Paul Molitor was having his No. 4 retired by the Milwaukee Brewers in a ceremony at County Stadium in June 1999. He had broken in with the Brewers as a 21-year-old rookie in 1978 and the baseball scene was extremely lively in Milwaukee for the next half-dozen seasons.
“Those were great days, when it was easy to come to the ballpark fired up,” Molitor said on the day of the ceremony.
Molitor’s next nine seasons in Milwaukee, from 1984 through 1992, were not so much fun.
“We kept hearing about the young guys who were on the way to make us winners again,” Molitor said. “Most of those players never made much of an impact.”
On Tuesday, Molitor was introduced as the Twins’ 13th manager. The highlight of his extensive question and answering session for me was discovering that, in 15 years, he had not changed his opinion on the perpetual wait for “young guys” who were going to change the franchise.
Asked about his expectations for the 2015 season, Molitor said: “I always believe going into a season. Every spring training, you start imagining scenarios where a team is going to win.
“We’ve been asking the fans to ‘hang in there, help is on the way’ … We have to worry about what’s going on up here. Now is important.”
Molitor didn’t blame Milwaukee fans when attendance at County Stadium went from 2.4 million in 1983, the year after the Brewers reached the World Series, to under 1.3 million in 1986 in a third consecutive losing season.
And he clearly doesn’t blame Twins fans for the combination of the anger and apathy that has become prevalent after four consecutive seasons of losses ranging from 92 through 99.
It was both refreshing and surprising that Molitor made no mention of Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano and J.O. Berrios, the prospects the Twins have been trying to push as their vision of the future since the 2012 draft.
I expected that to be part of Molitor’s pitch to the media and the public on Tuesday, particularly with him having spent 11 of the previous 13 years working as a roving instructor in the Twins’ minor leagues.
I actually had that 15-year-old quote about the wait for young guys in Milwaukee waiting to toss at Molitor on Tuesday.
There was no need for that. He took care of that by talking about the importance of the present, and not some pie-in-the-sky future with Sano as the next Miguel Cabrera, Buxton a leaner version of Mike Trout and Berrios as Prince J.O. to King Felix.
“I’m coming here to win,” Molitor said early in his remarks. “I think it’s important to lay that out.”
After the worst four-season stretch in Twins history, after 265-383 (.409) in Years 2 through 5 in a spectacular ballpark, it’s hard to disagree.
It’s time to fully judge the Twins’ baseball operation on 2015, not on the winning baseball the team played for the decade from 2001 through 2010, and not on the oomph the lineup might carry on some summer day later in this decade.
Hey, I watched Buxton for three days in the Arizona Fall League last year and saw the movements of an athlete made for baseball. He also has developed a habit of getting hurt in various ways.
Molitor can empathize. He went through the same problems in Milwaukee, with breaks and pulled muscles, before becoming an every-day presence in the lineup as a designated hitter later in his career.
“I’ve gone from a tin man to an ironman,” he said near the end of his playing days.
Perhaps, Buxton will do that much sooner. Perhaps, Buxton, Sano and Berrios, and Jake Reed, Nick Burdi and Zach Jones as hard-throwers in the bullpen … perhaps, we might see some of them next season.
But for now, Paul Molitor has another concern. Now.
“Now is important,” he said.
If the Twins are looking for a slogan for 2015, there it is. And if it blows up, and becomes a punch line for a cynical media and angry fans to use against the Twins with another team buried in the standings, so what?
The ridicule could not be stacked any higher than it has been since the apocalyptic 19-50 finish to the 2011 season.
Now Is Important.
Somebody with the Twins had to say that with conviction. And there’s no one better to do so than a new manager with first-hand knowledge that the wait for can’t-miss young guys can be endless.