Molitor wins reverence that is designated for him


TORONTO -- Somewhere in the mob at home plate, Joe Carter found Paul Molitor. "I gave him a hug. I gave him a kiss. I said, 'This is for you,' " Carter said.

Ninety minutes later, at nearly 1:30 a.m., Molitor was still mobbed, surrounded by reporters in the champagne-drenched Toronto clubhouse.

Pitcher Pat Hentgen stood nearby, like a fan waiting for an autograph. It took nearly 20 minutes before he got a private moment with the World Series MVP.

"I just wanted to hug him and say how happy I am for him and to say it couldn't happen to a better guy," the second-year pitcher said of the 16-year veteran.

"I love him. I love playing with him. He's a great competitor, a great person. I'm proud just to play on his team."

Indeed, it seemed the entire baseball world wanted to hug Molitor after he won his first World Series on Saturday night.

Some players are respected.

Molitor is revered.

And so it was that Toronto manager Cito Gaston saw him crying on the field after Carter's game-winning three-run homer, and burst into tears himself.

And so it was that Milwaukee owner Bud Selig found his former player in the Toronto clubhouse and told him that he, too, couldn't be happier.

Molitor, 37, hated to leave the Brewers, the team he had played for since 1978. But signing with the Blue Jays was the smartest move he ever made.

It got him increased recognition, not that he wanted it. It got him to his second World Series, not that he needed it. And ultimately, it might get him to the Hall of Fame.

Of course, Molitor wasn't thinking about any of this in the ninth inning as he stood on first base after his one-out single off Philadelphia's Mitch Williams.

Earlier, he had hit an RBI triple and bases-empty homer, and with Carter batting, Rickey Henderson standing on second and the Jays trailing 6-5, his championship dream was within reach.

It was a tense moment, a raucous moment, a moment so singular and pivotal, Molitor's entire career seemed at stake.

So, what was he doing?

Oh, just stealing signs.

"I knew what they were throwing," Molitor said. "I wasn't relaying them or anything. But I saw them call for a changeup, and I saw him miss it.

"Then I saw them call for a slider, and I said, 'Please leave it somewhere where he can hit it.' And he did, down and in, just where Joe likes it.

"I was just about on second base when I realized it was gone," Molitor said. "The next 180 feet, that was as close as I can get to moonwalking."

Yet, even then he was lucid. He even spotted his family at SkyDome -- his wife and daughter, his brother and father and four of his six sisters.

"I had this Kurt Bevacqua flashback that I should do a kiss and a pirouette," Molitor said, referring to the way the former San Diego Padre celebrated a home run in the 1984 Series.

"I couldn't do it. I tried to make eye contact. It just hit me rounding second base. They were right down the left-field line."

He started crying seconds later, and was named Series MVP seconds after that. It was the third straight year a native of St. Paul, Minn., was a Series hero.

Jack Morris, Dave Winfield, now Molitor.

"That's probably the happiest he has ever been in baseball," said Morris, a Toronto teammate. "You could see it in his face. You could feel the serenity in his heart."

Later, Molitor said he wouldn't have felt cheated if he had never returned to the Series, where he lost with the Brewers in 1982. But it just seemed so right for him to get back to October.

Molitor was 12-for-24 in the Series, scoring 10 runs, driving in eight. He played first and third base without incident. He was the best hitter on a team that left the Phillies with a 7.57 ERA.

In the past three seasons, he has raised his career average from .299 to .306, no small feat after 8,000 at-bats. He's also a .393 hitter in 107 career postseason at-bats.

Hall of Fame? Molitor has 2,492 career hits, and should get close to 3,000 as he completes the final two years of his contract with Toronto. Indeed, he's starting to look like a lock.

"Coming here and having this arena to perform in in the postseason has brought a lot of attention my way, more than in the past several years," Molitor said. "It wasn't motivation for me to come here. But it definitely comes with the territory."

A territory where the best get recognized. A territory where he always belonged.



World Series MVPs since 1980:

Year ............ MVP ............ Team

1993 ....... Paul Molitor ...... Toronto (AL)

1992 ........ Pat Borders ...... Toronto (AL)

1991 ........ Jack Morris ....... Minn. (AL)

1990 ......... Jose Rijo ........ Cinc. (NL)

1989 ....... Dave Stewart ...... Oakland (AL)

1988 ....... O. Hershiser ....... L.A. (NL)

1987 ........ Frank Viola ....... Minn. (AL)

fTC 1986 ......... Ray Knight ........ N.Y. (NL)

1985 ....... B.Saberhagen ........ K.C. (AL)

1984 ........ A. Trammell ....... Detroit (AL)

1983 ........ R. Dempsey ........ Orioles (AL)

1982 ...... Darrell Porter ..... St. Louis (NL)

......... Ron Cey ........... L.A. (NL)

.... ........ P. Guerrero ........ L.A. (NL)

.... ....... Steve Yeager ........ L.A. (NL)

1980 ........ M. Schmidt ......... Phila. (NL)

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