Year Inducted: 2004 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 431/506)
A player historically would be slotted into the leadoff spot if they were very fast. Guys like Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines and Tris Speaker were great baserunners and were to use that speed at the top of the lineup to help generate runs. More recently, research has indicated that speed, while it is probably the second most important tool for a leadoff hitter, isn’t the most important attribute. The ability to get on base trumps the ability to steal a base most, if not all, of the time. So, what happens when a player with great speed but also a great batting eye and a quick bat is able to leadoff for a long time? It results in one of the best right handed hitters ever, Paul Molitor.
For 21 years, Molitor used his quick wrists to produce a batting line of .306/.369/.448 with a wRC+ of 122. Molitor collected 3319 hits in his great career, which was mainly spent with the Brewers. Among those hits, Molitor collected 605 doubles, 114 triples and 234 homers, and his abilities at the top of the Brewers’ order earned him the nickname “The Ignitor”. As a leadoff hitter, Molitor didn’t get the RBI opportunities that his teammate Robin Yount (who would hit third) would have. However, playing for 21 years helped boost his RBI totals up to 1307, while his speed (504 steals and +46.6 runs on the bases) helped him score 1782 runs.
Molitor, early in his career, was a solid if unspectacular fielder at third base. Like Craig Biggio, Molitor bounced around a bit on the diamond, playing quite a few games at shortstop and second base in addition to third. While he was never great defensively, he was far from terrible with positive fielding runs at both third and second bases. However, early in his career Molitor was beset by a series of injuries that threatened to either have his career cut short or have him misremembered as being a great but fragile player. However, Molitor and his teams had another path in mind. While his glove was diminishing as the 1980’s closed and injuries just kept coming, Molitor’s bat was still very good so he became a full time DH starting in the 1990’s. That extended Mollie’s career to a point where he could achieve the numbers he seemed like he should have all along.
Molitor’s career games as a DH outrank all the number of games that he had at the other positions, including third base. Still, Molitor is best remembered as a third baseman for two reasons. The first is that, when healthy and early in his career, Molitor was fine defensively. The other is that, while his games at DH outnumber his games at third base, his total number of games in the field outnumber his total games at DH, so it makes sense to think of him as a fielder. The BBWAA has seemed loathe to vote in DH’s yet (ie Edgar Martinez), so it’s tough to set up a DH position as the only other player who could be considered a DH would be Frank Thomas, and he is probably more tied to the DH position than Molitor.
No matter the position, there’s no denying that Molitor could play well. One of the best pure hitters ever, Molitor easily gained induction on his first ballot and is now a solid manager for his hometown Minnesota Twins.
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