Time has a way of healing old wounds.
At least it has for me as I reflect on the baseball career of my childhood
idol, Paul Molitor.
As a 15-year-old, I was crushed when 'Molly' departed for the Toronto Blue
Jays via free agency following the 1992 season after spending his first 15 with the Milwaukee Brewers.
I feel ashamed to admit that I even booed him a little when he returned
to County Stadium in a visiting uniform the next year.
But those bitter feelings are long gone now. I've come to realize -- unlike
then -- that Molitor really had no choice but to go. The Brewers, particularly then-general manager and franchise-ruiner Sal
Bando, low-balled him in contract talks after he had hit .320 and nearly helped lead Milwaukee to the playoffs in '92.
The move turned out well for Molitor when he won his only championship
while being named World Series MVP with Toronto in 1993, then concluded his 21-year career with his hometown Minnesota Twins
in 1998 after amassing 3,319 hits; eighth-most all-time.
It's been well documented that the Brewers didn't have a winning campaign
before he arrived on the Milwaukee scene in 1978 and they also haven't since he left, but Molitor -- in his first year as
hitting coach with the Seattle Mariners -- brushed aside any talk of a 'curse' when the Mariners recently played a three-game
interleague series with the Brewers at Miller Park.
"I don't believe in that," said Molitor, a .306 career hitter. "I think
it's just kind of how things have unfolded."
What can't be argued, however, is that the departure of The Ignitor ripped
the heart and soul out of the Milwaukee franchise, and it took 11 years until Ned Yost offered to transplant his in order
to again give the Brewers a pulse.
But as the years go by, even though the 47-year-old Molitor is now with
his fourth major league organization, what's comforting is that deep down the man who is only the fifth player in big league
history to record 3,000 hits and 500 stolen bases (504) will always be a Brewer.
When he goes into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
this month, his plaque will show him donning a cap with Milwaukee's old ball and glove logo.
He wouldn't have it any other way.
"My identity was as a Brewer," Molitor said. "I reached a World Series
championship (in Toronto) and a milestone (3,000-hits) back at home in Minnesota, but 15 years is a long time.
"I came out of college and got the opportunity from Mr. (Bud) Selig and
the organization to come here as a young player and establish myself and play a long time and get involved with the community
and experience some very positive memories as a player, some great relationships with fans as well as teammates and other
people in the organization.
"For me it was an easy decision."
He's still got a lot of work to do on his Hall of Fame speech "he hasn't
even started it yet "but when Molitor does deliver it, it'll likely be sweet and classy, just like his approach to the game
has been all these years.
Just pardon Molitor if it takes him a while yet to come to grips with the
fact that he'll be joining the game's most exclusive fraternity featuring the likes of Yount, Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Babe
Ruth and Joe DiMaggio.
"It's hard to compare generation to generation. So in some ways I think
that makes it a little more difficult to feel that you're in the same category," said Molitor, a seven-time All-Star.
"I think a lot of players sometimes allow themselves (to think) 'What kind
of player would I have been if I would have played against Murderer's Row and the Bronx Bombers? Could I have competed at
that level at that time and to what degree?
"So I guess feeling like you belong probably is going to take a little
time. It helps to have guys that you played against and with being in there now, whether it's Rollie (Fingers) or Robin (Yount)
or George Brett and Ozzie (Smith) and some of the more recent inductees."
I don't think it's a big stretch to think that Molitor would have excelled
in any decade.
One of my favorite memories of his 39-game hitting streak in 1987 occurred
during Game 38 against the Kansas City Royals. As I watched from the left-field bleachers on that splendid Sunday afternoon,
Molitor lined a single right in my direction to keep the streak alive.
I was so caught up in the mania of the streak that I spent all the money
my mom and grandparents had given me for food on a souvenir autograph baseball -- just so I could have something with Molitor's
name on it.
I got grounded the next day for it, but I still have the ball.
After 17 years, I'm still certain I made the right call.