By Tim Gutowski Published Jan 06, 2004 at 5:28 AM

{image1}I had the privilege of growing up a Brewers fan as Paul Molitor and Hall of Famer Robin Yount shared the diamond for the better part of 15 years. Not knowing any better, I figured it was completely normal to have players like Molitor, Yount and Cecil Cooper at the top of the Brewers' batting order. I believe that alone qualifies mine as a successful childhood.

While I spent most of those County Stadium seasons in the proverbial cheap seats -- the Brewers Pepsi Fan Club of yore offered only "lower grandstand" seats -- my family would occasionally splurge for the alluring, red "lower box" seats at the old park. During one game from that vantage point during the middle 1980s, I remember being astounded at just how hard pitchers threw the ball. How could anyone hit a major league fastball?

In the bottom of the first inning, "The Ignitor" strode to the plate for Milwaukee. With his unremarkable stance, Molitor dug in, bending slightly forward at the waist. Following a lack of bat-waving histrionics during the wind-up, Molitor uncoiled on the first pitch, ripping a line-drive base hit down the left-field line. It was a mere instant before Molly was standing on second base, calmly taking his batting gloves off.

I didn't realize it at the time, of course, but Molitor easily had the quickest and quietest swing I -- or perhaps anyone, anywhere -- would ever see. Several have compared his smooth stroke to that of Joe DiMaggio, a decent hitter for the Yankees in his day.

So if and when Mr. Molitor gets that all-important call sometime late Tuesday morning from the National Baseball Hall of Fame telling him he's been voted into its 2004 class of inductees, he will take his rightful place among the game's very best.

Nearly every national baseball writer I've read recently confirms Molitor is Hall-worthy -- Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, and Jim Caple of to name a few. And in an unscientific poll currently posted on, 89 percent of respondents (32,500 users had voted by late Sunday night) said Molitor should make the Hall this year. It's the type of respect that comes with the territory when you've amassed 3,319 career hits.

Assuming, then, that Molitor does become the Brewers second first-ballot HOFer (Yount joined the club in 1999), there will really only be one question left regarding his MLB playing career: Where does Molitor rank among the all-time greats?

Strictly in terms of hits, only seven players accumulated more than Paulie: Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Tris Speaker, Carl Yastrzemski and Honus Wagner. Not a bad list. But Molitor was more than 3,319.

He was a seven-time All Star; his first appearance coming in 1980, his last in 1994.

He won the World Series MVP award with Toronto in 1993 after hitting .500 with 2 homers and 8 RBI in 24 at-bats against Philadelphia.

He led the American League in hits and runs three times each.

His 39-game hit streak in 1987 is the game's 7th-longest of all-time and hasn't been surpassed in the 16 seasons since.

He finished in the Top 10 of the AL in batting average 11 times, originally in 1979 (.322, 6th) and finally in 1996 (.341, 2nd).

He is one of 36 men to steal more than 500 bases in his career, finishing with 504.

And though known as a "singles hitter," Molitor could split the gap with anyone; his 605 doubles are 10th all-time, just 19 behind Hank Aaron and more than Cal Ripken (603), Yount (583), Eddie Murray (560) and Barry Bonds (536) on the all-time list.

Admittedly, that group dialed long distance a bit more than Molitor, but Paul managed to belt 234 homers during his 21 seasons for good measure, including six seasons of 15 or more. Not bad for a guy who batted lead off until his mid 30s.

Molitor played 15 years with the Brewers before finishing up with two three-year stints in Toronto and Minnesota. As we know, he brought a World Series title to Canada in 1993 (he led the Jays in games, hits runs and at bats that season), but he had one of his more underrated and amazing campaigns in 1996 with the Twins.

At 39, Molitor was strictly a DH by the time he returned home to Minnesota. But unlike some of his early campaigns with Milwaukee, he was extremely durable. He played in 161 games and finished second in the AL with 660 at-bats (he is 12th all-time in that category, as well, with 10,835). He racked up 225 hits to lead the league and hit .341. He had 41 doubles, 8 triples and 9 homers. He drove in 113 runs and stole 18 bases. His OBP was a hefty .390. About the only way anyone could possibly guess the man was 39-years old was by virtue of 21 GIDP (grounded into double plays), easily the most of his career until that point (13 had been his previous worst).

If a Hall of Fame career is defined as one of extended excellence, Molitor is the definition of a first-ballot inductee. He was not only a consistently great hitter from the late '70s until the late '90s, he was at his best in big games (MVP of the '93 WS; hit .418 overall in WS play, including 1982), and is often called the best baserunner of his generation. That last tidbit helped him score 1,782 runs in his career, just 16 fewer than Ted Williams, who drove in himself 521 times and had a career OBP of .482 (Molitor's was .369 -- as a first-pitch swinger, he didn't walk a lot).

Most of all, Molitor was a winner. Case in point: the Brewers haven't had a winning season since his last one in Milwaukee, 1992. It's no wonder the organization spent years trying to get him back in an on- or off-field capacity.

Unfortunately for the city, he's now taken his talents to Seattle, where he will serve this season as the Mariners hitting coach. It's just a matter of time until Molitor is a big league manager, and undoubtedly a successful one.

Good luck today, Mr. Molitor, though you aren't likely to need it. And thanks for 15 years of the best baseball Milwaukee has ever seen.

Sports shots columnist Tim Gutowski was born in a hospital in West Allis and his sporting heart never really left. He grew up in a tiny town 30 miles west of the city named Genesee and was in attendance at County Stadium the day the Brewers clinched the 1981 second-half AL East crown. I bet you can't say that.

Though Tim moved away from Wisconsin (to Iowa and eventually the suburbs of Chicago) as a 10-year-old, he eventually found his way back to Milwaukee. He remembers fondly the pre-Web days of listenting to static-filled Brewers games on AM 620 and crying after repeated Bears' victories over the Packers.