). Some former athletes suffer from degenerative brain disease linked to frequent blows to the head (See: too many football players to mention). And jocks who so carefully protected their images when they were hot commodities may slip into bad habits like public inebriation or spouse abuse when they’re not.

When the talk turns personal, Paul Molitor refers to the “garbage” in his life. After his 1998 retirement from baseball, when he was, perhaps uncomfortably, viewed as an iconic elder statesman, a Jack Armstrong in repose, his personal life began to unravel. While legally separated from Linda — they would be divorced in 2003 — he fathered a child with a woman named Destini whom he subsequently married and had a second child with. Molitor is also paying child support to former girlfriend Joanna Andreou, with whom he has a son. This behavior — I can’t bring myself to judge it — is similar to that of countless other athletes. The name that pops first into my mind is Steve Garvey, another admired ballplayer with charitable instincts who has had children with several different women.

Do Minnesotans view Molitor with distaste?

Actually, he’s very popular in Minnesota, and not just because people may have tolerant standards for an athlete’s private life. His personal struggles not withstanding, Molitor has been a model of the athlete in retirement. On June 11, 1999, his number 4 was retired in a ceremony at Milwaukee’s County Stadium.  The same year he ranked 99th on The Sporting News‘s list of 100 Greatest Baseball Players. That being his first year of retirement, he generally relaxed, playing golf, working part-time with the Twins broadcasting team and following Bruce Springsteen on his European tour and…Wait a minute!


I almost skipped through that last part too quickly. Working beside play-by-play man Dick Bremer and analyst Bert Blyleven for 40 games, Molitor easily could have done a pro forma job in the booth. Judd Zulgand, a sports copy editor and media columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, noticed something better.

“Paul Molitor has stepped into the television broadcast booth as comfortably as he did the batter’s box,” Zulgand wrote.

“While many athletes provide great sound bites in the locker room but then struggle in the booth or studio — former NFL player Ronnie Lott comes to mind — Molitor has had no such problem in his first season of working Twins games.

“The future Hall of Famer, who retired after last season, has appeared increasingly comfortable with each telecast. . . .

“When Molitor works games . . . the Twins have their best announcing crew since Ted Robinson and Jim Kaat worked together in the late 1980s and early ’90s.

“Molitor has been able to clearly convey his knowledge of hitting, baserunning and fielding, providing the perfect complement to Blyleven, the former Twins pitcher.”

But from what you’ve told me, I’m guessing he was soon into another organized activity.

Right. In 2000, he was Twins bench coach specializing in baserunning and hitting and eying a future as a big-league manager. At season’s end, though, he turned down an offer to manage in Toronto rather than move his wife and teen-age daughter Blaire there. What’s more, Minnesota manager Tom Kelly had signed a one-year extension and was expected to retire at the end of it. When he did, the old Twins shortstop Ron Gardenhire and Molitor emerged as possible replacements. However, Molitor withdrew from consideration because Major League Baseball was considering contraction and the Minnesota franchise seemed a candidate for extinction. In the words of Molitor’s then-agent Ron Simon, Molitor “feels the situation’s so unsettled that he’d rather not be involved in it.” His aforementioned unsettled personal life may also have been a factor.

Molitor took 2002 off before signing on as Twins roving minor-league instructor. And in 2004 longtime Toronto general manager Pat Gillick, then with Seattle, convinced him to be the Mariners batting coach. He actually may be more suited to coaching than managing, because coaching involves more hands-on instruction.

Am I right that 2004 was a pretty busy year for him?

Yes. And a satisfying one as well. You can bet very few people enjoyed as gratifying a year as Molitor had in 2004. In early January, newly eligible for Hall of Fame election, he nervously waited at his Twin Cities home with family and friends. The call from Jack O’Connell, secretary of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, came at 12:04 p.m., a good omen to Molitor because he wore number 4. Congratulations, O’Connell told him, you’ve been elected to the Hall of Fame. In fact, he was elected with a whopping 85.2 percent of the votes in his first year on the ballot, comfortably over the 75 percent he needed. “There was a huge sigh of relief on my part, and the room erupted with screaming and applause,” Molitor said. “It was pretty emotional.”

The selection was wildly popular among Molitor’s fellow players. Asked if he was a tough out, pitcher Mark Langston once said, “The toughest. I have to invent pitches against him.”  Pressed on whether there was a pitch Molitor couldn’t hit, Langston said, “Ball four. And you’d better roll it.”

