His competitiveness and instincts were rare traits that helped him speed through the minor leagues in just one year, pile up more than 3,300 hits and remain productive well after his 40th birthday.
Now that he has taken over as manager of his hometown Minnesota Twins, one of Molitor's big challenges will be finding a way to convey the characteristics that made him one of the game's greatest hitters on to a new generation of players, the majority of whom will never approach his accomplished career.
"That's something that we hear about, managers who were so-called successful players, that they don't have the patience to put up with players that can't seem to get it," Molitor said on Tuesday during his introductory press conference. "They can't do what I did or they can't do it this way. After (16) years, I've got a much better perspective and feel for that. I know, still, that the game's hard."
Molitor has been retired since 1998 and has spent the time since grinding away as a roving instructor in the Twins' minor league system, one year as a hitting coach with the Seattle Mariners and last year as an assistant on Ron Gardenhire's staff with the Twins.
He is the 63rd Hall of Fame player to become a manager, according to STATS. Thirty-four of those finished their managing careers with losing records, including Ed Walsh and Honus Wagner, who managed a combined eight games.
The decision to fill a managerial position with a Hall of Fame player is becoming increasingly rare. Molitor is just the fourth Hall of Famer in the last 25 years to get a managing job, joining Tony Perez (.468 career winning percentage), Frank Robinson (.475) and Ryne Sandberg (.456).
"I will never forget that the game is very, very difficult," Molitor said. "And I don't expect players to do things exactly the way I did. Our coaches won't do the same. We're going to try to get these guys to improve. For me, frustration because guys don't get it? Tell them again. Help them again. Support them again. Encourage them again. Stay after it."
He takes over for Gardenhire, a beloved figure in Twins lore who was fired after the fourth straight season of at least 92 losses.
"I watched him all year on the top step of the dugout," Twins owner Jim Pohlad said. "I saw Paul the whole year and really just actively involved and just tense to the game, so that was really a positive to me. When we decided to make a change, Paul's name was definitely on the list and arguably at the forefront of the list."
All-Star closer Glen Perkins has known Molitor for years and sees a difference in him compared to other Hall of Famers.
"He never was the biggest, the fastest, the strongest, any of those things," Perkins said. "He got by and did a lot of little things. Those are things that make a good manager.
"That's what you hear: utility players, catchers, those are the guys that make good managers because they had to do a lot of the little things just to stay there. Well he did all those little things to be a Hall of Famer."
Molitor was up for consideration for this job the last time the Twins were hiring, but he pulled his name from consideration in 2001 in part because Major League Baseball was contemplating contracting two franchises. Those efforts failed and Gardenhire led the team to six division titles in his first nine seasons of a 13-year career.
Now the Twins are looking for a similar revival, and Molitor made it clear that he doesn't plan on being a part of a long-term rebuilding project.
"I'm coming here to win," Molitor said. "I think that it's very important to lay that out there right from the start. Things can change very dramatically at this level very quickly."
Molitor has never been a manager at any level, and he goes into this job knowing that the instincts and knowledge that made him such a great player will only take him — and the Twins — so far.
"I know what I know, and I think a lot of it is really good things," Molitor said. "But you have to know where you need help. I think assembling a staff is going to be important that's able to fill some of those gaps for me, at least in the interim as we go forward, will be very, very critical. It's something that we plan to get started on."
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