By Mario Ziino Published Jan 08, 2004 at 5:42 AM

{image4} On January 6, Paul Molitor became the first designated hitter elected to Baseball's Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

Also elected on the first ballot was pitcher Dennis Eckersley, who played for four teams, most notably as a standout closer for the Oakland A's and as a 20-game winner for the Boston Red Sox.

Molitor was picked on 431 of 506 ballots (85.2 percent) cast by reporters who have been members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America for 10 or more years. Eckersley was selected on 421 ballots (83.2 percent).

To gain election, a player must be chosen by at least 75 percent of the voters (380).

Molitor spent 21 seasons in the major leagues compiling a .306 lifetime batting average and finishing with 3,319 hits -- eighth on the all-time list.

As the Milwaukee Brewers' number one selection in the 1977 June Free Agent Draft, Molitor was promoted to the parent club after playing in only 64 minor league games. He spent the next 15 seasons with the Brewers, earning Rookie of the Year honors in 1978; helping the club to the American League pennant and berth into the World Series in 1982; and stringing together an incredible 39-game hitting streak in 1987.

But in 1993, he moved on to the Toronto Blue Jays and guided the club to its second straight World Championship. He capped that season by earning the Fall Classic's MVP honors after hitting .500 and becoming the only player to record two doubles, two triples and two home runs in one Series.

Molly closed out his career with his hometown team, the Minnesota Twins. On September 16, 1996, he became the 20th player to reach the magical 3,000-hit milestone - the only player to do it with a triple.

Since retiring following the 1998 campaign, Molitor had worked as a Twins broadcaster, coach and minor league instructor. In 2004, he heads west as the hitting coach of the Seattle Mariners.

Molitor joins Robin Yount, Don Sutton, Rollie Fingers and Henry Aaron as the only Hall of Fame players to wear a Brewers uniform.

He admits that the induction ceremony, scheduled for Sun., July 25, will be filled with emotional memories of his playing days in Milwaukee, Toronto and Minnesota.

We caught up with Molitor, who was glad to reflect on his Hall of Fame career, in this exclusive edition of Milwaukee Talks:

OMC: First off, on behalf of baseball fans in Milwaukee, congratulations. Could you set the scene as to where you were when the call came on January 6?

PM: Thank you, Milwaukee. I was at home. I had my family (five sisters and brother) and my attorney Ron Simon with me. We waited. We knew the call was to come around 12 o'clock (actually it came at 12:04 p.m.). When it came, my heart raced, anticipating what was going to be said on the other end of the line. Jack (O'Connell) was very professional and said he was pleased and honored to tell me that I had been elected. There was a huge sigh of relief on my part. The room erupted with some screaming and applause. It was very emotional. I don't think it's one of those moments you can really plan for. You can try to image it but when it happens it stands on its own merit. We were able to celebrate and raise a glass and have a toast.

OMC: What does it mean to you to get into the Hall of Fame in your first year of eligibility?

PM: Naturally, the Hall represents the greatest players in the history of the game. To be accepted the first time I become eligible, makes it even more special.

The Hall of Fame isn't something I ever thought or dreamt about when I began playing because of the elite players that are in there. As you play for a long time, things fall into place, and you have longevity and productivity. To be acknowledged in this fashion, well, it's pretty overwhelming.

OMC: There are a number of players who have the credentials and yet are not in the Hall of Fame. What are your thoughts on that?

PM: Back when I was a kid, there were players that didn't get in on the first ballot that had the credentials to get in. They had to wait a second or third ballot; players like Yogi Berra and Harmon Killebrew come to mind. Today, I believe they would get in the first time. I think if your credentials are worthy, I believe today, they are willing to embrace you right away.

If what you accomplished is comparable to those that are in the Hall, I think they are more willing to get in right away.


It's hard to image as you're growing up and loving the history of the game, and the players that have gone in, and your peers that have gone in before you, from Robin Yount, to George Brett to Nolan Ryan to Eddie Murray to Ozzie Smith, and all of a sudden your day has come, it's very emotional. I'm the type that gets choked up rather easily. I'm sure on induction day, it'll be a joyous but also difficult from an emotional standpoint for me.

OMC: The last few years of your career were spent as a designated hitter. Were you concerned that it may hinder your chances of getting into the Hall of Fame?

