Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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I spent a day with Paul Molitor in St. Paul when he signed to play for the Twins. Here's the story, from February of 1996:
By Jim Souhan
Paul Molitor drives up to his alma mater, Cretin High, parks and
tries to cross the street. Four of the drivers who pass recognize
him and honk. He strolls, bowlegged and unhurried, to the fence and
gazes across the baseball diamonds that nurtured him. You see wire
backstops, knee-high benches and ice-encrusted snow. Molitor sees
The St. Paul native, future Hall of Famer and new Twin
returned to his home state last month. At 39, he bought a house in
Edina, played in an alumni game for the University of Minnesota and
reacquainted himself with Minnesota winters.
Molitor had not returned to his high school, now called
Cretin-Derham Hall, where he shone, or the Oxford playgrounds in the
heart of St. Paul, where he first flickered, until this chilly
Tuesday morning. What he found was what you never lose: dormant
roots and evergreen recollections.
"Some places and routes and buildings have changed, but this
still feels like the place I grew up," said Molitor, who will take
the field for the start of spring training today in Fort Myers, Fla.
"Whether it's cruising through the old neighborhoods or some of the
old stomping grounds, it definitely feels like home."
This is the blue-collar city that produced three likely future
Hall of Fame players - Molitor, Jack Morris and Dave Winfield.
Molitor is poised to join Morris and Winfield, both retired, on the
all-time Twins roster, the culmination of a dream that bloomed in
Molitor's youth and withered in recent years.
"I remember so much about following the Twins as a kid,"
Molitor said. "My dad taking me out in the back yard and throwing
balls just high enough over the fence so I had to jump for them, so
I could be Bob Allison. Taking batting practice with my Harmon
Killebrew T-shirt on, and watching Halsey Hall and Herb [Carneal]
broadcast the games. And being lucky enough to have my dad take me
out for my birthday, getting Knothole Gang tickets and sitting in
the upper deck in left field of Met Stadium.
"I remember '65, when we went to the Series. They were still
playing daytime World Series in those days, so we all tried to talk
our teachers into getting TVs into the classrooms.
"I remember Mudcat Grant and Zoilo Versalles and Earl Battey,
and Ted Uhlaender being the first guy ever to have a big chew in his
mouth. And in '67, watching the race come down to the last two days
with the Red Sox, and losing out and Jim Kaat getting hurt. I
remember trying to get my homework done each day in time to catch
So does his sister, Judy Gergen. "After the Twins went to the
World Series in '65, I was 5 and Paul was 9 and he would trap me in
a room and make me memorize the names and faces of all the Twins on
the baseball cards," Gergen said. "He'd say, `You have to get five
in a row to get out.' To this day, I'll never forget Jim Kaat and
Allison and all those faces."
This year, Molitor's face will adorn another baseball card,
this time framed by a Twins cap.
The family's favorite story: "To help pay for his Cretin
tuition, he would ride into Town and Country to caddie," Gergen
said. "One day he had to play in a baseball tournament, and he told
the caddie master he needed a couple of days off. The guy turned to
him and said, `Paul, you have to decide whether you want to play
baseball . . . or make some money.' "
That was a few millions ago, when Molitor was playing at
Linwood playground and St. Luke's grade school, when he was happy
with a broken-in glove and a stiff, new uniform.
"I was in the fourth grade, and I always thought it was so cool
that the kids that made the baseball team in grade school got to go
home at lunch and put on their uniforms and wear them the rest of
the day when they had a game that afternoon," Molitor said. "When I
got to sixth grade and made the team, I was the only kid who got to
go home in the afternoons. When you're looking to make a move on
with the girls at that age, that matters to you."
His first homecoming
"After like my first or second year, they asked me to come back
to Linwood when we were in town for a series," Molitor said of his
early days with the Milwaukee Brewers. "We happened to be here for
their first game of the summer, and I went there to throw out the
first pitch. I couldn't believe how much closer the fences
Molitor, the fourth youngest of eight children, moved several
times in St. Paul. "When I first moved, I originally lived on Grand
and Paschal, which is a little west of Oxford," Molitor said.
"That's when I played Little League ball at Highland Groveland. That
was when I was 6, 7, 8 years old. When I moved to Portland and
Oxford, I started going to the Linwood playground, and played pee
"I think my second year I was playing, I was 7, some of the
parents were complaining to the league that I shouldn't be able to
pitch. . . . They always tried to jump me a category or two above my
Carol Rolland, another of Molitor's sisters, remembers an
opponent forfeiting because Molitor was pitching. "When he pitched
St. Luke's to the city championship, the St. Paul Pioneer Press
headline called him `the diminutive righthander from St. Luke's.' He
was just a little thing."
