It’s not really surprising that Ichiro Suzuki’s 3,000th major-league hit was a triple. But he wasn’t the first. Paul Molitor took that honor when he connected off Kansas City’s Jose Rosado on September 16, 1996, becoming the 21st member of baseball’s 3,000-hit club. He added more than 300 to his total before calling it quits. Voted as one of the 100 greatest players of all-time by The Sporting News in 1999, Molitor’s career spanned parts of three decades.
Perhaps most impressive is that he’s one of four players in big league history with at least 3,000 hits, a .300 lifetime batting average, and 500 stolen bases. The others? Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner and Eddie Collins.
Hard as it may be to believe be for those who watched him play, Molitor turned 60 years old on Monday. Here are eight fun Paul Molitor cards for collectors who remember “The Ignitor.”
1978 Topps Molitor Rookie Card (No. 707)
Molitor broke in with the Brewers in 1978 as an infielder and designated hitter. He batted .273 with six homers and 45 RBIs, plus he stole 30 bases. His 21-year career of excellence was rewarded with his election to the Hall of Fame in 2004.
Trammell played his entire 20-year career in Detroit, batted .285 and won five Gold Gloves. He has been touted as a Hall of Fame candidate by some of electors, but he has not gotten the call for Cooperstown yet.
Klutts was a rookie with the New York Yankees, but only appeared in eight games from 1976 through 1978. He spent the next four years in Oakland before ending his eight-year major-league career with Toronto in 1983. He saw his most extensive action in 1980, when he appeared in 75 games for the Athletics.
Washington broke in with Kansas City in 1977 and had a relatively productive career, rapping out 150 hits in 1980 when the Royals got to the World Series for the first time. He batted .273 in 153 games and drove in 53 runs. He batted .364 in the 1980 ALCS against the Yankees.
Molitor’s rookie card is notorious for having a print smudge that impacts the value. High-grade examples without it can fetch hundreds of dollars but there are enough nicer examples in the market to keep most well under $100.
1983 Mr. Z’s Pizza
In the land of Cheeseheads, it’s only natural that a baseball card promotion would involve a cheese pizza. Or pepperoni. Or any other kind. In 1983, Mr. Z’s Pizza released 5-inch by 7-inch cards with color photos on the front. The cards were bagged in cellophane and given away for free when a customer bought a frozen 12-inch pizza. In 1983, Molitor was part of a three-card set that included fellow Hall of Famer Robin Yount and Cecil Cooper.
The cards were not autographed, but many Brewers fans found ways to get their heroes to sign the cards. Perhaps they offered a slice of pizza in exchange for an autograph. Coming off Milwaukee’s lone American League pennant-winning season, anything Brewers was a hot commodity in Wisconsin.
Another three-card set was issued in 1984 and included coach George Bamberger, relief ace Rollie Fingers and Jim Gantner. Most of the cards in the set are under $10, a pretty nice deal considering their scarcity.
1984 Gardner’s Bakery No. 13
Beginning in 1983, Topps produced card sets for Gardner’s Bakery of Madison, Wisconsin. The sets were made up of 22 cards in 1983, ’84 and ’85, and returned after a three-year gap with a 15-card set in 1989. Molitor was part of all four sets.
The 1984 set, like the others, was issued inside loaves of bread. Because of that, some cards might have grease stains if they came in contact with the cards.
The card fronts are colorful and are same size — 2½ inches by 3½ inches — as Topps’ regular card issues. Molitor’s posed photo is framed by thin borders of red and yellow, followed by a larger blue background for the rest of the card. The card bottom has the words, “1984 Series II” underneath the main photograph. The Brewers’ logo is anchored at the bottom of the card.
Card backs are identical to the 1984 Topps set, except for the numbering pattern.
Not surprisingly, Molitor and Yount are the two most valuable cards in each set. But even then, the prices are very affordable.
Molitor’s card in the 60-card 1979 Kellogg’s set is one of 35 cards that do not have a variation. The cards themselves had smaller widths (1 1/16 inches) than cards from previous years, although the depths remained at 3¼ inches. The 1979 set was Molitor’s debut with Kellogg’s and one of the first cards to feature him alone. He was one of 12 Hall of Famers among the 60 stars featured.
Because of the narrower card width, the 1979 Kellogg’s set had a tendency to curl and crack even more than its predecessors. Finding a card in high grade can become difficult but generally, Molitor’s card can be found for $10 or less.
1982 Milwaukee Brewers Police No. 4
The Brewers teamed up with police departments across the state and they were an annual staple of summertime collecting in Wisconsin for nearly two decades. Molitor was part of the inaugural set, which consisted of 30 cards. Twenty-six of the cards depicted players, and there were individual cards for manager Buck Rodgers and general manager Harry Dalton. The last two cards showed the coaches and a team photo.
The cards, which measured 2 13/16 inches by 4 1/8 inches, were numbered by the players’ uniforms. Molitor was No. 4, Yount was No. 19, and so on. The card stock was bright and white, which gave it an attractive look.
There are plenty of variations for this set, because the bottom line of the card was localized for the different law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin. It’s a special set in that it represents the team’s only American League championship season.
1987 Topps No.741
It’s hard to believe that 30 years have passed since Topps put out this wood-grained set. It was the dawn of the era of overproduced cards and remains a staple at yard sales. Molitor’s classic stance with the crowd behind him is actually a nice image and you can own nearly any Molitor from ’87 for way less than a fast food lunch. What’s more important is what happened when this card was new.
In 1987, Molitor caused a national sensation as he put together a 39-game hitting streak, which was the fifth longest during the 20th century and the seventh-longest streak in major-league history. The streak made the national evening news shows as it grew close to 40 games but it turned out Joe DiMaggio’s record was safe.
Molitor’s hitting streak ended when he went 0-for-4 against a Cleveland Indians rookie who making his second major-league start. The rookie struck out Molitor in the first inning and got him to ground into a double play in the third. Molitor also grounded out in the sixth and reached on an error in the eighth against the right-hander.
Neither man figured in the decision, won 1-0 by the Brewers in 10 innings. However, both own a World Series ring. Molitor won his in 1993 with the Toronto Blue Jays. And the rookie? Well, John Farrell won his in 2013 when he managed the Boston Red Sox to their third World Series title of the 21st century.
1993 Topps Finest Refractor No. 70
After 15 years in Milwaukee, Molitor joined the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993. He had a fine year, batting .332 with 211 hits, 22 homers and 111 RBIs. He was the MVP of the ’93 World Series, batting .500 in the seven-game playoff.
The Topps Finest refractor was one of the earliest issues depicting Molitor in a Blue Jays uniform. It holds up well and still fetches a nice price as a high-graded card.
1996 Leaf Signature Series Autograph
Molitor, a native of St. Paul, Minnesota, returned to his home state in 1996 and played his final three major-league seasons with the Twins. It was fitting that he collected his 3,000th career hit with his hometown team in 1996.
Autograph cards of Molitor are plentiful, but the Leaf version in 1996 showcased a pair of certified autographs. Both were numbered to 1,000 and were short prints. In the base autograph card, Molitor is wearing the pinstripe white Twins uniform. In the Extended Series card, Molitor is sporting a blue jersey.
Every pack of 1996 Leaf Signature Series cards had at least one certified autograph card. The cards themselves were not numbered. Signature Series Extended cards contained 30 short-printed stars and 187 other major-leaguers. The cards that were not short-printed had a run of 5,000 cards. And, there were two autographs per pack. Not common but usually available, prices for the Molitor tend to vary quite a bit.
You can check out the current ‘most watched’ Molitor cards on eBay via the live list below.