September 14, 1996 in Sports

Healthy Molitor Perseveres Injuries Behind Him, Native Of St. Paul Chases 3,000 Hits

Ron Lesko Associated Press
 

Paul Molitor doesn’t remember when he first started to think 3,000 hits might be possible. He does remember the day he read that his odds of getting there were 1,000-to-1.

“So I quick called Vegas,” he joked.

His perseverance is about to pay off.

Overcoming injuries that forced him to miss 592 games during his 19 seasons, Molitor has moved close to a mark reached by just 20 other players.

Molitor had 2,996 hits through Friday, putting him in position to reach the milestone only a few miles from his hometown of St. Paul. The Minnesota Twins play at home this weekend against Seattle.

At age 40, the Twins designated hitter is on the verge of playing all 162 games for the first time in his career. That feat, considering all his injuries, once seemed as unlikely as 3,000 hits.

“It must have been about five years ago I was reading some publication, and it had listed in there the odds of the current players to get to 3,000,” Molitor said. “Robin (Yount) was like 4-to-1 and (George) Brett was like 8-to-1. I think I was like 1,000-to-1 - just because of injuries and I was older.

“I don’t know how many hits have come in the last five years, but it seems like it’s been heavily weighted to the back side.”

Unlike so many players who labored to reach statistical plateaus late in their careers, Molitor is swinging his way into history in style.

He didn’t get to 2,000 hits until a single off Bret Saberhagen on July 30, 1991. But Molitor went into Thursday night’s game against Oakland with 1,123 hits in his last six years, a stretch that has included three of his four 200-hit seasons.

This year, he leads the majors in hits and is on pace to break his personal mark of 216 set in 1991, the second-to-last of his 15 years with the Milwaukee Brewers.

A likely Hall of Famer, he will be remembered as one of the game’s greatest hitters no matter where his hit total stands when he retires, probably after next season.

Yet with his place in history secure, Molitor still holds fast to the blue-collar ideals he learned as a boy in St. Paul, where his mother helped instill in him a love and respect for the game that still drives him.

Kathie Molitor died of an asthma attack in 1988 at age 59. She was her son’s biggest inspiration, and one of his greatest regrets is that she didn’t get to see his final seasons, which included his MVP performance in Toronto’s 1993 World Series victory and his push for 3,000 hits.

“She was a huge baseball fan,” Molitor said.

“I often imagine her being a part of seeing some of the things that have happened. She was there in ‘87 for the (39-game) hitting streak, but she didn’t get to see the World Series or me winding down my career. That’s something that I find myself thinking about, probably more than other things.”

Like Molitor, St. Paul native Dave Winfield returned home to play for the Twins late in his career and collected hit No. 3,000 at the Metrodome on Sept. 16, 1993.

If Molitor doesn’t get there on the current homestand, which ends Sunday, there is a good chance he could do it Monday in Kansas City, exactly three years to the day after Winfield.

Molitor, who thought briefly about retiring amid a horrendous slump last season, is closely linked to another member of the 3,000-hit club: Yount.

The two were longtime teammates with the Brewers. Molitor played his first major league game - at shortstop to open the 1978 season, only his second year out of the University of Minnesota - when Yount was hurt late in spring training. Molitor also was in the on-deck circle when Yount reached 3,000 in 1992.

If he had stayed healthy throughout his career, Molitor might be pushing Hank Aaron (3,771 hits) for third place on the career list. But he doesn’t look back with regrets.

“There’s just too many good things to think about what might have been,” he said. “To be sitting here and still be playing with some pretty good things going on, you wouldn’t generate a lot of sympathy that way.”

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