Mollie and Mornie; Mauer, Yount and Minny: Lessons to Learn by Looking to Milwaukee?
by, 09-30-2012 at 01:55 PM (972 Views)
The Minnesota Twins enter the offseason saddled with the need to rebuild. As the Twins fan base begins to dwindle, and the shine seems to be coming off Target Field, questions arise about the M & M boys, andtheir long-term value in Minnesota. Both players are emerging out from under a cloud of befuddling injuries, so their long-term health is a question. Both players command a significant portion of team salary, so their combined value is a question. Joe Mauer is likely to increase his playing time at first base,raising questions about how two M’s can populate one position. Both players are leaving their twenties, and entering their thirties—Mauer is 29 and JustinMorneau is 31. Age begs the biggest unanswerable question. Will production and value decrease as these two Boys of Summer enter the midseason of their careers?
Look to the East, across the St. Croix River for a possible answer in two of the greatest players to put on a Milwaukee Brewers uniform—Paul Molitor and Robin Yount. And while your gaze is turned in the direction of Wisconsin, keep looking over the horizon toward Cooperstown, NY. Both Yount and Molitor made it to the Hall of Fame because of their longevity, and their ability to remain healthy and productive over the second half of their careers. Yount nearly gave up baseball due tonagging injuries. He wanted to pursue a golfing career and briefly quit baseball. The first half of Paul Molitor’s career was a mess—injury and addiction troubled his life—and his statistical production is pockmarked with extensive gaps due to time spent on the disabled list.
Milwaukee stuck with Molitor. His former cocaine addiction bears no resemblance to a concussion—except that both maladies carry a huge stigma, and recovery is wildly unpredictable. What the Brewers could control was where and when to play Molitor, and Yount. Dan Levitt and Doug Skipper recount the young Molitor’s first appearance in the Brewer’s dugout,
“After the draft the Brewers invited their new phenom to Milwaukee County Stadium for the VIP treatment. While wearing a suit that was “way too big, I’m totally geekish,” Molitor met some of the players in thedugout. At one point he was sitting next to shortstop Robin Yount, only 22 years old but already in his fourth year as a starter. Veteran third basemanSal Bando stopped by and threw Yount an outfielder’s glove, telling him, “Well,I guess this will be your last year at shortstop, kid.” Molitor remembered acute embarrassment at the whole proceeding and just wanting to get away.” http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/f9d60ca6
Yount and Molitor would dance around the shortstop position. Both players showed versatility, as Molitor spent time at second base, and third. Yount would eventually move into center field. Molitor would become one of the most productive designated hitters in major league history. Bottom line?Milwaukee provided a flexible environment so that both Yount and Molitor could remain productive members of the team, at least for a while.
Joe Christensen recently drew some comparisons between Mauer and Molitor. “Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, a fellow Cretin-Derham Hall product, dealt with criticism with the Milwaukee Brewers when injuries limited him to fewer than 120 games in five of his first 10 seasons. Molitor hasn't spoken to Mauer about this but said it was nice to prove he could stay healthy over the second half of his career.” http://www.startribune.com/sports/twins/171947481.html
Perhaps Molitor should speak to Morneau, since Molitor andMorneau have perhaps more in common, injury-wise, than the tandem of Molitor and Mauer. Concussions and cocaine, once again, are worlds apart. But finding stability and hope over the second half of a major league career—that seems to be common ground for the these two M’s.
Financial concerns would eventually undermine Molitor’s relationship with the Brewers. Molitor left Milwaukee and signed as a free agent with the team that had finished four games ahead of the Brewers the year before—the Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto would remain competitive, winning two World Championships, one with Molitor as the Series’ Most Valuable Player. The Brewers’ record, post-Mollie, would not climb above .500 for each of the next 14 seasons.
In 1993, his first year in Toronto, Molitor placed second in the American League MVP vote, behind Frank Thomas. He would play for five more seasons. The following quote from Levitt and Skipper tells about his first year in Minnesota: “Molitor,the fourth oldest player in the league, appeared in a career high 161 of Minnesota’s 162 games for manager Tom Kelly. He batted .341, third in the American League behind Alex Rodriguez and Frank Thomas. He led the league in hits with 225—becoming the oldest player to ever lead the league in hits—drove in a career high 113 runs, and scored 99.”
Do you suppose the Brewers could have used that sort of production? The Twins should not make the same mistake. The Twins and Brewers locked up Mauer and Yount as franchise players. The Brewers chose not to take that direction with Molitor. Will the Twins regret not making Morneau a lifelong Twin? These are the questions that only time can provide, but bloggers can still ask, all the same. Can anyone peer into their pouch of chewing tobacco tea leaves and offer an answer?
Ps. If you have made it this far through this blog, you should REALLY make time to read the piece by Levitt and Skipper. Good research, good writing, great story!