MINNEAPOLIS — When Paul Molitor was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004, he joined an elite group of the finest to ever play the game. When Molitor was named the manager of the Minnesota Twins last week, he entered an even smaller fraternity.
Molitor becomes just the eighth Hall of Fame player to go on to manage after his playing days. Of those eight, Molitor is only the third to do so after his induction into Cooperstown.
There are theories why more Hall of Famers don’t enter the managerial ranks when they’re done playing. One possible explanation: those players were so good and knew the game so well that it’s hard for them to be patient with younger players who may struggle to learn.
Molitor vows to be different. He’s paid his dues in the minor leagues since his retirement as a roving instructor for the Twins for the better part of the last decade. He’s ridden the buses with minor leaguers. He’s done his part to get those younger players on their path to the major leagues.
"I think that’s what we hear about, managers who were so-called successful players that they don’t have the patience with players who can’t seem to get it," Molitor said. "I will never forget the game is very, very difficult, and I don’t expect people to do things exactly the way I did or anything like that. Our coaches will do the same. We’re going to try to get these guys to improve. For me, frustration because guys don’t get it, tell them again, help them again, support them again, encourage them again. Just stay after them."
The most recent Hall of Famer to become a manager prior to Molitor was Ryne Sandberg, the former Cubs great who took over took over as the skipper of the Phillies in 2013. Before assuming that role in the majors, Sandberg spent plenty of time in the minors. He managed more than 800 minor league games from Class A to Triple A before finally landing the job with Chicago.
Sandberg, like Molitor, became a manager after his induction into the Hall of Fame. The only other to do so was the great Ted Williams, who was inducted in 1966 and landed the job as the manager of the Washington Senators three years later.
The other five Hall of Famers-turned-managers include: Yogi Berra; Red Schoendienst; Bob Lemon; Frank Robinson; and Tony Perez. Now Molitor can add his name to that short list, a decade after his induction.
"I like the fact that Paul’s spent a good deal of his post-playing career in the minor leagues," said Twins general manager Terry Ryan. "I think that will bring a lot of perspective on exactly the struggles that any organization has. He’s done a lot of things since he’s been done playing."
Those other seven Hall of Famers had mixed results as managers. Williams, one of the best hitters to ever play the game, was 273-364 in four seasons (three with the Senators, one with Texas). Berra, who enjoyed a 19-year playing career, did guide both the Yankees and Mets to pennants but finished with a modest 484-444 record in seven years as a skipper. Robinson’s tenure as a manager — 16 seasons — began as a player-manager with the Cleveland Indians in 1975 and 1976 and ended in 2006 with the Washington Nationals.
At 58 years old, Molitor is well-distanced from his playing days. He retired after the 1998 season, his third and final year with his hometown Twins. This past season he was a coach on Minnesota’s major league staff, where he already left an impression with the current Twins roster. And he didn’t let the fact that he’s a Hall of Famer prevent him from getting his message through to Minnesota’s players.
"Seeing him this whole last year as a coach day in and day out, he never asked guys to do things he used to do a certain way," said Twins first baseman Joe Mauer. "There’s always different ways to do different things. He’s a great baseball mind. There’s things that he’s helped me out with that he would do differently as a player. I don’t see that being a problem. He’s very patient, but he also expects a lot of things out of guys."
Other good players who weren’t quite Hall of Fame material have gone on to manage, too. But plenty of managers had major league careers that were nothing to write home about. Former Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire, whom Molitor is replacing, was a utility infielder (or as he liked to say, a "futility" infielder) with the New York Mets for five seasons.
Molitor’s resume as a player is more impressive than most managers — but that won’t necessarily determine his success as he Twins skipper.
"You see Hall of Fame managers, you see Hall of Fame coaches, whatever, that were just so physically gifted that things came easy," said Twins closer Glen Perkins. "In this case, I don’t think it’s a huge concern. He never was the biggest, the fastest, the tallest, the strongest, any of those things. He got by and did a lot of little things, and that helped him. Those are things that make a good manager."