Absorbed lessons will serve Molitor well as manager
New Twins skipper learned much by being a 'sponge' as young player
SAN DIEGO -- Paul Molitor's image as manager of the Minnesota Twins will be calm, but intense.
And if everything goes as planned, the Twins club will play baseball in exactly the same way.
The task before Molitor is not easy. The Twins are coming off four straight seasons of 90-plus losses and he is a rookie big league manager.
But Molitor is a Hall of Famer and a St. Paul native, who has spent years in the Twins organization. He will have instant credibility. He will have a base of support. And he will be calm, but intense.
The new skipper of the Twins met the Winter Meetings media Monday. Molitor will be very good at dealing with the media, which is an increasingly time-consuming segment of managing. He's bright, he's thoughtful, he enjoys the give and take. So when he was asked what kind of image he was hoping to project, he produced an answer that was notable for its thoughtfulness.
"I think that I'm going to be more internal than external," Molitor said. "I like the idea of calmness regardless of circumstance, at the same time having an intensity and an obvious look about you.
"There was a tendency for people to tell me, 'You didn't like to laugh very much when you played.' I was happy inside, but I was just serious. People say you have to have fun when you play the game. Well, winning was fun. Everything else, yeah, you can have fun, but that's the most fun. So, yeah, I like calm. Calm is good for me."
Molitor played hard and he played smart during a big league career that stretched from 1978 through 1998. He was also historically good. He became only the fifth player with at least 3,000 hits and 500 stolen bases and only the third player (along with Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner) to add 600 doubles to those milestones.
From almost every manager he played for, Molitor absorbed lessons on how the game should be not only be played, but managed.
When asked what he had picked up from which managers, Molitor responded:
"It's a combination. At different stages of your career, managers mean different things. When you're a young player, whatever you can absorb and sponge, you do.
"And I was fortunate to be around guys like George [Bamberger], Harvey Kuenn, and a young Buck Rodgers [with the Milwaukee Brewers]. And then a young guy like Tom Trebelhorn comes in and he's innovative, a new thinker and you learn from that.
"Then [with the Blue Jays] you have a guy like Cito Gaston, who had already proven that he could manage a World Series championship, and you learn from him his way of treating men, which was very impressive.
"And then I get to come back [to the Twins] and play for a guy like Tom Kelly, who probably as much as anybody taught me the intricacies of the game, how to run a game, paying attention to detail, things I hadn't really thought about even though I'd played 18 years when I got there.
"It would start with the way he ran Spring Training. I don't think I ever saw a Spring Training where a manager was insistent on every drill that wasn't run properly was stopped. It wasn't a matter of reprimanding individuals. It was a matter of we had to do things right. In-game, I was a DH primarily at that time and he had an open door for me. He envisioned the end of the game moving forward probably better than anybody I had seen. I'm glad that he is still a friend and a confidant.
"So it's a combination. I've had some tutelage, for sure. Even since I retired [as a player] I've watched guys. You watch Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox and even in today's game, what [Bruce] Bochy has done out there in San Francisco. It's nice when you can have relationships where you can be open to learning and guys are willing to share."
As a coach with the Twins last season, Molitor saw the situation on the field and in the clubhouse. He did not see a lack of effort. He did witness what was more like a lack of cohesion.
"We have not quite figured out, with the new core of players we have, how to get over the hump and win more," Molitor said. "Some of it is just the change in culture and devices and how people like to spend their time. It's become a lot more individualistic, not as blended. Somehow I think we have to find a better balance there."
The new manager will be greatly aided if the Twins can add some front-line pitching this winter. Molitor, 58, has in a way been preparing for this job for his entire adult life. It won't be easy, but he and the Twins will have a chance, because he'll be calm and intense and about as perseverant as humanly possible.