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Flashback: Molly Very Productive

Molitor, front and center on the 1992 Diamond Dinner issue of What's Brewing. (Milwaukee Brewers photo)
As the Brewers get ready to honor 2002 club MVP Richie Sexson, we flash back to another Diamond Celebration, when a future Hall of Famer was coming off one of his best seasons.

In addition to 1991 MVP Paul Molitor, the Brewers honored Most Valuable Pitcher Bill Wegman, Home Run Champion Greg Vaughn, Unsung Hero Jamie Navarro, AFY Good Guy Darryl Hamilton, Rookie of the Year Doug Henry, President's Award winner Robin Yount and Minor League Player of the Year Cal Eldred. The following story appeared in the 1992 Diamind Dinner issue of What's Brewing, the official publication of the Brewers.

In 1991, Paul Molitor, simply put, lived up to his nickname, The Ignitor.

The proof? Almost every American League offensive statistic had this very popular Milwaukee Brewers name under it.

He led the league with 133 runs and 216 hits, including his 2,000th off the Kansas City Royals' Bret Saberhagen at County Stadium on July 30. Plus, he and Chicago's Lance Johnson had the most triples (13). He finished the year hitting .325, the fourth-best batting average in the league, and made his fourth All-Star appearance.

To top matters, Molly wound up among the chosen few considerations for the AL Most Valuable Player Award.

More proof? Along with Willie Randolph, Darryl Hamilton and Greg Vaughn, the right-handed batting Molitor keyed the Brewers offense. Molitor hit .326 with men in scoring position. He was even better (.388) with the added pressure of two outs. He was the second-most productive home run hitter on the team with 17 home runs, 10 behind Vaughn. He added a respectable 75 RBIs.

Molitor had a .399 on-base percentage, but there were times when the next batter never got a chance to drive him in. He led off with a home run six times to tie Tommy Harper's club record set in 1970. Over his 14-year career, Molitor has 33 lead-off home runs, including 19 at home. He trails only Oakland's Rickey Henderson, who holds the Major League record with 50 lead-off homers.

"This was the best year I have ever seen Paulie have," Robin Yount said about his good friend. "He was solid from the first day right through the whole season. He put up some very impressive numbers with not a whole lot of offense around him."

Yount, who has been with the Brewers since 1973, knows Molitor probably the best. When he makes a statement like that, he means it.

"I'm sure it's not the most satisfying year for him," said Yount. "But strictly from his personal year, it's been his best."

Molitor would rather face Nolan Ryan's blazing fastball than talk about his fantastic 1991 season, though.

"It's always difficult to talk about a year when things have gone well personally, but when you've been disappointed by what's happened collectively," Molitor said. "The season was a disappointment because as a team we ended up watching baseball in October rather than playing. We were frustrated by another year gone by and another lost opportunity of getting back to the World Series."

Reluctantly, Molitor looked back on his great season. He picked out something that was personally satisfying, but often taken for granted -- good health.

"The main thing is that I missed four ballgames," Molitor said after ending his 14th season, his first with as many as 665 at-bats. "Three out of the last four years have been relatively healthy ones. Over my career that hasn't been the case."

Originally penciled in as the team's DH back in April, Molitor, 35, knew the plate appearances would be there. But in his heart, he really wanted to contribute more.

"I wasn't pleased about the plan to make me primarily a designated hitter, but the reasoning for it was to get in as many ballgames as possible," he said after batting .321 with 10 home runs and 45 RBIs in 112 games as the DH. "So although I didn't choose that role, it worked out for the club and for myself."

Molitor finally got the playing time he wanted, but never demanded. He became the regular first baseman. It was a position he played only sparingly, but with growing confidence in 1990.

"Molitor had good hands over at third, so catching the ball is not going to be any different at first," the Yankees' Don Mattingly said. "It's learning the position, just like an outfielder coming to play third or Robin going to the outfield. First base is a matter of learning where to be, the right spots and a little footwork around the bag. After that, anyone who wants to play the position well, can."

Molitor certainly did. He started 46 games at first, totaling 406 2/3 innings with only six errors.

As the 1991 season headed into the playoffs, Molitor and Randolph waged a friendly race for the AL batting crown.

"I remember telling Willie when he played for the Yankees that he's the kind of player that I always would admire and respect for the way he'd go about his job," said Moltior, a lifetime .302 hitter.

Randolph tied Seattle's Ken Griffey, Jr. with a .327 average. Only Texas' Julio Franco (.341) and Boston's Wade Boggs (.332) were better in the American League.

"When you think about being the leadoff guy on the same club for 14 years, I would never imagined that," said Molitor. "I thought that as I got into my 30s, sooner or later, a player would come along who is more cut out to be a lead-off type hitter, steal 50 or more bases and be a little more of a runner. It just never happened.

"So I've always maintained that role. As long as the team decided to keep me in that, I'll keep doing the best I can to be a rally-starter for the club."

Molitor will always give you his best. That you can count on. He'll never tell you he's the best, but Brewers fans know better.

The 1992 season proved Molitor's last in a Brewers uniform. He played 15 seasons in Milwaukee and ranks in the franchise's top three with 1,856 games played, a .302 career average, 7,520 at-bats, 2,281 hits, 1,275 runs scored, 790 RBIs, 405 doubles, 86 triples and is the Brewers' all-time leader with 412 stolen bases.

He signed a free agent contract with the Blue Jays for the 1993 season and won a World Series. Molly ended his career with his hometown Twins and collected hit No. 3,000. He collected 3,319 hits over 21 seasons, ninth all-time, and is eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2004.