At the time, 3,000 hits was a surefire key to Cooperstown unless your name was Pete Rose. Molitor’s brief addiction to cocaine, a performance-enhancing drug, didn’t factor into the vote total and shouldn’t have. He had a Hall of Fame career in his majority of clean years, he never denied the few dirty ones, and he subsequently became a spokesman for combating drug abuse. If there’s a message for HOF-quality athletes who used steroids or Human Growth Hormone, it’s to fess up and hope for the best.

So how did baseball fans receive him after the news?

With wild abandon. Molitor headed for the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome for interviews, then flew to New York for talk-show appearances, all the while feeling more than a little unreal. “There are certain things that happen in your career that are somewhat like an out-of-body experience,” he said, “and even getting that phone call, it’s almost like you find yourself drifting out and looking down upon it rather than being the one that’s taking the call. I know seeing my plaque in Cooperstown will give me the same kind of feeling.”

Also in early 2004, he received another significant honor, the University of Minnesota’s Outstanding Achievement Award. The highest honor bestowed upon an alum, it goes to people who have been successful in their chosen professions or public service and demonstrated leadership in communities, states, countries or internationally. This is not an award casually given. The All-University Honors Committee must recommend the candidate before the Regents can bestow the honor. Molitor joined a select company of achievers, including former Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee Walter F. Mondale; television journalist Harry Reasoner and columnist Carl T. Rowan. I would be remiss if I didn’t include another recipient who’s a good friend of mine, David Lebedoff, an esteemed lawyer, author and political activist. To give Molitor maximum exposure, the announcement was made at the halftime of the Minnesota-Iowa basketball game. He formally received the award in April, getting a biographical notation that compared favorably with many other recipients.

Paul Molitor, native Minnesotan and National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, is a distinguished alumnus of the University of Minnesota. As a student-athlete, he was named First-team All American (one of only two Golden Gophers in school history to receive First-team All-American honors twice in career). In 1977 he left the University to pursue a professional baseball career. Throughout his illustrious career, he has distinguished himself through outstanding achievement and leadership both on and off the field. Since 1977, he has maintained close ties to the University through philanthropic giving and active support of the University’s baseball program. He established the Paul Molitor Endowed Scholarship. As a professional baseball player, he assumed key leadership roles in the Milwaukee Brewers, Toronto Blue Jays, and Minnesota Twins organizations. He made two World Series appearances, [won] a World Series MVP award, and [was] inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004. His has a strong commitment to his community. He played an integral role in helping to bring about the establishment of Camp Heartland, an organization that offers activities and nursing for children with HIV. He is also an active supporter of Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer and the Make-a-Wish Foundation. In addition, he has worked with the Minnesota Twins to create the Molitor Fields for Kids grants program, which has provided the financial support for the renovation of youth baseball and softball fields in the Upper Midwest.

Then, all the while coaching for Seattle and amazing Mariner players with the things he picked up watching baserunners, Molitor painstakingly prepared his Hall of Fame acceptance speech and flew from the Seattle clubhouse to Cooperstown the weekend of his July induction. He’d already had a private tour of the plaque room. “Seeing where your spot’s kind of picked out — that is what brought the goose bumps,” he said, “when you looked at the other faces on that wall that you were going to join.”

“I guess when you talk about Springsteen lyrics, the theme of ‘Glory Days’ is the older you get the better you were,” Molitor told ESPN’s Jim Caple. “So I guess that would be appropriate to play. I’ll be able to exaggerate as well as anybody.”

“He won’t have to exaggerate much,” Caple wrote on “I don’t know what words will be on Molitor’s plaque, but here’s a suggestion: ‘A terrific clutch hitter, a versatile fielder, a runner as swift as bad news and the smartest, most fundamentally sound player of his era.’ ”

The exact words on the plaque (Molitor’s face is engraved under a Milwaukee cap) are, “A remarkably consistent contact hitter and aggressive base runner with extraordinary instincts. One of three players with more than 3,000 hits, 600 doubles and 500 steals. A career .306 hitter. Ranks eighth all-time with 3,319 hits. Hit safely in 39 consecutive games in 1987 for the fifth longest stretch in modern baseball history. A great clutch performer, as evidenced by his record five hits in game one of the 1982 World Series for the Brewers, and World Series MVP honors for the Champion Blue Jays in 1993. Elected to seven All-Star teams.”