Roland and her family witnessed Molitor's progression from
mighty mite to major leaguer. "When he was really young, he played
catch with my dad in the back yard," Rolland said. "After a while
he'd have to go on the other side of the garage to throw, then he
graduated to having Dad at the other side of the house. We all
watched from the window."
"This has really changed around here," Molitor says as we pull
alongside the Oxford playground, home to the fledgling careers of
Molitor and Winfield. "I played here about six years, from the
seventh grade until I was a senior in high school. I played ball
here at the junior level, VFW, American Legion ball, and for four
summers I had a job here as the groundskeeper.
"Yeah, I'd take care of all the baseball fields. I'd come down
in the mornings, work in the field all day and then just stay here
for games and practices. To say it politically correct, this was the
inner city. It was mostly black kids that played down here. A couple
of years I worked here, one of my jobs was coaching the pee wee
Little League team. I was kind of like the White Shadow. I had all
these young black kids on my team and until I earned their respect,
man . . .
"It was funny. They told me if I didn't make them stop running,
they'd get their big brothers on me."
Oxford is where Molitor began his tutelage under Bill Peterson,
who would coach him in VFW, Legion and high school ball. It's where
he watched Winfield play.
"I was a bit of a rebel when I played here," Molitor said. "See
that hill up there? I was biking to Oxford one year, and I used to
try to coast through Marshall Av., which was pretty busy, without
stopping. I was riding my bike barefoot to practice and I ran right
into the back of a car, flipped over and cut up my toes."
Peterson instituted the "no-barefoot rule," marking the first
time Molitor would have an effect on his hometown playground. He's
glad he survived to have a more dramatic effect.
"One day I was raking the diamond and Bill yelled, `Come on
Molly, let's go,' " Molitor said. "This guy came stalking around
with a gun, looking for someone. We ducked into the building, and
nothing came of it. This was a rough place in those days, but I'm
glad I had the experience of playing here.
"It was a little intimidating. That's one of the reasons I
respected Bill so much. This was a tough area to work in. I think it
helped me, to work and play with the kids down here. That
interracial interaction helped me avoid some of the intimidation
some people have when they come to the major league level.
"I remember when I was in eighth grade, I'd come to practice
and watch Dave Winfield and see 100 to 200 people watching us
practice. You sense that something was special."
Molitor glances at the trees. "I wish my mom were still alive -
she would be perfect to talk about this," Molitor said. "She used to
tell me about going to Lexington Park when she was a kid, watching
the Saints - Willie Mays, Johnny Roseboro, the great players that
came through town. But she used to think she made me nervous at
"A part of the challenge of my games was trying to figure out
which tree she was hiding behind."
At some ballparks, you merely hit a home run. At Cretin, you
achieve status by hitting a fly over the track, up the hill, over
the fence and into the alley that runs past The Nook, the
neighborhood bar. "The Nook was a big target," Molitor said.
"We had a great home-field advantage. Not often can you run down a
curb, across a track, up another curb and up a hill, and still be in
Gergen remembers Molitor as a chameleon: Clean-cut in his
Cretin uniform, bearded and wild-looking during the summer. "He was
usually quiet and serious, but he could be funny, too. When he was
young, Mom and Dad would give him magic tricks, which he loved," she
said. "From time to time I would assist him. But primarily I just
remember folding all the laundry that was created by all of his
Molitor got to Cretin, and later to the `U', by hitchhiking,
because he didn't have a car. "When you had the Cretin military
uniform on, people were more likely to pick you up," he said. "
`Those good Cretin boys.' We fooled them back then, too."
On this Tuesday morning, Molitor, having visited Oxford and
cruised past St. Luke's, returns to Cretin. Someone has hung a
poster of him in a Brewers uniform in a place of honor on the
baseball backstop. "It's been a while since I've been here," Molitor
said. "That's the first time I've seen that up there. It's about
time we got that Brewers logo down, don't you think?"
Then Molitor strolled, bowlegged and unhurried, to his car.
My piece on Molitor reflecting on life, charting direction during the 2013 spring training, before he became a Twins coach:
Paul Molitor had just finished working with Twins players at spring training. A St. Paul native who attended Cretin High and the University of Minnesota, collected his 3,000th hit as a Twin and still works in the organization, Molitor is a uniquely Minnesotan star, a Hall of Famer who skinned his elbows on diamonds all over the state.
He's also 56, and aware of the voluminous coverage of Michael Jordan's 50th birthday this weekend, which included an ESPN feature portraying Jordan's post-playing melancholy.
Is that heightened sense of loss universal among great former athletes?
