FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) Two seasons after Hall-of-Famer Paul Molitor played his last game, he became the bench coach for the Minnesota Twins on manager Tom Kelly's staff.
The role was his for two years. The experience was infinitely valuable for the job that opened for him much later.
''He played at a different level than most people. His instincts for the game were way up here,'' Kelly said as he moved his hand next to his forehead before lowering it to be parallel with his chest, ''and most players are down here.''
Molitor has begun his first year as a major league manager, just the second skipper the Twins have had since Kelly retired after the 2001 season. Plenty of challenges lie ahead for the 58-year-old former infielder, perhaps none greater than his ability to understand players who weren't blessed with the same elite abilities and instincts he had.
During the 2000 season, Molitor's first working for Kelly, the Twins were a raw, incomplete team that lost 93 games. They rapidly improved in 2001, surging to a 50-31 record at the midpoint, but this was still a young bunch.
''`Why can't he do that?''' Molitor would ask Kelly after they saw a mistake on the field.
The manager's response?
''He's just not good enough, Paul,'' Kelly would tell him. ''`That's it. That's what we have. Should he do that better? Well, yeah. But he can't play the way you did.'''
The sample size is small, but there's not much success to reflect upon when looking to his Cooperstown peers.
Ted Williams was the first Hall of Fame player who was inducted before becoming a manager, and ''The Splendid Splinter'' was uninspiring in running the show with the Washington Senators. The franchise moved to Texas to become the Rangers for 1972, his last of four seasons. He finished 54-100.
Ryne Sandberg has had a rough start managing the Philadelphia Phillies, who went 73-89 last year.
For others who started managing before their Cooperstown call came, there have been a few triumphs like the New York Yankees winning the 1978 World Series under Bob Lemon after he took over at midseason and the 1964 American League pennant under Yogi Berra. But Frank Robinson's winning percentage was .475 over 16 years with four teams. Berra didn't do much with the New York Mets.
There's the case to consider of George Brett, who tried his hand as a hitting coach for the Kansas City Royals for a couple of months in the 2013 season but decided the role wasn't for him. Brett said he always found the game natural to play and difficult to teach.
Molitor is well-aware of the limited history. He's not worried.
''The farther you're removed as a player, the more your perspective is about being a teacher and instructor more than anything,'' Molitor said last week. ''Like most things, time helps you get a better perspective. I don't think it's going to be an issue for me, to be honest with you, whether it's because I spent the time in player development or because it's been a long time since I did anything on the field.''
That time as Kelly's bench coach was key, but the 10 years he worked for the Twins as a roving minor league instructor were just as critical.
''I think that really helped him, to understand that these kids are just learning,'' said Kelly, who's now a special assistant for the organization who works as a guest instructor during spring training.
Whether or not his 3,319 hits and Hall of Fame plaque draw the respect they deserve from the young players he'll be overseeing, Molitor has already captivated the Twins by his unique eye for the tiniest of details. He served as a utility coach of sorts on manager Ron Gardenhire's staff last season and dropped all kinds of knowledge.
''We're lucky to have him as a manager,'' third baseman Trevor Plouffe said. ''He's a great baseball mind.''
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