MINNEAPOLIS — The last time Paul Molitor was up for consideration for the Minnesota Twins managing job, the Hall of Fame infielder removed his name from consideration because the franchise’s future was being considered for contraction.
The team isn’t on the chopping block this time around, but after four straight seasons of at least 92 losses, turning things around appears almost as daunting. This time around, Molitor is embracing the challenge.
Molitor was hired as Twins manager on Monday and will be introduced at a news conference on Tuesday. The 58-year-old got a three-year deal to replace Ron Gardenhire, who was fired five weeks ago.
“It’s pretty exciting. I’m a huge Molitor fan,” second baseman Brian Dozier told The Associated Press. “He’s a bright individual, with a better IQ in the game of baseball than anyone I’ve ever been around. He’s just an exceptional man.”
It is the first managing job for Molitor, who has the 10th-most hits in major league history. He spent 2014 as a coach on Gardenhire’s staff. Prior to that, he served for 10 seasons as a minor league instructor in the organization, a noted influence on many young players. Molitor was an initial candidate for the job that last opened in 2001, when Tom Kelly retired and Gardenhire was chosen.
The uncertainty was too much for Molitor as Major League Baseball sought and failed to eliminate two teams. With a strong farm system full of prospects Molitor has worked with face-to-face, he’s ready to take the reins.
Three finalists who had multiple interviews with general manager Terry Ryan were Molitor, Boston Red Sox bench coach Torey Luvollo and Twins minor league manager Doug Mientkiewicz, according to reports. Matching the organization’s patient, deliberate style, Ryan took his time with the search before settling on the candidate widely believed to be the favorite all along, particularly given the franchise’s penchant for promoting from within.
His Hall of Fame and 3,000-hit club credentials and reputation of valuable work with Twins prospects in his role as a roving tutor specializing in baserunning and infield play were strengths. Molitor also served as bench coach for Kelly’s last two seasons as manager and spent 2004 as hitting coach with the Seattle Mariners.
“I’ll tell you this much, there won’t be a team anywhere in the league with a better leader than (Molitor),” Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe tweeted. “Very excited to battle with him!”
Though there are several top-tier prospects in the system soon expected to join the Twins, there’s a tall task for Molitor ahead. The Twins ranked 29th, 28th, 29th and 29th in the majors in team ERA over the last four years.
Gardenhire led a promising group of young players to the AL Central title in his first year, the first of six on his watch, and a spot in the 2002 AL championship series. The last of those division titles was as late as 2010, but gaps in the organizational talent pool quickly caught up with a club that was revered throughout the previous decade playing in the dingy, low-revenue Metrodome as one of best-run in baseball.
But these days, the fan base is filled with frustration. Ryan, long one of the most revered decision-makers in the game, has not been immune from the criticism, either.
Molitor made his reputation with the Milwaukee Brewers and won a World Series with the Toronto Blue Jays, but he finished a stellar 21-year career of flawless compact swings with the Twins from 1996-98.
The soft-spoken native of neighboring St. Paul and former University of Minnesota star has drawn raves from young players for his baseball acumen, attention to detail and steady demeanor.
One such protege, second baseman Brian Dozier, worked with Molitor on footwork and positioning two years ago during his transition from shortstop. In an interview last month, Dozier called Molitor “probably the most knowledgeable guy about the game of baseball I’ve ever been around.”