I wrote for Sunday’s Star Tribune a midseason look at how Paul Molitor has handled the failure of the 2016 Twins — how he’s coping, and how he’s trying to change it. The story was the fruit of several interviews, the most important one with the Twins’ manager himself. And while his most revealing comments are in that story, there were others that were not. Here are a few additional excerpts, in Q-and-A form, of that interview:
Q: How different has your job become this season than last?
Molitor: I look at my job as, whatever my circumstances are every day, it’s still my job to handle people in this clubhouse the best that I can. But it’s more about teaching this year, developing. Sometimes I expect guys, if they’ve been here for a while and they have high-end talent, maybe part of it is hoping that they would figure some things out faster than slower. …
It’s not really fun to try to balance winning and developing up here. What I mean is, is it fair to try to develop a guy, to put him in a situation late in the game, where you want him to learn how to handle that situation, but maybe you’re taking away a little bit of chance for your other guys to win a game? I think most times I manage to win, but every once in awhile, I’ll decide on the side of giving that player an opportunity to do something in that situation, in hopes that might push him forward.
We’re in a tricky spot trying to strike that balance. Early in the year, people were saying, well, [Oswaldo] Arcia should get 500 at-bats and see what he does. Or, they should just let [Byron] Buxton go. When’s [Max] Kepler going to get a chance? There are too many people, enough so you can’t play them all every day. So the day-to-day challenge is getting the guys we think are going to be part of our future a chance to play consistently. So every day, I’m more challenged about the lineup than I was last year, about playing time.
Pitching, I think I’m learning a lot about handling it. Last year, I felt it was a shortcoming to some degree. But the fact that we’ve had to rotate pieces, from Glen [Perkins’] injury to Kevin [Jepsen] having a tough time, there’s been a lot to do there. It’s an ongoing process.
Q: A minute ago, you used the word “fun.” Have you really had fun?
Molitor: At times. I mean, It’s been a fun challenge. And I think it’s helped me. Anybody who manages a long time, and I certainly haven’t, they’re going to have times like this. And dealing with it is part of the job. I talked to [Tom Kelly] about it, and to other managers who have had ups and downs. There was one day Tommy Lasorda was in my office for an hour and 20 minutes. He said it’s pretty simple when you get it down to the level of, it’s baseball and you’re managing people and you just aren’t guaranteed many things in this game.
It’s been hard to have fun. This is a results oriented business. You try to remember, as I did as a player — I went through some really bad seasons as a player — you just remember where you are. People maybe won’t pay a lot of attention [in the second half], but Target Field will still be a wonderful place to watch a game for people who choose to come out. Guys are going to get at-bats and innings pitched the second half of the season, and they count. They count, and hopefully they begin to take us to where we’re trying to go.
Q: You said once you don’t want to let people down. Do you ever feel you have?
Molitor: I try not to. But I have felt some of that this year.
Q: Do your kids ask about what’s happened?
Molitor: They’re OK. My older daughter [Blaire] worries about me because she knows I take this real seriously. … The fans that have high expectations, I hope they realize that losing hurts us, too. You get hired to try to do things that are conducive to your organization being successful, and when you go through a season that has been anything but that, though the first half, you feel responsible to some degree. You think, ‘what can we do different? What did we do in spring training? Did we mis-evaluate? What did we miss that we should have seen coming?’ But when you don’t have a week between games like the NFL, when it’s day to day and there’s always another game tomorrow and then the next day, you think about those things, but you have to just keep going.