PM: I wasn't overly concerned about the DH factor. I accepted the position of a DH as part of the game, and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to play in that role. It certainly did extend my career and enabled me to accomplish some things offensively.

OMC: Does it seem like it's been five years since you last competed?

PM: It definitely doesn't. Where has the time gone? It has gone by quickly. I was somewhat prepared for that. I've talked to a lot of players, like Robin (Yount), who had retired before me and he mentioned that about time. I've done a lot of things since, like some broadcasting and coaching and some minor league work, and yet, it's still hard to believe it gone by so quickly.

{image3} OMC: What's your take on the Pete Rose's timing with his announcement and release of his book? Do you think his admittance to gambling on baseball, after 14 years of denial, vindicates him in terms of the Hall of Fame?

PM: I'll say I'm a little disappointed in the timing of it. I'm sure Pete has his reasons for releasing his book at this time. Does it take away from the current class or what the Hall is trying to do at this particular time? In my mind I think it does a little bit. But I also understand that Pete has been trying to get back into the game for a long time and he's trying to maximize his opportunity. I really don't know the content of his book other that he has admitted to gambling. In my mind, regardless of what the commissioner of baseball decides, it must be cleansing for him to have this become a bit more transparent. I think baseball has always tried to listen to what the public has to say. And if the outcry becomes such that they want to let bygones be bygones and show forgiveness, then I think baseball might have to pay attention to that.

OMC: Certainly the game has had its ups and downs in recent years. What's your opinion of the state of baseball, today?

PM: The game has stabilized, though it's a bit fragile still following the work stoppage that cost us the World Series in 1994. But as the worlds change, so to speak, and young people are more incline to go for the quick fix, whether they want something that's fun right now, baseball really isn't like that. It's a challenge to keep people interested. We're in a computerized world now, and perhaps, hockey and soccer and the X-Games appeal to younger audiences. I think that somehow we have to find a way to keep baseball appealing to young people.

As for the financial state of the game, I think we probably have gone passed the peak of insanity in terms of owners' egos and trying to buy players and unreasonable markets for players. But it's at levels that make it somewhat dangerous only because as the compensations continue to go to players naturally they need to find a way to increase revenues. And sometimes when you increase revenues you're going to squeeze out everyday baseball fans. Those are the things that are challenging to the commissioner.

OMC: Can small market teams like the Twins, Royals and Brewers survive if the playing field doesn't level off?

PM: I think they can. Naturally, baseball doesn't have the parity of the NFL, but the revenue sharing has increased, and the taxes on the high payrolls have increased. They certainly have helped. Clubs like Oakland, Minnesota and Florida have found a way to compete. I think it's difficult for them to keep clubs together more so than like New York or Boston, but they have shown it can be done.

Minnesota is a team that has shown that if you gear up and have a four-, five-year window, and develop players and stick with them over a period of time before you have to make a decision as to who you keep or not to keep, then you'll have a window. I'm not saying it's not tough. It's tough to stay at the top but I think it can be done.

OMC: Can you explain your approach to the game? How does someone compete at the level that you performed at for 21 years?

PM: No question, baseball is mentally challenging because of the amount of games and the level one has to perform to be competitive. It's certainly not as physical of a sport as football or hockey is on a daily grind. But in baseball, you have to deal with failure. I may have gotten more than 3,000 hits, but I made more than 7,000 outs, and yet, I'm considered a Hall of Fame player.


You have to deal with failure, a lot. That's where the mental toughness comes into play. Your level of success is directly related to how you handle failure. That's your personal challenge. Having that knowledge as you grow older, and perhaps, having the injuries when I was younger, may have been a blessing. In that I mean, in my prime years of my 20s when I should have peeked physically, the game was taken away from me because of injuries. I think that helped me treasure putting the uniform on when I was healthy and in the line up.

OMC: Molly, no one ever doubted you'd someday get to Cooperstown. Your statistics speak for themselves. But do you ever wonder what might have been, had the injuries you suffered early in your career would not have cost you more than 500 games with the Brewers?