Still a handsome man, albeit now with a receding hairline and bowlegged gait, Molitor composed himself and expertly delivered his induction speech on Monday, July 25, 2004. Scarcely speaking of his own accomplishments, he thanked numerous individuals from God to his family, friends, coaches, managers and teammates, acknowledging Linda and their daughter Blaire (said to be reluctant attendees), and nearly losing control only when he mentioned his deceased parents. Beginning his eloquent conclusion, he said, “My dreams never took me to Cooperstown. Like most of these [Hall of Fame members] and probably all of them, I didn’t play the game to get here. I played the game because I loved it. That being said, it’s the Hall of Fame. It’s that magical place, it’s that place that transcends time. Baseball is respectful, traditional, simple and pure.”

“The baseball memories are great,” Molitor said off the podium, “but when you think about your career, the people memories are even better.”

O.K., so what’s life like for him now?

Location, location, location. I lived in Minneapolis in 1967-70 and my two sons were born there, so I’m biased. Minneapolis is nothing less than a love poem to Minnesotans. Novelist Richard Ford praises “its down-to-size, polished and sturdy optimism.” This civilized, sweet-smelling city of lakes and parks has everything from notable architecture to light-rail service (really something in a community with scattered population density), to neighborhoods you’d love to live in, to statues of everyone from Hubert H. Humphrey to Mary Tyler Moore. Hennepin Avenue, once a seedy home to strip clubs and dive bars, has been cleaned up. True, there’s a visible presence of street people and drug dealers downtown, but the huge contingent of police and security guards demanded by the business community makes the center city safe. And downtown Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins, is another love poem, this one to Minneapolis.

Visitors to Target Plaza encounter, among other treats, statues of former players Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek in addition to former owners Calvin Griffith, Carl Pohlad and Pohlad’s wife Eloise. Plus a large Gold Glove commemorating Twins who have won the fielding award, located exactly 520 feet from home plate, the distance of Killebrew’s longest homer at old Met Stadium. It’s one of many great touches.

Built on a small urban footprint and opened in 2010, Target Field is intimate enough to draw comparisons with Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. The sightlines are excellent. Even if you’re seated on the top row of the top tier, you’re spoiled, because you can look out the back of the stadium and see a spectacular sunset at 9 p.m. in late June. The club’s employees satisfy your every whim, with two bars and food choices including state favorites like walleye, wild rice soup, Kramarczuk’s sausages, and “State Fair Foods” like J.D. Hoyt’s pork chops. In center field, a large “Minnie” and “Paul” logo shows players in uniforms of the Minneapolis Millers and St. Paul Saints, the old minor league teams, shaking hands across the Mississippi River. On a state-of-the-art scoreboard, the only disquieting element is a Little Brother camera that settles on couples who are pressured to kiss before the multitude.

Yeah, they have that in San Francisco, too. What happens if the damn thing settles on a brother and sister. Or, heaven forfend, a married man and some woman not his wife?

Exactly. But that’s the only thing I don’t like about the place. Anyway, a beautiful park deserves an exemplary organization. Though a small-market team, the Twins have reached the postseason six times since 2000. Their fans were so grateful that even in 2012, when the pitching collapsed and the club with it, average attendance at Target declined only from 39,000 per game to 34,000. All in all, an organization you’d like to work for.

And our boy does. A “special assistant” for the Twins organization, he travels to spring training and minor league parks on assignment to instruct prospects on baserunning and infield play, although it’s likely he also dispenses batting advice, using his short, quick, compact swing as example.

In 2012 he journeyed to Beloit, Wisconsin, where he tutored third baseman Miguel Sano. A $3.15 million signee out of the Dominican Republic, Sano, 19, had committed 32 errors in 91 games for the Class A Snappers.

“We looked at all his errors, which we keep track of, and it’s a mixed bag,” Molitor told Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “There’s fielding errors, there’s throwing errors, there’s poor judgment errors. But it’s his first year of being a full-time third baseman. I tried to be as positive as I could and to help him understand that third base is a position that takes some time, understanding speed of play, speed of runners, when you have to rush and when you can take more time.

“He’s working really hard. But overall, for his first year in Beloit as a young kid, he’s holding his own. We all know his ceiling is very high — it’s just a matter of being patient with him all the way.”

As befits a graduate of the Dick Siebert system at the University of Minnesota, Molitor imparts inside-baseball tips. Check him out at a minor-league game. He never watches the ball, focusing instead on his runners and fielders. He’ll tell an infielder that he gave away a breaking pitch by moving to his left well before his pitcher threw home. Or he’ll alert a baserunner to an opponent’s giveaway motion that he’s about to throw a pitch home rather than a pickoff. If a lefthanded outfielder is going to his right to get a ball, he’ll have to pivot before throwing and can be run on. You can steal third against a lefthanded pitcher, because he’ll have his back to you. The players love Molitor’s gems; it’s like listening to Bill Monroe explain bluegrass. And the job isn’t so time-consuming that Paul and Destini can’t take time to visit places like Carmel, California, during the summer.

