Paul Molitor did not get fired in the days following his team’s elimination from the playoffs, and months before he will likely land near the top of the American League Manager of the Year voting. It is strange that this is news, but at least the Twins’ braintrust made the right kind of news.
Twins bosses Derek Falvey and Thad Levine will face many difficult decisions in their time at the helm of the club. Re-signing Molitor was not one of them.
Not only would the Twins have erred in firing him, they would have sent troubling signals about their standards. They would have been telling Twins fans and the baseball world that preconceived notions and old friendships were more important than what Molitor accomplished this season.
Molitor is not only a quality manager, he is the ideal manager for this team at this time.
Here’s the résumé of the man who didn’t know as of Wednesday whether he’d get to keep his job:
• He grew up in St. Paul, playing on some of the same playgrounds as Jack Morris and Dave Winfield, learning how to slide on basepaths made hard by winter or lack of grooming. One of his early coaches told him he should slide so hard and fast that the hair would burn off his legs. Molitor grew up with fast-twitch muscles and ingrained fundamentals.
• He became a first-round draft pick by the Milwaukee Brewers, where he tutored under Robin Yount, a great player and mentor. Few duos ever stole more signs or ran the bases better than Molitor and Yount.
• Molitor left Milwaukee to replace Winfield as the Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter, as Winfield signed with the Twins. Molitor became the World Series MVP in 1993, getting one of the big hits that made Joe Carter’s Series-ending home run possible.
• Molitor returned to the Twin Cities in 1996 as a free agent. In the spring of ’96, he was slotted to bat third in front of Kirby Puckett, before Puckett woke up blind in one eye on the last day of camp. Despite being robbed of the chance to score 120 runs in front of Puck, Molitor settled for hitting .341 in the season during which he turned 40.
He would become the first player to make a triple his 3,000th hit, and he slid hard into third base, probably burning the hair on his legs.
• Molitor went into the Hall of Fame as a Brewer, and contemplated career paths with the Twins. He wound up becoming a de facto handyman, working with prospects, advance scouting for big games and the postseason, and providing advice and support.
He became close with such key current Twins as Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Brian Dozier and Eddie Rosario, and those relationships helped Molitor rally the team this season after Falvey and Levine traded away a closer and a starting pitcher at the trading deadline.
Players still talk about Molitor’s ability to sit in the dugout for an inning of a minor league game and begin accurately predicting what pitch the opponent was about to throw.
• Molitor has overseen two admirable improvements and one disaster in his three seasons as a Twins manager. Perhaps the Twins would have produced similar results under Ron Gardenhire or another manager. What has been established is that Molitor can’t overcome horrid pitching, but can win with mediocre pitching, and has earned the trust of his key players.
The key to Molitor’s success as a leader is his willingness to be more humble than his résumé requires. He was not only a great player, he was one of the smartest players of his generation, a player who once scored on a passed ball in Baltimore that didn’t roll more than 2 feet away from the catcher. Molitor scored standing up.
Firing managers is easy, because they control outcomes less than head coaches in other sports. Just because it’s easy to do wouldn’t have made it smart. Falvey and Levine made the right call.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org