Molitor brings wealth of knowledge to coaching staff
Hall of Famer ready to support club any way he can in return to his hometown team
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It wasn't quite now or never, but Paul Molitor knew if he were to join a Major League coaching staff again, he should do so sooner than later.
"I guess I had my doubts about whether I'd be back in a Major League situation again as the years go by," Molitor said. "But there's still part of me that enjoys putting the uniform on. And the player development role that I had for the last several years, it's been good. The Twins organization has treated me really well since I retired [in 1998]. [General manager] Terry [Ryan] and [manager Ron Gardenhire] said, 'Hey, we have this open position and we think you'd be a good fit.'
"It was a little bit surprising because I thought if it was going to happen, I thought it might happen last year, when they transitioned a couple of the other coaches. So I had to think about it and think about the commitment and try to be prepared to give what it takes and get the blessing from my family. When it all came together, I realized this might be the last opportunity I had to do that. The personal side of my life is always a big influence for me. I have kids that are old enough, but they're young enough. So it's a good window for me to try to find out if this is still where I want to spend some of my time over the next few years."
Molitor, 57, will oversee the team's baserunning, bunting, infield instruction and positioning while also assisting with in-game strategy. He's a native of St. Paul, Minn., graduating from Cretin-Durham Hall High School, also Joe Mauer's alma mater. He was the third overall pick by the Brewers in 1977 out of the University of Minnesota. In his 21-season career, Molitor hit .306 with an .817 OPS and 504 stolen bases and was a seven-time All-Star. He won a World Series with the Blue Jays in 1993 and was named World Series MVP.
He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004. Over the course of his career, he played every defensive position except pitcher and catcher. He is one of only six players in MLB history -- with Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins, Lou Brock and Ricky Henderson -- with at least 3,000 hits and 500 stolen bases in a career. Molitor -- who holds the Twins' single-season record for a designated hitter with a .341 average, 113 RBIs, and 99 runs scored in 1996 -- had been the organization's Minor League infield and baserunning coordinator in 2003, from 2005-10 and again last season while also serving as a special assistant to Ryan. He was the team's bench coach in 2000-01.
The fact that he could help the Twins was without question.
"He's been doing this here in big league camp for probably five years, six years," Gardenhire said. "He's been working in the system. And basically he's doing exactly what he [was] doing, the baserunning a lot of it. He's more involved now with the infield stuff than ever because I've asked him to do that. So his role's kind of expanded because he's on the staff now. And I told him, every area, if you see something, step in. We want to use him as best we can and use every bit of him."
Gardenhire has seen his players respond to Molitor.
"I think we have a lot of players on the big league level who really like the idea of him being up there so they can pick his brain," Gardenhire said. "Pitchers, what he sees, he might be seeing a guy going to his glove a little bit different. Baserunners, first move and all that stuff. So I think that's going to be big for our guys that are up there. And players coming up because they've been with him through the Minor Leagues. It's one of those comfortable things. He can help me a lot with how they do things, some of the way they go about their business because he's been around them a lot more than I have. So we got a lot of bonuses here."
Still, Molitor knows the job will be challenging.
"I think my biggest challenge in the role is to try to help get this organization back in a more competitive situation," he said. "I think we all feel that. And personally for me how I can be a part of that is try to realize what strengths that I have and what experiences that I've gained and try to apply to our players, particularly our young players and some of the veterans too. Without being prideful, I think that you need to believe that you can make a difference. So my biggest challenge is going to be, along with Gardy and the other coaches, is to try to find and recreate a winning culture."
In his previous roles in the organization, he's worked with many of the players now on the Major League team. Even so, some may be unfamiliar with his background. On a recent Interleague trip to Milwaukee, one player was surprised to see Molitor's No. 4 hanging with the Brewers' other retired numbers. The player did not know Molitor had played at the Major League level, let alone put together a 21-season, Hall of Fame career.
Still, there's a comfort level for all involved.
"I think it helps," Molitor said. "I've seen a lot of these guys turn from young men to men and the maturity that takes place progressing through a Minor League system as well as chronologically just getting older, but for a lot of them it eliminates me having to come in as the new guy without any history. If Pedro Florimon trusts me and Brian Dozier trusts me, and if there's any small part of their game that I've maybe helped them, maybe they'll be continuing to learn more."
One of the players Molitor's been working with this spring is Alex Presley, who joined the Twins on Aug. 31 in the trade that sent Justin Morneau to Pittsburgh.
"It's been good," said Presley. "If he has something to say, you listen. He obviously had a great career. So he's one of those guys, you try to pick their brains and see what they got, and try to put some of his philosophies into your game to try to improve as best you can."
Molitor has thought at times about taking his career another step and managing. For now, though, and out of respect to Gardenhire, he's happy with his current role.
"I thought about it at different stages over the past however many years since I retired," he said. "And it's just never seemed like something I had enough commitment to make. Some of it's personal, some of it may be not. But there were a lot of rumors last year around here and it was uncomfortable for me, just because I've been with Gardy for so long, and I don't ever want to be in an awkward situation like that. So this is going to be a year for me to be back as a big league coach and that will be my focus. I don't know what's going to happen next year, three years, four, five. But for now this is the place to be."
Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.