Drafted but Unsigned Cardinal: Paul Molitor

The biggest fish that got away from the Cardinals forged a Hall of Fame career with Milwaukee and Toronto.

This is it! The conclusion of our countdown of the top 10 players once drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals, but signed elsewhere and performed well. The covered period runs from the start of the modern draft in 1965 through 1980.

“Performed well” is putting it mildly in this case. Not only did our team Most Valuable Player amass twice the career bWAR of the next most productive team member, but Paul Molitor is also the only almost-Cardinal to be enshrined in Cooperstown. He is currently the manager of the Minnesota Twins.

Before that long journey began, the Minnesota native was drafted out of high school by St. Louis, taken in the 28th round in 1974. The difference between signing and not signing was a mere $4000 – the Cardinals offered $4000, but Molitor wanted double that.

Instead, he opted for a scholarship to the University of Minnesota, where legendary coach Dick Siebert schooled him in the fundamentals that made him an effective infield defender. After the Gophers reached the College World Series in his junior season, Molitor was drafted again – this time third overall by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1977. He signed for $80,000.

Starting his professional career in the Midwest League, Molitor earned Player of the Year honors and led his club to the league title. The next spring, incumbent shortstop and another future Hall of Famer Robin Yount was injured, leading to Molitor being installed as Milwaukee’s Opening Day starter at short and leadoff hitter. He was just 21 years old.

Upon Yount’s return, Molitor shifted to second base and finished his initial season second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting behind Lou Whitaker of Detroit. By 1980, Molitor earned his first of seven AL All-Star Game nods, but in a common theme over his 21-year major league career, he was unable to play due to injury.

Moved to the outfield in 1981, Molitor played in just 64 games, slowed by an ankle problem. Shifted again to third base in 1982, the right-handed hitter played in 160 games while leading the league with 136 runs scored and swiping 41 bases. Against the Angels in the playoffs, Molitor homered twice (one inside the park) and slugged .684. Next up was the Cardinals in the World Series, during which he set a record with five hits in Game 1 and batted .355 in Milwaukee’s six-game defeat.

A wrist injury in 1983 and Tommy John surgery in 1984 were next, along with the embarrassing trial of his former cocaine dealer in which Molitor’s drug habits were exposed publicly.

Molitor rebounded with an all-star campaign in 1985, but his 1986 season was truncated by hamstring problems which carried over into 1987. Back as the designated hitter in July, he crafted a 39-game hitting streak on the way to what was arguably his best season – a .353 average, a league-best 41 doubles and 114 runs scored – in just 118 games.

He continued as a productive player, but as injury after injury racked up, Molitor was no longer able to throw effectively, limiting him to first base and designated hitter duties. In 1991, he led the league in runs and hits and the next season, he batted .320, earning his second straight all-star berth and fifth as a Brewer.

At age 36, Molitor was free-agent eligible and small-market Milwaukee declined to try to re-sign him following the 1992 season. He joined the Toronto Blue Jays on a three-year deal and did not miss a beat, leading the AL with 211 hits and coming in second in the batting race at .332 in 1993.

Back in the post-season for the first time in 11 years, Molitor batted .447 with three home runs and 13 RBI as the Jays defeated the White Sox and Phillies to claim the World Championship. He was named the World Series MVP after scoring the winning run on Joe Carter’s famous “jump for joy” hit.

After two more seasons with the Jays, Molitor was a free agent again. He signed with his hometown Twins for the 1996 season, where he collected his 3000th hit on September 16th. At the age of 39, Molitor led the AL in hits, had a career-high 113 RBI and batted .341, third in the league. He was recognized after the season with his third and final Silver Slugger Award.

That strong showing led to a two-year contract to stay with Minnesota and Molitor retired following the 1998 season. He was already in demand as a manager, reportedly having been offered the job in Toronto while still an active player and again in 2000, but instead chose to coach for several clubs following his retirement.

In his 21 years, Molitor played in 2,683 games, scored 1,782 runs, collected 3,319 hits (ninth all-time), launched 234 home runs, drove in 1,307 runs, batted .306 and stole 504 bases. He is one of four players in major league history with at least 3,000 hits, a .300 lifetime batting average, and 500 stolen bases, joining old-timers Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner and Eddie Collins.

Molitor was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 2004 after receiving 85.2 percent of the vote. His number 4 was retired by the Brewers. After the 2014 season, Molitor was named the manager of the Twins, his current position.

With a Hall of Fame career and a whopping 75.4 career bWAR, Paul Molitor is clearly the captain and MVP of our almost-Cardinals squad.

This concludes our series on the St. Louis Cardinals All-Drafted, but Unsigned Team, 1965-1980. For full details on all 10 players, click here.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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