The Milwaukee Brewers announced Wednesday that Bob Uecker would be getting a second statue at Miller Park; this one’s in “the worst seat in the house.” He certainly deserves the love and fanfare. However, this does shine a light on a travesty: MLB Hall-of-Famer Paul Molitor, arguably the best player to don a Brewers’ uniform, still doesn’t have a bronze sculpture in Milwaukee.
Molitor was the most exciting and important player in Milwaukee during his 15-year tenure there. Though it’s not entirely fair to judge one’s value in baseball based on team record, it’s telling that Molitor’s squads had a .545 winning percentage with him in the lineup and just .450 when he was out. With quick wrists and phenomenal instincts in all facets of the game, Molitor was one of the most consistent offensive threats in the game. While Robin Yount got most of the attention — and at times he clearly deserved it — Molitor’s greatness often went overlooked. He was the true backbone of those Brewers’ clubs — hands down.
A majority of players would take his Brewers numbers and call it a great career, let alone his overall statistics. In Milwaukee, Molitor remains second in many categories behind Yount. As a member of the Brewers, Molitor collected 2,281 hits, scored 1,275 runs and posted a slash line of .303/.367/.444/.811 in 1,856 games. He also tacked on over 400 doubles and more than 400 steals (club record) which offset the perceived lack of power in his bat. He was an incredible hitter who you felt would get a hit every time up. Ted Williams even compared him to Joe DiMaggio, and Molitor tried to emulate the Yankee Clipper with a long hitting streak of his own. Molitor’s 39-game run in 1987 gripped the country as he ended up with the seventh-longest streak in baseball history.
In that season, the Brewers were a remarkable 76-41 with Molitor in the lineup but only 22-23 when he didn’t play. Again, some impact was felt. The “Ignitor” placed fifth in MVP voting, hitting .353 with a stunning .438 on-base percentage and an OPS+ of 161 (average is 100). He also led the league in runs scored (114) and doubles (41) despite playing in only 118 games. In using the newer stat of wOBA to better assess offensive production accurately, Molitor posted a .433 — a number reached only nine times in the last five years (twice each by Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera).
Though not a home run hitter, Molitor could have tried to hit more out, but he knew that wasn’t his role batting in the top of the order. Instead, he basically did everything else skillfully to be a well-rounded contributor and constant nuisance for the opposition. In his 13 full seasons in Milwaukee, Molitor batted over .300 eight times, scored more than 100 runs in four seasons, averaged 30 doubles and finished with an OPS+ of 125. He never had a season below 105.
His final two seasons with the Brewers, Molitor was an All-Star and legitimate MVP candidate. In 1991, Molitor led the league in runs (133), hits (216) and triples (13) as a 34-year-old player in rundown County Stadium. Those last two years he averaged a .323 average, .394 OBP, 111 runs, 206 hits, 34 doubles and 25 stolen bases. Thus, while proving to be the best player on the team, he didn’t take kindly to an offer $900,000 less than he made the previous season.
That gets us back to the statue situation. The most common argument from fans is that Molitor left the club and joined the division-rival Toronto Blue Jays out of greed and a lack of loyalty. The Blue Jays gave Molitor a guaranteed three-year deal worth $13 million. Molitor made $2.5 million in 1992, and general manager Sal Bando low-balled him in the hopes he’d be extra loyal. Put yourself in his shoes: you give your all for a company for 15 years, were one of the best employees they ever had and in those last two years you were among the top 15-20 performers in the whole industry. Considering all that, tell me you’d take a pay cut to stay with that organization. Not to mention, he had a chance to win a World Series, which he did, while earning the series MVP award.
The severely under-appreciated Molitor is long overdue for some added recognition, and it should be done with a statue outside Miller Park. Molitor deserves his place alongside the other immortals of Milwaukee: Henry Aaron, Robin Yount and Bob Uecker.