There have been 63 Hall of Fame players who also have managed in the major leagues. Three were in the original class of five Hall of Famers chosen for 1936: Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner and Walter Johnson.
Three more have been elected to the Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility and have managed in the majors:
Frank Robinson became baseball’s first black manager as a player-manager with Cleveland in 1975, and would manage 16 seasons for five teams. Ted Williams managed the second version of the Washington Senators from 1969 to 1971, and followed them to Texas to manage the Rangers in 1972.
And No. 3 … Yogi Berra? Don’t blame me, but the stubborn voting members among the baseball writers of the early 1970s did not give Yogi the required 75 percent in his first year of eligibility.
The third first-time Hall of Fame player to manage in the major leagues since the originals currently resides in the Twins clubhouse. Paul Molitor stopped playing in 1998 at age 42, waited the five years, and was inducted into the Cooperstown shrine in 2004.
It would be another decade before he would become a big-league manager — the Twins made the announcement on Nov. 3, 2014 — and the players who remained and knew him through competition were very few.
Molitor beat the odds by leading the Twins to a wild-card playoff appearance in 2017, both winning the American League’s Manager of the Year award and saving his job.
He was the first player to get five hits in a World Series game (in the first he played as a Brewer in 1982), he was the first player to have a triple for his 3,000th hit (in September 1996 for the Twins), and we recently had another first for Molitor.
Games had not yet started, the day’s workout was done, and sportswriters were crowded in Molitor’s office, asking questions tied to no major topics. And around 12:30 p.m. EST on Feb. 20, 2018, Molitor had a response that took note of his greatness as a player.
It was sideways and funny, and also a first in the recollection of media witnesses.
“He hates it when we ask him something about how being a great player relates to this or that as a manager,’’ said Phil Miller, the co-star of Star Tribune baseball coverage with La Velle Neal. “He doesn’t want to go there.’’
This was a month before new closer Fernando Rodney would turn 41 and Miller asked: “At Rodney’s age, will there be any concessions made to that at all?’’
Molitor started by saying, “No, I like people who … ’
Then, after a lengthy pause, he continued with, “Somebody in this room hit .340 when they were 40.’’
There were laughs from his audience, and the manager added, “I don’t know why I threw that in there.’’
He threw it in for the best possible reason: It happened.
In 1996, in his first season back home with the Twins, Molitor led the American League with 225 hits and batted .341, and was declared “a moving clinic’’ of playing baseball by manager and noted critic Tom Kelly.
This pause followed by a quip took me back to an all-time favorite quote from Molitor. Again it was 1996, mid-March, and two weeks before Kirby Puckett would go blind in his right eye.
I was writing a Puckett piece and asked Molitor if he had a different perception of Puck as a personality after this first month of daily exposure as a teammate.
Molitor paused to get it exactly right and then said:
“I knew he was an upbeat, outspoken person. The surprise to me has been the quantity of what he says. There is lots of quality in there, too, but the quantity is amazing.”
As well, the quantity for baseball greatness is amazing for Molitor. This factoid always gets me:
He was the MVP in a World Series in which an outstanding teammate (Joe Carter) hit a three-run, Series-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth of Game 6. It’s impossible to out-MVP that, unless you’re 12-for-24 with six extra-base hits and eight RBI, as was Molitor for the Blue Jays in 1993.
One early morning last week, Molitor came walking through the clubhouse in civilian clothes. It would be a long day, with a split-squad, day-night, two-ballparks doubleheader.
There were greetings from a few players. More were zeroed in on their phones. I had a smile over that, younger players looking down at their phones, wondering if they have typed “Paul Molitor’’ into a search just once and permitted themselves to be astounded.