It was after the fireworks had burst and crackled above him, after Joe Carter had thrown his arms around him and shouted in his ear, "Hey, this is for you," and after a roar went up in Toronto that would carry all the way up Yonge Street—the longest street in the world—that a great feeling of relief washed over Paul Molitor. It came in the middle of all that euphoria around home plate at the Sky-Dome last Saturday night. It hit him so fast and so hard that he wept right there on the held. "Yes," he said later, "and I'm not ashamed or embarrassed to admit that."
A journey had ended, and Molitor knew it. He had waited 16 years for a world championship, and it arrived on the lightning bolt of Carter's ninth-inning home run. To get to this point Molitor had endured, over the years, a pulled rib cage muscle, torn ligaments in an ankle and an elbow, a sprained ankle, a torn hamstring, a dislocated finger, an impinged shoulder, a fractured knuckle, a broken thumb and, worst of all, a broken heart. Only now was he whole.
"I definitely respect the game, and that's why I felt a somberness, a stillness, knowing how long I'd waited to feel that," he said. "It was everything I imagined. Days and weeks and months from now, I'm sure it will grow deeper and deeper in meaning. But right now I'm very peaceful with it. Yes, you get excited, and there's a rush of adrenaline. But there's something very peaceful about it."
The last blow belonged to Carter, but the Fall Classic belonged to Molitor. the Blue Jay designated hitter who, at 37, became the World Series MVP. It wasn't just his 12 hits in 24 at bats or his record-tying 10 runs or his 24 total bases (one short of another record) that made him so deserving. It was that at last, after 15 seasons in Milwaukee and one in Canada, the world came to know him as he has been all these years: a template of the refined ballplayer. At the start of the World Series, Blue Jay manager Cito Gaston had called him "the best-kept secret in baseball." Now the secret is out.
Molitor wants only to play the game and to play it right. When he crushed a 393-foot home run to give Toronto a 5-1 lead in Game 6, he briefly considered making a show of his exuberance. But as he rounded second base, he caught the gaze of his father in the stands and settled instead for that knowing moment of eye contact because "it's much more respectful to the opposition."
Respect for the game is what he showed when he grounded a ball to shortstop in the ninth inning of Game 3, with his team six runs ahead and the hour approaching one o'clock in the morning; he then churned his 37-year-old legs so fast that he beat the throw to first.
"I still think that's what baseball is all about," he says. "Baseball can sell itself if it is played right. You play it the same way whether it's the playoffs, the World Series or the preseason. I've had enough baseball taken away from me, so even grounding out is not that bad."
All those injuries kept Molitor out of more than 400 games from 1980 to '90. After he stayed healthy and hit .325 and .320 the next two seasons, the Blue Jays began thinking about signing him as a free agent, and Toronto president Paul Beeston and executive vice-president Pat Gillick took him to dinner last Thanksgiving eve. As they left the restaurant, Beeston turned to Gillick and said, "Is this guy as good as he seems?" But Beeston already knew the answer.
" Paul Molitor doesn't have a phony bone in his body," Beeston says. "With some guys you ask, Is he for real? and the inquiry sign goes up immediately. With that guy, no inquiry sign went up. I said, 'Let's get it done.' "
Molitor had been a fixture with the Brewers and had grown so close to their owner, Bud Selig, that Selig says Molitor is "like a son to me." Beeston is one of Selig's best friends. "I was almost hoping we didn't get him because of my relationship with Buddy," Beeston says.