When Hall of Famer Ted Williams was asked what he saw when he watched Paul Molitor, the Splendid Splinter’s response was: “I see Joe DiMaggio.”
As one of the game’s most unheralded stars, Paul Molitor battled injuries and overcame position changes before his short, compact swing vaulted him to baseball stardom late in his long and illustrious career.
The third overall pick in the 1977 MLB Draft, Molitor made his big league debut as a middle infielder with the 1978 Brewers. Molitor’s manager at the time, George Bamberger, said: “He had tremendous instincts and you could see right away he was a talented athlete. Not only physically, but mentally too. He played the game like he had been up here for years.”
“Molly” would remain a Milwaukee fixture for 15 years, though he would switch positions, moving from second base to outfield to third base and eventually designated hitter, appearing in at least 400 games at second, third and DH during his career. In 1982, “The Ignitor” helped the Brewers to their first-ever World Series appearance, leading the league with 136 runs scored while also collecting 201 hits and batting .302.
In 1987, Molitor hit safely in 39 straight games, the seventh-longest streak of all time. Injuries limited him to 118 games that season, but he still led the AL in runs scored (114) and doubles (41) while hitting .353.
After signing with Toronto following the 1992 season, the 37-year-old Molitor collected 111 RBI, becoming the oldest player in major league history to post his first 100-RBI season while also leading the big leagues with 211 hits. When Toronto defeated the Phillies in six games in the 1993 World Series, Molitor was named MVP with a .500 batting average (12-for-24), two home runs, eight RBI and 10 runs scored (tying a Series record.)
After spending two more seasons with the Blue Jays, Molitor signed with his hometown Twins as a free agent. In 1996, at age 40, he batted .341, collected 113 RBI and led the league with 225 hits, becoming the first 40-year-old since Sam Rice in 1930 to have 200 hits in a season.
A seven-time All-Star, Molitor retired following the 1998 campaign, when he stole his 500th career base to become only the fifth player with at least 3,000 hits and 500 stolen bases. He finished his career with a .306 batting average, 3,319 hits, 605 doubles, 1,782 runs scored and 504 steals.
Molitor was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2004. He managed the Minnesota Twins from 2015-18, earning the 2017 American League Manager of the Year Award.