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Twins manager Molitor returns to Milwaukee, the city that made him famous

By Brian Murphy St. Paul Pioneer Press Twenty-three years after Paul Molitor represented the True Blue Brew Crew, the first-year Twins manager returns to Milwaukee today, still beloved by the city that launched his hall of fame playing career. Mo...

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(USA Today Sports) Minnesota Twins manager Paul Molitor looks on from the dugout during the sixth inning in a game against the Kansas City Royals at Target Field June 9 in Minneapolis.

By Brian Murphy

St. Paul Pioneer Press

Twenty-three years after Paul Molitor represented the True Blue Brew Crew, the first-year Twins manager returns to Milwaukee today, still beloved by the city that launched his hall of fame playing career.

Molitor’s portrait hangs among the Brewers’ all-time greats in the concourse of Miller Park, which also has a conference room and parking lot named after him.

A bobblehead of Molitor wearing the club’s old baby blue, yellow-trimmed road uniform diving head-first into a base will be distributed to fans before Sunday’s series finale.

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Undoubtedly there will be highlights of Molitor’s 15 years with the Brewers shown on the scoreboardjumbotron, flashbacks to glory days that included a 1982 World Series appearance, 39-game hitting streak in 1987 and five All-Star Game selections.

“It’s a reminder of a large chapter in your life,” Molitor said this week. “Not a lot of faces have carried over from when I was there. Time changes how you look at it. I’m sure it’ll be a little busier than some of the other cities for me, but that’s OK. I’ve got a lot of good memories there.”

Two stints as a coach under Twins managers Tom Kelly and Ron Gardenhire brought Molitor back to Milwaukee for interleague series four times since 2001.

However, this trip is more significant.

Molitor brings with him a team that concluded a 5-3 homestand at Target Field and seems to have stabilized after losing 11 of its first 15 games in June. Earlier this month, the Brewers took two of three from the Twins in Minnesota under new manager Craig Counsell.

But it has been a lost season for Milwaukee, which remains buried in last place in the National League Central after firing manager Ron Roenicke on May 4.

Molitor never played under the retractable roof of Miller Park, which opened in 2001.

But the player known as “The Igniter” combined with fellow hall of famer Robin Yount to lead the scrappy late-1970s and early-’80s Brewers American League teams that turned old County Stadium into a summer carnival.

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“County Stadium was great to me; kind of a classic older ballpark, not too dissimilar from the old Met,” said the St. Paul native. “It was just a great atmosphere, particularly in the summer months. Those fans were very loyal.”

After debuting in 1978, injuries hampered Molitor early in his tenure with the Brewers. He eventually became a steady third baseman and productive hitter at the top of a lineup that featured fellow infielders Yount, Jim Gantner and Cecil Cooper, plus power-hitting outfielders Ben Oglivie and Gorman Thomas.

Molitor’s best year was 1987, when he posted career highs in average (.353), runs (114), steals (45) and doubles in only 118 games. His 39-game hitting streak is the seventh-longest in history behind Joe DiMaggio’s iconic 56-game run in 1941.

“Our chemistry was phenomenal,” recalled former Brewers catcher Ned Yost, Molitor’s ex-teammate and current managing rival for the AL champion Kansas City Royals. “We really enjoyed playing the game hard and playing for each other. It was one of the funnest times I had playing baseball, playing on that team.”

Yost shook his head when asked whether he imagined himself, 30 years later, managing against Molitor.

“We were just playing. To sit back at the time, in the early ‘80s, to think we’d be managing - I don’t think it ever entered our mind,” he said. “It was kind of a crazy thought that one day we’d end up managing teams.”

In 1992, Molitor became a free agent and signed with the Toronto Blue Jays and immediately won the World Series after hitting .447 in the 1993 postseason.

He played five more seasons, including three with the hometown Twins, before retiring in 1998. He entered the Baseball Hall of Fame as a Brewer, for whom he recorded 2,281 of his 3,319 career hits.

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“Fifteen years of a lot of good experiences, a lot of good friendships,” Molitor said.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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