"I don't know if anybody really looks forward to 50, 60, 70, but you have to try to find a way to stay in the moment," he said by phone from Fort Myers, Fla. "You just have to try to adjust to the reality of it. I'm more of a realist than an emotionalist about it. The physical retirement and the emotional retirement don't necessarily come at the same time, but at some point, there has to be a letting-go.
"I'm closer to 60 than 50 right now. I certainly hope I'm over turning 50. I'm blessed. I have young kids. I have a lot to keep me going."
Molitor's athletic intellect matched and elevated his talent. When he retired in 1998, people in the game argued whether he would become a general manager, manager or broadcaster. He worked as a big-league coach before settling into a "special assistant" role with the front office that includes minor league and spring training instruction.
This week he's been working alongside Twins greats Rod Carew and Tony Oliva.
"Invariably, somehow your career comes up, or Rod's or Tony's, and you realize how long it's been since you played," Molitor said. "When I go out to speak, however rarely, I'm mindful of having heard older players talk about their playing days and at some point it's not very interesting anymore. Time has gone by and things have happened. I don't want to be one of those guys who talks about what people really don't want to hear about anymore."
Do minor leaguers snap to attention when he enters the clubhouse?
"Not often," he said. "It's not that kids aren't respectful or that the Twins don't try to educate them, but a lot of them just don't know. Some players might catch the MLB highlights from 20 years ago, or a top 10 list, and they'll be like, 'I didn't realize you did such-and-such.' It reminds you that the game keeps moving. You realize you had your place at one time, but that loses relevance."
Molitor sounds more matter-of-fact than regretful. He also sounds like he wants more. Last year he was thought to be a logical addition to the Twins' revamped coaching staff, but General Manager Terry Ryan kept him in the same role and hired fellow former Gophers baseball player Terry Steinbach as Ron Gardenhire's bench coach.
"I can't say I've had a ton of options," he said. "The years more close to my retirement, I had more opportunities to interview and look at various possibilities. Every year you reevaluate how long do you want to work, and 'Do I still have the passion to teach?' I still really want to be around the game. The measure of commitment depends on the opportunity.
"I'm not closing any doors, but I'm content in what I'm doing."
He's living as close to a normal life as anyone in baseball, getting to raise his kids in his home state.
"I've got a figure skater, and my son can pretty much do just about anything -- not that I'm biased," he said of Julia, 9, and Benjamin, 6. "My son is a pretty athletic little dude."
So is he happy? Has he, unlike Jordan and so many former stars, found a way to live in this moment, rather than in those captured on film?
"For the most part, the Twins have given me an opportunity to have a lot of flexibility in the job they want me to do, which has given me the opportunity to be present as a father," Molitor said. "It's been great.
"I'm hoping someday before I retire, I can have a Twins World Series ring. I don't know what role it would be in, minor league instructor or whatever. I've been with them longer than I was with the Brewers, so there's gratitude there.
"To answer your question, am I happy? Yeah. Life is good for me."
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 12:15 on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org
Between the Wolves' shootaround and their opener in Memphis, I spoke with a handful of people connected to the Twins' managerial search. No hard news to report, but here's a summary of what I learned...
-Paul Molitor definitely wants the job. This is not a situation where he's being passive aggressive, or saying, ``I'll do it if you want me to.'' He knows this might be his last, and best, chance to be a manager, and perhaps his only chance to manage his hometown team. He's all-in as a candidate.
-If Terry Ryan has made a final decision. he hasn't told many people, even in the Twins' inner circles. His search, or at least his decision-making process, appears to be ongoing.
-Even if Ryan came to a decision soon, the Twins would not likely hold a press conference on Thursday, when the Wolves will be holding their home opener. Friday is Halloween. Unless news leaks and the Twins feel they have to rush to throw together a press conference, next week makes more sense in terms of timing an announcement.
-Ryan is known in scouting circles for his due diligence. This is the first time he has displayed it during a managerial search. The last time he chose a manager, Ron Gardenhire and Molitor were the front-runners, and Gardenhire became the choice in part because of his long tenure as a coach, and in part because key people outside of baseball operations believed that Gardenhire would be ideal as a friendly face of the franchise ,and someone willing to do all of the media relations and marketing outings the Twins value. That is one question about Molitor: Will he be willing to submit to the media and marketing grind? Managers have brutal schedules even without all of the extras.
-Ryan is in Arizona, where he watched top prospect Byron Buxton break his finger. Ryan could certainly fly home quickly to hold a press conference, but there were no indications as of Wednesday afternoon that he planned to do so.
-I've thought all along that Molitor should and will get the job, but the longer it goes, the more I have reason to doubt that he will be the hire.
One thing a few key people said to me today: A lot of the national speculation has been off-base, because few know what's going through Ryan's head right now.
