‘Marvelous Molitor’ Was Somehow Able to Enjoy it All
MILWAUKEE (AP) _ For six weeks Paul Molitor defied baseball’s ultimate law of averages with a 39-game hitting streak that was a mixture of poise, talent and timing.
The Milwaukee Brewer designated hitter not only enthralled baseball followers, attracted national attention and drew standing ovations, he found time along the way to enjoy his chase of Joe DiMaggio’s major league record 56-game hitting streak.
And when the streak ended, he took the congratulations of his teammates, waved to the crowd, thanked the media and the next day autographed a baseball for the rookie pitcher who held him hitless - John Farrell of the Cleveland Indians.
The end of the streak came Aug. 26 and it was a night full of irony for Molitor, who throughout the streak maintained that his first priority was helping the Brewers win games.
As he stood in the on-deck circle in the 10th inning hoping for another at- bat, teammate Rick Manning singled in the winning run and the fifth longest streak in major league history was over.
Major TV networks and two dozen out-of-town newspapers either covered or were planning to cover what Brewers Manager Tom Trebelhorn called the ″streakativity.″
The demand became so great that Molitor held a news conference before the start of each series and after each game.
On Thursday, the day after the streak ended, the Milwaukee Journal handed over its entire front page to Molitor. There was a banner headline that screamed ″Marvelous Molitor,″ a half-page color photograph, a second, smaller color picture and a story that continued onto all of page two.
While those around him marveled, Molitor kept his feet firmly on the ground.
Every day his streak lived, Molitor became more appreciative of the accomplishments of those ahead of him - Ty Cobb with 40 straight, George Sisler with 41, Pete Rose with 44 and, most especially, DiMaggio.
″We’ve talked a lot about it in recent weeks - what a tremendous accomplishment it was,″ said Molitor.
″I’ve learned a lot about it since this started. It reconfirms more than ever the greatness of the man. To try to imagine what he did to go through a streak that I’m 17 games short of.
″It seems like such a distant record for anyone to try to approach. But you’re seeing such great athletes come up. With the young players there is always that possibility.″
Molitor’s streak began July 16 when he came off the disabled list for the second time and during the run, he collected 68 hits in 168 at-bats for a .405 average with 17 doubles, three triples, seven homers and 33 runs batted in. He also stole 15 bases and scored 43 runs.
Batting leadoff in all but five games, he kept the streak alive with hits in his last at-bat three times, including a two-out, ninth-inning homer in Baltimore on Aug. 13.
″The Beat Goes On″ would play over the County Stadium loudspeakers each time Molitor extended his streak as he oncce again focused national attention on the city of streaks, Milwaukee. The Brewers began the season with 13 straight victories to tie a major league record and in May turned around and lost 12 in a row.
Molitor claimed he wasn’t superstitious but admitted to engaging in a hand- slapping ritual with teammate Rob Deer before each game of the streak. And after the games, relief pitcher Dan Plesac would approach Molitor to tell him - ″the beat goes on.″
But no matter how many at-bats his teammates got him or how much support they gave him, when it came down to keeping the streak alive, it was Molitor against the pitcher.
For six weeks he won baseball’s basic game of one-on-one. And on the day he didn’t, he had no regrets.
″The fact that it’s the fifth highest in the history of the game makes you realize you’re fortunate to have it,″ said the 31-year-old Molitor, who will be a free agent after this season, his 10th with the Brewers.
″I enjoyed it and I enjoyed having the chance to step up front and center for a while and at the same time contribute to our ball club.
″Now that it’s over the pride will continue to grow.″
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