* Hall of Famer Paul Molitor wowed the crowd of 620 as Chicago Cubs catcher George Kottaras, Toronto right-hander John Ogiltree, Brampton first baseman Matt Logan and coach Milt Nikkel were inducted into the Ontario Blue Jays Hall of Fame. ....
By Bob Elliott
The game was not as always as it appeared to Paul Molitor during his Toronto Blue Jays days.
In the spring of 1978 after only 64 games in the minors, Molitor was at the Milwaukee Brewers training camp at age 21.
Fielding ground balls from Brewers coach Frank Howard, who along with Dick Gernet owned the firmest hand shake in the game, the future Hall of Famer was struggling.
“So Big Frank, who is about 280 pounds is hitting them and I’m clanking more than I’m fielding,” Molitor told the crowd of 620 at the Ontario Blue Jays third annual Hall of Fame diner.
“Finally, he calls me over and asks ‘Son, I have a question. The scout who signed you? How drunk was he anyway?’”
Molitor started 87 games that first year, made only 12 errors in 492 chances (.980), played 21 seasons, including three with the Toronto Blue Jays and MVP of the 1993 World Series and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
The Ontario Blue Jays Hall of Fame class consisted of Chicago Cubs catcher George Kottaras, Toronto right-hander John Ogiltree and Brampton first baseman Matt Logan.
Coach Milt Nikkel was the first to be inducted into the builder’s category,
* * *
Molitor, a former year-round resident of Toronto, said he was worried about speaking during the third period of a Toronto Maple Leafs-Montreal Canadiens game.
He talked of his early days. Getting up at 6 AM in St. Paul and going to the golf course to caddy, all the while playing for three different teams. He’d always asking the caddy master if he leave early for a game or practice.
“Finally the guy asked ‘what do you want to do? Play ball or make money?’ I said maybe we can work something out where I can do both,” Molitor said.
Selected in the first round (third over-all) from the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers in 1977, the next year he was hitting second and playing shortstop on opening day for manager George Bamberger against the Baltimore Orioles, after half a season at class-A Burlington.
Molitor’s second game at Yankee Stadium, on April 22 1978, was memorable. Leading off the 10th against Yanks closer Sparky Lyle he watched as third baseman Graig Nettles walked over and talked to Lyle.
Molitor hit the first pitch for a home run and watched as Nettles went to Lyle for another talk.
Molitor found out later that Nettles told Lyle “this kid likes to bunt, throw him a fastball, I’ll throw him out.”
Nettles went over after the homer to hear Lyle say “longest darn bunt I’ve seen.”
Of course it was easy for the Yankees to be joking -- they won in 13 innings.
* * *
Logan signed with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1997 as a free-agent and was at rookie-class Medicine Hat at age 18. He then played at class-A Hagerstown in 1999, class-A Dunedin in 2000, double-A Tennessee in 2001-02, double-A New Haven in 2003, double-A New Hampshire in 2004 and after moving to the Cincinnati Reds played at class-A Potomac in 2004.
In seven seasons he was in 686 games hitting .250 (572-for-2,287) with 131 doubles, six triples, 41 homers and 308 RBIs. He had a .691 OPS.
Logan thanked his former coaches Gary Wilson and Ernie Lewington as well as Bill Byckowski and the late Jim Ridley, the scouts who signed him.
Always a gregarious, out-going sort, Logan lived up to his reputation when it was his turn at the podium.
The first baseman recalled the “old days,” when the Jays (“a bunch of guys from mostly Burlington and Brampton,”) wore used uniforms from the Toronto Blue Jays which were supposed to be bound for the Dominican Summer League on the field.
And how they’d head to Michigan in two jammed Econoline vans with Gary Wilson and Orv Herron driving one van. Coaches Ernie Lewington and Steve Trout the other.
