Looking back: Molitor never wanted to leave

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Mike Johnson
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
— There was a time when an iconic Wisconsin professional athlete couldn’t come to terms with team management and went to play elsewhere after a distinguished career in Wisconsin.

It was about the time Brett Favre was wrapping up his first season as quarterback of the Green Bay Packers.

It’s hard to remember now after all that’s happened with Favre, but in the winter of 1992 Paul Molitor severed his ties with the Milwaukee Brewers after 15 seasons due to differences in contract negotiations. He then signed with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Molitor, a Minnesota native, was a guest speaker Tuesday at the Eclipse Center as the Beloit Professional Baseball Association, Inc., began its 30th season of baseball with its seventh annual Beloit Snappers Hot Stove Banquet.

Other speakers included Janesville native and former Twins general manager Terry Ryan and current Twins senior director of minor league operations Jim Rantz. The Snappers also honored the Clinton High baseball team as their Stateline Team of the Year for 2010.

In a candid talk with reporters, Molitor—now in his seventh season as the Minnesota Twins’ minor-league base-running/infield coordinator—talked about everything from his coaching experiences to future aspirations to baseball’s current labor stability.

He had some especially interesting comments when addressing his separation from the Brewers, the franchise he would eventually enter the Baseball Hall of Fame as a member of in 2004. Before that, however, Molitor spent three seasons in Toronto and three in Minnesota prior to retiring.

“I wanted to be a lifetime Brewer, no mistake about that,” Molitor said. “That negotiation was painful, because the Brewers kind of just put their hands up in the air and said, ‘There’s not a lot we can do right now given our circumstances.’

We tried to be creative, but we didn’t really get anywhere.

“When I made the decision to leave, I spent a good time of the rest of that winter, as well as spring training and the early stages of the season in ’93, contemplating and wondering if I had made the wrong decision.

“My connection to Milwaukee, it never really left. I enjoyed Toronto, and I won (a World Series) there (in 1993), and Minnesota was fantastic, to go home. But to have played 21 years for the Brewers would’ve been something not a lot of people could say they did, play 20 years (for) one city, one team, one franchise.

“I regret that I didn’t have that opportunity.”

But Molitor said he’s made peace with the organization and was touched when they retired his No. 4 in 1999. Though he’s now affiliated with the Twins and has few organizational connections with the Brewers anymore, he said he continues to follow the Brewers closely.

And he expressed the notion that another Wisconsin sports legend can make peace with his former team.

“You would hope that after three years removed from being a player here, that at some point what he did here will rise above everything else that’s happened in the interim,” Molitor said of Favre.

Molitor was also contemplative in talking about the difficulties of transforming from a great player to a great coach.

Regarded as one the best pure hitters of his time, Molitor racked up 3,319 hits and posted a .306 lifetime batting average in his 21-year career. His 39-game hitting streak in 1987 remains the seventh-longest in major-league history.

But the players he coaches today aren’t concerned with Molitor’s stats, and the challenge for Molitor has been to communicate his skills to players with a wide range of ages and abilities.

“There’s something about having to learn how to teach,” Molitor said. “A lot of times I think maybe for the so-called ‘better players,’ they never really had to do a lot of thinking or verbalizing of how they reacted, or how they hit, or how they ran the bases. They kind of did it.

“And so, to spend some time trying to break those things down in my brain and learn how to communicate them, it’s taken time.”

Molitor works on baserunning fundamentals with the Twins at the start of major-league spring training before shifting most of his focus to minor-league spring training. He then travels to the Twins’ minor-league affiliates—including the Single-A Snappers—throughout the season to impart his wisdom and attends occasional Twins game as what he calls an “interested observer.”

Though he said he contemplated being a manager someday in the early stages after his retirement, Molitor is now too comfortable with the freedom afforded by his role as a roving instructor.

“I think about it,” he said of being a manager. “I wonder what it would be like, if I could handle today’s players or not, but I don’t think it’s ever gonna happen.”

Last updated: 3:59 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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