Not a bad life.

Anderson, the University of Minnesota baseball coach, speaks glowingly of the help Molitor gave him when Anderson took over the Gopher program as a 26-year-old. Molitor co-chaired the fundraising campaign for the new baseball stadium that will open next spring. When Denard Span played for the Twins, he would work out at the university’s indoor facility for the expressed purpose of taking instruction from Molitor. But understand, coaching isn’t Molitor’s only public face. Since retiring as a player, he has contributed to his many children’s charities, and has a golf tournament to raise funds for St. Paul Baseball. But if there’s one non-baseball activity Molitor does best, it may be public speaking. You’ll forgive me if I paraphrase him a little here.

Two appearances in 2011 were instructive. In a seven-minute address in the public memorial service at Target Field for Harmon Killebrew, perhaps the most popular Twin of all time, Molitor touched all the right bases. Dressed in a suit, white shirt, rep tie and cufflinks, he noted the gentle slugger’s ironic nicknames, Killer and Harm. “There was no act of kindness too trivial [for Killebrew] to pass by,” he said. “He would always ask how your family was.” Molitor added, however, that when Destini returned to the table after dancing with the nimble-footed Killebrew at Cooperstown’s Otesaga Hotel, she said, “Now I know why they call him the Killer.”

To applause, Molitor wondered why it took four years on the ballot before Killebrew was elected to the Hall of Fame. Describing the “mythical yet very real” Killebrew as the first star and designated immortal of the Minnesota franchise, Molitor said, “There was always a battle for that number three jersey on your Little League team.”

The Molitors “talked, joked, cried and prayed” with the Killebrews in Harmon’s final days of hospice. Remembering “a gentle, kind, humble man . . . who put others above himself,” Molitor concluded, “Harmon, my friend, rest in peace. I love you, and I’m going to miss you.”

At the fifth annual dinner for parents and athletes at Mounds View High School in suburban St. Paul, Molitor seemed even more at home. Casually dressed in slacks, sport coat, shirt and no tie, he got to use his considerable sense of humor and broad knowledge of baseball. After praising the opening prayer (“Good to acknowledge our good Lord”), he said, “Thanks for the introduction. It took me a long time to write that sucker.”

Molitor immediately showed his familiarity with Mounds View sports. “I know what happened on the football game between Mounds View and Cretin this fall [Mounds View beat Molitor’s Cretin eleven],” he said to laughter. “Don’t start a streak or anything.” Speaking of his high school days, he said, “I used to be the best player from Cretin.” The crowd laughed again, knowing that Cretin grad Joe Mauer, once an MVP, thrice a batting champion, was playing for the Twins.

Molitor mentioned the Super Bowl just passed and the triumphant Green Bay Packers. “I had a friend who always wanted to see a game at Lambeau Field [in Green Bay] and was trying to get a ticket. The day before the game he was on line, and, sure enough, there was a seat on the 50-yard line. Turned out the guy sitting next to him, sporting a Cheesehead, sunglasses, scarf around his neck and other Packer accoutrements, was the guy who sold him the ticket. Why was he sitting alone? ‘My wife and I are season ticket holders for 40 years; unfortunately, she passed away,’ he explained. ‘Didn’t he have a relative or friend who wanted to see the game?’ my friend asked. ‘They’re all at the funeral,’ the guy said.”

Molitor quickly referenced his athletic career. “I was a caddy at Town and Country Golf Course. I’d tell the caddy master I had a Little League game. He finally said, ‘Do you want to play baseball or make money’? I said, ‘We’ll see how that plays out.’ ” He mentioned his first year in spring training, when a 6’8″coach named Frank Howard hit him fungos hour after hour. “He always asked me if the scout was drunk when he signed me.”

