Paul Leo Molitor | DH | 1993-1995
Paul Molitor was born August 22, 1956, in St. Paul, Minnesota (he shares a birthday with Carl Yastrzemski and my wife). The Brewers took him in the 1st round of the 1977 amateur draft, 3rd pick overall (Harold Baines and Bill Gullickson went before him) out of Minnesota’s University. The Blue Jays first pick that year, Tom Goffena. You can’t win them all, though we drafted at the bottom of the first round, MLB’s way of sticking it to the Expansion teams.
After only 64 games of A ball, Paul started the 1978 season with the Brewers. He finished 2nd in the Rookie of the Year voting to Lou Whitaker. He played 15 years for the Brewers, making the All-Star team five times and receiving MVP votes in six different seasons finishing 5th in the voting in 1987. Milwaukee’s ‘Harvey Wall Bangers’ made the playoffs in 1981 and made it to the World Series in 1982, losing out to the Cardinals. Bill James called the Brewers infield of Cecil Cooper, Jim Gantner, Robin Yount, and Molitor the best infield in the majors in the 1980’s and the 5th best infield of all-time.
He was moved around the infield and even played CF one season for the Brewers as they didn’t seem to realize he was the sort of player for whom you moved the other guys. Paul was injury-prone in his time there, maybe in part due to the moving him from position to position.
In 1993 the Jays signed him as a free agent to replace Dave Winfield, who went the Twins as a free agent at DH. I remember the anchor on Sports Desk saying the Jays finally had a leadoff man, but Cito Gaston still used Devon White in the leadoff spot. The Jays signed him to a 3-year $13 million contract.
Molitor came thru with one of the best seasons of his career, batting .332/.402/.509, finishing 2nd in the AL with 121 runs and driving in 111. He also led the lead in plate appearances (725), hits (211), batting average in late innings of close games(.411), and with runners in scoring position (.384). Wouldn’t you love to have a player like that on the Jays now? At 36, he set a record for being the oldest player to drive in 100 runs for the first time. He also hit 22 homers and stole 22 bases. He finished 2nd to Frank Thomas in the MVP vote. Fangraphs credits him with a 4.8 WAR that year, his best number with the Jays (Baseball Reference has him at 5.6 that year).
Molitor was terrific in the playoffs, hitting .391 in the ALCS win over the White Sox, scoring 7 runs and driving in 5 with 1 homer. In the Series, he hit .500 with 2 homers, 2 triples, and 2 doubles in our win over the Phillies, scoring 10 runs and driving in another 8 to win the Series MVP. You know you’ve had a great series when you beat out the guy that hit a walk-off home run to win the series.
He was on base for Joe Carter’s series-winning home run. The enduring memory, for me, is him hugging Cito and crying after they won. In a long, terrific career, this was his first and only World Series win.
1994, the lockout year, Paul was having just as good a season, hitting .341/.410/.518 before the owners locked the doors. He made the All-Star team for the 4th season in a row and finished 18th in the MVP vote, but the Jays didn’t do as well. They finished 55-60. At the age of 38, he was 20 for 20 (a team record for most steals in a season without being caught. It was also an AL record at the time since broken) as a base stealer. In the shortened 1995 season, Paul’s numbers fell off, finishing at .270/.350/.423, and the Jays had a lousy season that year too, finishing 5th.
Rob Neyer picked Molitor as the Jays best DH ever, and we did too in our Best DH poll. Bill James called Molitor 3rd greatest leadoff man of all-time behind Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines (that was a few years ago) and the 8th best third baseman of all-time. One strange thing about his career: the first ten years, he was very injury prone, and in the second half of his career, he played almost every day. Of course, it is easier to play every day as a DH than as an infielder.
In three seasons with the Blue Jays, Molitor hit .315/.387/.484 with 51 home runs and 54 steals (caught just 4 times). His numbers would have been better if it wasn’t for the strike/lockout, which cost the Jays 64 games over those two seasons.
Career he hit .306/.369/.448 with 234 home runs, 504 steals in 21 seasons, and 2683 games. The 3319 career hits is 10th all-time.
After the 1995 season, he signed with the Twins (they liked signing our DHes) as a free agent to finish his career playing for his hometown team. Paul had a terrific career ending up with 3319 hits, 504 stolen bases, and a Hall of Fame Plaque. After retiring, he worked as a bench coach for the Twins and a hitting coach for the Mariners. Then, in 2015, Molitor became manager of the Twins. He managed them for four seasons. Paul got them to the Wild Card game in 2017, losing to the Yankees, and was voted Manager of the Year that season. In the four years, they had winning percentages of .512, .364, .525, and .481.
He was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004, his first time on the ballot.
After retirement, he talked about a drug problem he had early in his career and talks to children about drugs. The drug problem likely had something to do with all the injuries early in his career. He’s married, and he and his wife work for Camp Heartland to work with children with HIV.
Molitor was a very easy player to like. He seemed to enjoy playing in Toronto, he was a very good interview, and he hit like Ty Cobb. Add in that he was great on the basepaths and
Paul Molitor’s place among Jays batting leaders:
Batting Average (>1500 PA): 1st, .315
OBP (>1500 PA): 4th, .387
Slugging %: 8th, .484
Games Played: 49th, 405
At Bats: 44th, 1615
Runs: 34th, 270
Hits: 37th, 508
Doubles: 38th, 98
Home Runs: 44th 51
Walks: 34th 193
Stolen Bases: 26nd, 54