Jerry Zgoda and I are in Memphis covering the Wolves' opener tonight. Just spoke with coach Flip Saunders, who said that Kevin Martin has a sore ankle, and that he might be replaced in the starting lineup.
Saunders is in good spirits. He said this is an unusual situation because this is his first team that won't be judged by wins and losses, but by gradual improvement of younger players.
I'll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 and on 1500ESPN at a different time tomorrow - 9:45, while I'm on a layover heading back to the Twin Cities.
My column for tomorrow's paper (and online, of course) will address the Twins' managerial search. I have a nomination.
For the moment, though, let's acknowledge that what happened this afternoon was remarkable.
A pro sports organization fired a longtime manager, then held a press conference where the guy who did the firing and the guy who got fired sat next to each other, and the guy who got fired made bald jokes about him and his former boss.
The guy who got fired brought two of his kids to sit in the front row as he said his goodbyes.
The guy who got fired said he agreed with the decision.
At the end of the press conference, the guy who got fired got up, walked away, turned back and said, ``I'll see ya, boss.''
I think the Twins made the right decision. It was time for Ron Gardenhire to go.
For the moment, though, let's enjoy the uniqueness of this afternoon.
Gardy cracking jokes. Terry Ryan speaking bluntly about why he fired his old friend, and why he thinks he should stay on the job. A media relations department that set it all up on the fly.
My column will get into my evaluation of the organization and what it should do next.
For the moment, let's give the Twins and Gardenhire credit for being so remarkably gracious and blunt on what had to be a painful day for all involved.
Knowing how much losing eats at Gardenhire, and that he has had health scares over the years related to high blood pressure, it's my hope that he takes at least a year off and rests before his inevitable return to the dugout.
I frequently butted heads with Gardenhire over the years. I wasn't a fan of many of his strategical moves, and I thought he got too emotional in the late innings.
What I'll always appreciate about him is his sense of humor, his work ethic, his loyalty to his staff, and the way he treated people who can easily be mistreated in baseball clubhouses - the clubbies, the organizational worker bees, and women.
In the early 2000s, one Twins player said a few things to a female reporter that were inappropriate, at best. Gardenhire immediately addressed the player and apologized to the reporter, who wasn't even offended.
Having met plenty of Gardenhire's friends, I came to like Gardy the human much more than Gardy the manager.
So I hope he gets to spend a little time being a human before he subjects himself to the rigors of managing a big-league team again.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at 12:15 on Tuesday, and on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 a.m. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
I'll admit it: Baseball has turned me off this year.
With the Twins becoming irrelevant for a fourth straight season, I could barely stand to watch the game once the All-Star game bunting was pulled off of Target Field.
This week made me watch again.
Thanks to two former Yankees.
Derek Jeter delivered as only he can. He came to Target Field in mid-summer of his last season, and delivered a double in his last first All-Star at-bat.
He came to the plate for his last first at-bat in Yankee Stadium, and doubled again.
Then, after the Orioles scored three runs to extend the game to the bottom of the ninth, he got his first game-winning hit in seven years in his last at-bat at Yankee Stadium.
Sunday, Jeter hit an infield single at Fenway, then was removed, after raising his career batting average to .310.
Baseball gives us these moments more than any other sport.
Wednesday, another former Yankee did himself proud, too.
A rain delay kept Hughes from earning a $500,000 bonus for innings pitched.
On Friday, the Twins offered him a chance to pitch in relief to earn his bonus. He refused. It was the rare moment in modern pro sports when everyone involved in a supposed controversy came out looking good.
The Gophers' victory over Michigan on Saturday was the most impressive outing by a Gopher football team in my 24 years working at the Star Tribune.
Not since the program's glory days has the Gophers lined up against a power program and whipped them physically the way the Gophers beat up Michigan. It was a mismatch.
The Gophers had by far the better coach, by far the best running back, the better quarterback ,and the stronger roster. That shouldn't happen against Michigan even when the Gophers are at their best.
Jerry Kill is to be commended for putting this program together with basic building blocks: A sound, well-coached defense, a power running game, and a roster filled with well-conditioned athletes.
Brady Hoke is at the opposite end of the spectrum. He is an embarrassment to his profession. Even an average coach should be able to act as a caretaker of the Michigan program. Hoke can't even do that.
That he would re-insert a limping, concussed quarterback into a game shows that he's not just a bad football coach, he is clueless.
Mike Zimmer's challenge today: Limiting Julio Jones. Jones is the Falcons' best player, and maybe the second-best receiver in the NFL. Zimmer did well to limit the Saints' big plays last week. If he can keep Jones from putting up big numbers, the Vikings could make this a game. Jones is the one player who can turn this into a blowout.
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