SEATTLE – In the process of hiring one great hitter, the Seattle may be close to retaining another for 2004.
The Mariners announced Thursday that they have hired Paul Molitor, who had 3,319 hits in a 21-year major league career that may land him in the Hall of Fame next year, as their hitting coach.
And in a related matter, the Mariners say indications are positive that designated hitter Edgar Martinez will put off retirement at least a year and play in 2004.
Mariners manager Bob Melvin said Martinez has been working out at Safeco Field and became enthused when he heard Molitor was interviewing for the hitting coach job.
“The message from Edgar was, ‘What are we waiting for? As long as we have him here, let’s hire him,’” Melvin said.
Melvin wouldn’t say that Martinez has told the club what he will do next year, but said with caution that all signs are positive.
“It may be because everybody wants it to be positive,” Melvin said. “We haven’t heard anything negative. You look at what he produced last season (24 home runs, 98 RBI) and figure if the fire is there, he’s going to do it.”
Molitor, asked if he could influence Martinez’s decision to return, politely declined but also shed light on what may happen.
“I’ll leave that in other hands, but I’ve heard it’s headed in a positive direction,” Molitor said.
Molitor, 47, agreed to a one-year contract for the job that became vacant when Lamar Johnson was fired one day after the final game of the season. The Mariners also are believed to have been interested in Hal McRae, Dwayne Murphy, Chili Davis and Leon Lee.
The interviews already had begun when outgoing general manager Pat Gillick, who was GM in Toronto during Molitor’s three seasons there, talked with Molitor to gauge his interest in the opening.
“We really didn’t know that Paul would be available, but when Pat talked to him and found out there was some interest, we got him to Seattle,” Melvin said. “We’re talking about a special player who knows how to talk it as well. We feel like we’ve taken a great step in the right direction in hiring a guy like him.”
During his playing days with the Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays, there were few hitters of Molitor’s equal.
He finished with a .306 career batting average and his best season was when he hit .353 in 1987. Molitor is a former World Series MVP, batted .300 or better in 12 seasons and placed in the top 10 in batting average 11 times. Molitor had a 39-game hitting streak in 1987 with the Brewers.
He is expected to be voted into the Hall of Fame next year, the first time he will be eligible.
Molitor retired in 1998 and was the Twins’ bench coach for two years. Last season he was the Twins’ minor league baserunning and infield coordinator.
Molitor said he became more interested recently in returning to the major league level but realized that the Twins wouldn’t break up a coaching staff on a team that won two straight AL Central Division titles.
When Gillick called this time, Molitor listened. During his two-hour interview, he left the Mariners with little doubt that he could handle the job.
“You got the impression this wasn’t the only job he can do,” Melvin said. “He could be a bench coach, third-base coach and, obviously, hitting coach. There’s a very high ceiling for him as a coach.”
Molitor says his approach is to keep things simple and positive.
“Hitting to me is a lot more about simplifying things,” he said. “Generally, a good hitting coach is someone who knows his hitters well, knows what they do that makes them successful and can recognize when they get away from those things.
“I want to be positive and I want to be available to them. A lot of guys make a lot of money, but it’s amazing how many guys need that reaffirmation on a regular basis.”
Melvin believes the Mariners’ veteran hitters will respond to Molitor because of his background and knowledge of hitting.
“Not only was he successful, he went about it the right way,” Melvin said. “It’ll bring instant respect into the clubhouse.”
Molitor said he probably will come to Seattle in January, when many players work out at Safeco Field, and spend time getting to know them before spring training begins.
Among those he hopes to connect with is Martinez, who may not realize the impact he had on Molitor’s career.
“Edgar was one of the few guys who I would stay in the dugout to watch hit,” Molitor said. “He’s a guy I thought I could learn from just by watching him take batting practice.”