PM: It's one of those things that you think about in a mind-set of playing with numbers like that, but not in regret or bitterness. It's unfathomable that you're going to play in all the games, for one reason or another. I was limited in the number of games I could play early, that's a fact. Those games went by the way side. To play 21 years and do what I was able to do, I can only think about those things with kind of a smile on my face. Who knows, maybe some of those games I missed on the front end I got on the back end.

{image5} OMC: Reflect, if you will, on your career with the Brewers. What do you remember most?

PM: I was lucky to play in Milwaukee at a time when, for the majority of the time, we kept a good core of the players together. Naturally, with Robin, Jimmy (Gantner) and myself, we hold a record for tenure for teammates together. That certainly added to how special my time was in Milwaukee. Because of that, it allowed the fans to have more of a personal relationship with the team.

County Stadium, while it was one of the older parks in the game, had an atmosphere in the summertime unmatched by at least the majority of other parks. The tailgating and the loyalty of the fans made it a great atmosphere for the players to perform in.

The friendship and being there for 15 years and being a part of the community and having a chance to play on a competitive team and in the World Series, all were tremendous highlights of my time in the Brewers organization.

I certainly was lucky to come into the organization when it was on the rise. The team hadn't won many games prior to 1978, and in my first year we won 93 games and eventually climbed into the mini-playoffs in 1981 and the World Series in 1982. We regenerated in 1987 and again my last season of 1992 when we came real close to being a playoff team. I was proud of being a part of that. In the end, we didn't have the talent that we had in the early '80s but we had a good group of guys and I was proud that I could go out with a very entertaining, competitive team.

OMC: After spending 15 seasons with the Brewers, you decided to move on to Toronto in 1993. Was it a difficult decision for you to make?.

PM: It was difficult for a lot of reasons. The longer I played, the more I realized how fortunate I had been to play with one club. We were at an apex economically in the game. The big market and small market aspects were prevalent. It was putting players in precarious positions to make decisions of either moving on or staying put. For whatever reason, Toronto offered me something that was very attractive. Unfortunately, the Brewers were in a position where they couldn't do a lot. It became apparent to me that it might be time to move.

I questioned it for a long time. Now some 10 years later, it was an obvious decision, but my emotions made it difficult because of my attachment to the team, the city and the fans.

OMC: Getting back to the World Series in 1993 and winning, it had to mean a lot to you.

PM: It had been 11 years since I had played in a World Series and now I really wanted to take it all in. In 1982, I was young, it was my first experience with that, and I didn't know how to take it all in. Now, I wanted to slow things down and enjoy it.

It was a good series. I remember being on first base when Joe Carter hit his dramatic game-winning homer to give us the championship. We're down a run when Joe hit the ball down the line. Rickey Henderson was on second, so if the ball stays in the park I'm thinking if I score we win the game. So as he hits the ball, Rickey's off. I'm off. Just as I round second, I see the ball sail over the wall and we win it. I thought to myself 16 years after I started my career I could say that I was part of a world championship team.

OMC: In 1996, you went home to finish your career with the Twins. On September 16 of that year -- Robin Yount's birthday -- you joined an elite group. Not only did you join the 3,000-hit club, but you do it with style. Talk about the moment.

PM: Robin was there, George Brett was there. I remember getting a base hit in my first at bat and then I flew out in my second at bat. I remember hitting the ball high in the air to right-center, and I assumed they were going to run it down. Thank God I was taught well to run everything out because all of a sudden the ball falls, and I was able to dive into third base with a triple.


It hit me right away. A reporter mentioned to me before the game that no one ever hit a triple for their 3,000th hit, so it clicked in my head when I was standing there on third. It was great. Tom Kelly, who rarely comes out of the dugout, all my teammates, mobbed me. It was in Kansas City and being on the road; the Royals did a nice tribute for me.

There's something about that that I truly did appreciate. After all the injuries in my career, I really didn't think it would be possible for me to accomplish that feat. I'm not one to take a lot of credit in this game, but to overcome all those injuries and play long enough to reach that milestone is something I'm most proud of.

OMC: What do you want people to remember most about Paul Molitor?

PM: I wasn't the type of player that if you came out to one game I was going to overly impresses you. I like the fact that people tell me over a course of time, they can tell that I could make an impact on a team. I tried to be as complete a player as I could. I was all about situational hitting and base running. I looked for little edges. There's something to be said about trying to do things the right way over a long period of time.