“This summer at the induction we’ll have a couple of guys I knew.” About one of them, pitcher Bert Blyleven, he said, “Bert hit me more than any other pitcher. I asked him, ‘Why did you take it upon yourself to drill me?’ he said, ‘I thought you were peeking back at the catcher [to steal the sign].’ ‘I never did that.’ Bert said, ‘I’m still not sorry.’ ”

Of Roberto Alomar, also just elected, Molitor said, “There was a story when we were playing together in Toronto and we were in New York. The Yankees had a P.A. announcer with a deep voice named Bob Shepard. ‘We welcome Bob Hope to tonight’s game.’ He said. Robby goes, ‘Paulie, Paulie, when did Bob Hope play for the Yankees?’ ”

Then Paulie mentioned a Hall of Fame Twin, Kirby Puckett. “There are certain guys you just imagine playing with, and at the top of my list was number 34, Kirby Puckett. I was in spring training with him when he came down with glaucoma [which ended his career]. At the All-Star Game in Toronto, we heard that Al Gore and his wife were coming to the clubhouse. We got the full shtick: Secret Service and dogs. Here comes the vice president and Tipper, going from chair to chair. They reached Kirby, who was sitting with his shirt off. ‘Al, Al, this tax plan, what are you and Bill thinking about? You think I want to play this game for free?’ As serious as the room was, Kirby changed the dynamic. That was what Kirby was about. I think Tipper left.”

“Five years removed from my last game, I got the call,” he continued. “It was unbelievable to be surrounded with those guys [at Cooperstown]. There’s a golf tournament every year, and I was playing with Yogi Berra. I got to hear a Yogi-ism live and in person. We got to a green, and Yogi had a 60-footer. When he left it 30 feet short, he said, ‘If I woulda hit it harder, I’d have missed it shorter.’ ”

Would Molitor ever get serious? “Everybody gets a fair shake [in baseball],” he said, mentioning a minor league team he visited that had a 5’2″ and a 7’1″ player. “Overcoming obstacles will determine what kind of guy you’re going to be.  I don’t want to look at a guy when he’s 8-for-10. I want to see a guy when he’s 1-for-10. That will tell more abut him.”

Getting to the nitty-gritty of his teaching, he said, “Everybody can be a good baserunner. There’s always a play where you can go 90 feet.” Detailing the many duties of infielders — glove work, throwing, cutoffs, bunts, footwork, among others — he said, ‘They ask how many times do you have to tell a guy?’ We always say, ‘One more time,’ because some things are worth repeating.”

Complimenting the Mounds View athletes in the room for competing, he said, “Better is he who got in the ring than he who was never in the ring at all.” He added, “There’s a lot of failure in baseball.” Molitor told the gathered athletes to be accountable. “There’s nothing worse than excuses. [Say] ‘I messed up. I’ll do better the next time.’ ” Molitor held himself accountable for “mistakes in baseball . . . made some bad decisions in family.” In praise of sporting benefits like commitment, teamwork, trust and sacrifice, he concluded, “I want you to support this program. High school sports were one of the best things in my life.”

Pretty stirring.

Molitor left to a standing ovation. Hey, we owe nothing less to his baseball career and public service.


Jim Kaplan is author of The Greatest Game Ever Pitched: Juan Marichal, Warren Spahn and the Pitching Duel of the Century. The 50th anniversary of that 16-inning classic will be celebrated on July 2, 2013. Kaplan can be reached at



7 Responses to “The Ignitor (Sic): Paul Molitor’s Misspelled, Misconstrued And Misunderstood Hall Of Fame Career”
  1. Don Hoover says:

    Has he been up for nomination for the Hall Of Fame yet? He definitely was one of the games most consistent players, as well as an all around good guy. He genuinely loved the game, and it showed in his performance. Please let me know if he was, or if I missed it.

  2. Mike Lynch says:

    Originally Posted By Don Hoover
    Has he been up for nomination for the Hall Of Fame yet? He definitely was one of the games most consistent players, as well as an all around good guy. He genuinely loved the game, and it showed in his performance. Please let me know if he was, or if I missed it.

    Don, Molitor was inducted in 2004 by the BBWAA with 85.2% of the votes on his first year on the ballot.

  3. Jim Kaplan says:

    Molitor deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. He not only admitted to drug use but was penitent in every way possible, giving countless talks to youth groups etc. I think it’s likely he kept more kids off cocaine from speaking out against it than attracted kids to drug use by his short-lived activity.

    Confession is good for the soul, and I suspect good at the ballot box as well. To put it another way, Andy Pettitte improved his chances for Cooperstown by admitting he used HGH.

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  1. […] This blog post at Seamheads summarizes part of the book that Molitor’s former agent wrote 20-some years ago about that time in Molitor’s life. It wasn’t pretty: […]

  2. […] This blog post at Seamheads summarizes part of the book that Molitor’s former agent wrote 20-some years ago about that time in Molitor’s life. It wasn’t pretty: […]

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