You can go home again, says Molitor

April 06, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

MINNEAPOLIS -- For 18 seasons, they have followed him everywhere, to Milwaukee, to Toronto, to ballparks all over North America. Six sisters, a brother, a 66-year-old father. The Paul Molitor clan.

Molitor, 39, may be in the twilight of his career, but his sibling on-site percentage has never been higher. He went 3-for-7 in last night's 2-1 loss to the Orioles -- two sisters and one brother at the Metrodome.

You talk to Molitor's sister, Judy Gergen, and you realize that he just had to come home to the Twin Cities, where six of his seven siblings and his father still live, along with most of his 20 nieces and nephews.

Oh, Molitor was close to signing with the Orioles as a free agent last winter -- so close, Judy said, "We checked the schedule: When does Baltimore visit the Twins?"

Judy said she thought it would be "a blast" traveling to Baltimore. But as Twins general manager Terry Ryan said, "He had something telling him that he wanted to play for the Minnesota Twins."

He had his family.

Molitor's mother, Kathie, died in 1988. His siblings are close-knit, ranging in age from 34 to 46. He envisioned his father, Dick, "being able to hop in the car and drive to the ballpark, like the old days."

Dick has yet to see the fifth child play for the Twins -- he spends half the year in Phoenix, and is currently on a trip to the Panama Canal. But every game is like a family reunion now.

"He said it was his lifetime dream," Judy, 36, said last night from her seat behind home plate. "It was all of our dreams. Christmas came twice this year in December -- when Paul signed, and on the 25th.

"It's just so great. It's my third game in a week. I don't think I've been to the dome three times in three years. We run over here, and I know I'll see some of my other brothers and sisters. And, hopefully, I'll watch Paul go down in history with 3,000 hits."

Molitor is 205 hits short after going 3-for-4 with two doubles last night, and his big moment probably will come next season. He signed a one-year deal for nearly $2 million, and has the option to return next year.

Jack Morris, Dave Winfield and now Molitor -- those St. Paul boys just keep coming home. Molitor turns 40 on Aug. 22, a home date for the Twins. Judy said the family is trying to rent a luxury box.

"We're hoping they'll let us sleep here," she said.

It's all so perfect, except for one thing: Molitor almost certainly won't return to the World Series with the Twins, when he might have had that chance with the Orioles or Cleveland, the other teams that tried to sign him.

Orioles GM Pat Gillick envisioned Molitor at third base and designated hitter. He visited Molitor and his wife at their home in Toronto. They had won together with the Blue Jays in 1993. Why not try again?

"After that meeting, I remember talking to my wife at length about the possibility of being an Oriole," Molitor said.

"She was concerned a little bit that if I chose Minnesota and things didn't go well in terms of wins and losses, I would regret not having a chance to finish my career in a competitive situation.

"It wasn't that she was questioning my competitiveness. But she wanted to make sure I thought that through."

Playing with Cal Ripken and Roberto Alomar, playing at Camden Yards -- it would have been great. Then again, Molitor's daughter, Blaire, 11, is an only child. For her to get to know almost two dozen cousins -- that sounded great, too.

"The roots I had in Minnesota were probably the overriding factor," Molitor said. "I don't think anyone could offer me anything more appealing than Baltimore in terms of the other things."

The Orioles never actually made Molitor an offer, but it was understood that money would not be a problem. At one point this spring, he said, "I think about it still." But clearly, he's happy with his decision now.

"I still feel very competitive; I want to make that clear," Molitor said. "If I hadn't had a chance to win a World Series, my priorities might have been different. But in thinking about the clubs I had a chance to go to, I thought back about the years I enjoyed.

"Naturally, winning in '93 was a high point. But after that, I had the most fun on clubs without high expectations and young players over-achieving. In Minnesota, there's definitely a chance to be a part of turning the club around."

If it sounds Molitor is rationalizing, so be it. Gillick understood his thinking; everyone in baseball did. Molitor is one of the game's special people, a future Hall of Famer. And he grew up rooting for the Twins.

Judy still can remember Paul trapping her in her room when he was 9 and she was 5. He kept showing her 5-by-7 photos of the American League champion '65 Twins, and wouldn't let her leave until she could name five in a row.

Last night, Judy rose from her seat as Paul hit a drive to deep

center in the sixth inning, shouting, "Yeah! Yeah! Drop in there!" To her delight, the ball sailed over Brady Anderson's head for a double.

Molitor went to third on a fly to center, beating the throw with a headfirst slide. He then tagged again on a fly to right, challenging Tony Tarasco's powerful arm.

"Run, Paulie!" Judy screamed.

Molitor did, sliding in safely.

Judy hugged her brother, David.

Paul Molitor was home.

Pub Date: 4/06/96

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