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Molitor a Real Hit With Mariners

Former World Series MVP will take a break from new job as Seattle hitting coach for Hall of Fame ceremony in July.

March 21, 2004|Tim Korte | Associated Press

PEORIA, Ariz. — The new hitting coach for the Seattle Mariners sure knows a thing or two about his trade.

Paul Molitor finished his 21-year playing career with 3,319 hits, ranking eighth all-time. He had a .306 lifetime batting average, drove in 1,307 runs and was MVP of the 1993 World Series.

Did we mention he's going into the Hall of Fame this summer?

"He brings instant credibility to the job before he even steps into the uniform," Seattle Manager Bob Melvin said.

Forget the glittery resume, though, because Molitor believes he's taking a step into the unknown. This is his first full-time coaching job away from the Minnesota organization, where he broke in as a bench coach four years ago.

"I don't have any unique philosophies or styles that I'm going to bring," Molitor said. "It's more just trying to get to know these guys and get them on track, to be as consistent as they can."

On any given morning in Mariners' camp, one of history's best hitters has a foot propped on the wheel of the batting cage. Molitor is carefully studying swings by some of today's best bats.

First, it's Edgar Martinez. Then along comes Ichiro Suzuki and John Olerud. Later, Bret Boone takes some cuts.

"To have somebody around like Paul, with the kind of success he's had, it's exceptional," said Olerud, a former teammate in Toronto. "He was able to hit the ball the other way really well. I feel he's somebody I'll be able to work with because we have the same type of approach."

Many hitting coaches could get intimidated in that situation.

"Not a guy like him," Melvin said. "Paul Molitor, being a Hall of Famer and having more hits than any of these guys, he gets credibility right away."

Molitor has been spending time in the clubhouse talking to hitters, learning their daily routines and asking what gives them difficulties when they struggle. He reminds them that even the best have room to improve.

"If I can help with the mental approach to the game, I think that will be a strength," Molitor said. "The fundamentals of hitting haven't changed. Certain guys do certain things a certain way.

"I understand I'm not going to change a guy like Edgar Martinez. But if I can help these guys refine their approach or remind them how to sustain through the latter part of the season, that's something I hope to bring," he said.

It's not only the big leaguers who are gaining from Molitor's insight. He also makes regular patrols on Field 2, where the prospects take their swings.

"He's great. The first time I saw him, I shook his hand and he said, 'What's your name? How are you doing?' " recalled Justin Leone, last season's Texas League player of the year.

Once the younger players got past being star-struck, they found Molitor very accessible. They ask how he approached certain counts. They want to know which drills he enjoyed.

"He's definitely busy," Leone said. "He's got 40-something guys to deal with right now. You can't take all of his time, but he's really made an effort with everyone, absolutely."

The path to the job came through Pat Gillick, the former Seattle general manager who held the same position in Toronto when Molitor played there. It wasn't long before Melvin knew he'd found his man.

"He interviewed very well. He understands hitting," Melvin said. "Ten minutes into the interview, we all looked at each other. We had a pretty good idea that if this guy really wanted it, we were prepared to offer it."

Molitor finds that kind of talk flattering, but he emphasized that this gig isn't about riding his accomplishments to an easy paycheck. He views it as the next challenge in his baseball career.

"I'm going to take this job as seriously as I can," he said. "This team has been on the verge for a while. It would be nice to be a part of putting them over the hump, in whatever small role that might be."

There's been plenty of talk in recent years that Molitor would make a fine manager, but he insists he's not looking beyond this season.

"It's a position that requires fire and passion, when you're ready to take it by the horns and run with it," he said. "I just haven't had the situation or timing in my life, considering personal and family issues, that have made it right yet."

Molitor gets a break in July, with blessings from Melvin and the front office. Along with Dennis Eckersley, Molitor will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Both were elected on the first ballot.

"It's kind of nice to be working, so I don't have too much time to think about it," Molitor said. "Little by little, I'll put together some thoughts. When I get the chance up there, I'll be able to pay tribute to some of the people who have helped me."

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