Jammes into the vans with the equipment were the likes of INF Peter Orr (Newmarket), LHP Steve Murray (Ennismore), RHP Ryan Grantham (Burlington), OF Adam Stern (Port Stanley), RHP Paul Vracar (Stoney Creek), OF Paul Brown (Chatham), RHP Chad Ertel (St. Clements), LHP Tim Goheen (Proton Station), INF Quinn Peel (Manotick), Kris Ehmke (Peterborough), OF Jon McGinn (Burlington), INF Chris Green (Brampton) and RHP Craig Hawkins (Burlington).
“We won over 90 games that year, went to the Connie Mack World Series in Farmington, N.M. and we played the Team Canada junior national team at the SkyDome,” said Logan, who looked up to make sure everyone knew a punch line was coming as he took a sip of water.
“Now, Team Canada didn’t think we had one single player who could make their team, we won, almost by a mercy, I went second deck -- and yes I pimped it.”
Now retired Logan, who played Intercounty with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Barrie Baycats, says people ask him if he misses the game: “not the 0-for-4 nights, with three strikeouts. Not when I’d go into Brantford and some parent would send his little son down to the fence to yell ‘hey Logan! You suck!’”
“No, not really, I don’t miss that,” said Logan with a smile.
And Logan said he’s often asked if he’s sorry he didn’t make it.
“I miss the boys, I miss taking Andy Pettitte deep, the clubhouse, but I’m a proud parent with a great wife in Brook,” Logan told the crowd. “I never made it, but I wouldn’t trade the experiences I had.
“I have zero regrets, a beautiful wife and I have a Ferrari at home ... my wife Brook.”
Said Molitor later: “Hey Matt, I’m stealing that Ferrari line.”
* * *
After 15 years with the Brewers, Molitor hit free agency.
Jays president Paul Beeston and general manager Pat Gillick flew into Milwaukee on a cold winter night to speak with the free agent after the 1992 season.
“I was flattered that the best team in baseball wanted me, the 1993 season was magical,” said Molitor, who did a rundown of the Jays first five hitters on opening day:
Devon White: “He’s one of the few athletes I’ve ever seen who could out run the ball.”
Robbie Alomar: “Robbie could win a game so many ways: with power, speed, his glove, his arm and his intelligence. My favorite Robbie story was one night at Yankee Stadium P.A. announcer Bob Sheppard told the crowd Bob Hope there and asked fans to give him a real Yankee welcome. Robbie said ‘Pauly, Pauly did Bob Hope play for the Yankees?’”
Molitor said how he was “lucky enough to hit in the middle,” of the group.
Joe Carter: “it’s easy to say what Joe accomplished will stand forever.”
John Olerud: “In spring training I asked if John had ever thought about winning a batting title. John said “really?” And I said “you don’t swing at bad pitches, you square up balls, why not?’ Well, there was John hitting .400 late in the season and winning the batting title. If I had known how well I was going to hit and finish second ... I might have waited a year to tell him.”
And then ... to Pat Borders, Tony Fernandez, Ed Sprague and Candy Maldonado ... “we added Rickey Henderson.”
“I disliked playing against Ricky and loved him as a teammate, things changed,” said Molitor.
Molitor told of the day that the Jays were at Fenway and Henderson slugged one deep to left, tugged on his shirt and went into his home run trot ... until the wind knocked the ball down, it clanked off the Green Monster and he had to hurry to be safe at second.
Later Henderson scored and arrived in the third base dugout as his teammates laughed.
Molitor “Rickey you got all of that one, you hit it 3/4s of the way up the wall.”
Henderson: “What do you mean 3/4s? It was 1/2 way.”
Molitor praised manager Cito Gaston for finding a way to get him into the lineup during the three World Series games in Philadelphia where the Jays played without a DH (Sprague sat two games, Olerud one).
* * *
Ogiltree pitched for the 1996 Ontario Blue Jays, was drafted in the 32nd round that year by the Detroit Tigers, headed south to pitch for the Martin Methodist Redhawks and was signed by Toronto scout Jim Ridley before the 2001 draft as he was age eligible.
He pitched at Medicine Hat in 2001, Dunedin in 2002, New Haven in 2003, New Hampshire in 2004-05 and after moving to the Washington Nationals pitched at class-A Potomac in 2005 and double-A Harrisburg in 2005. He pitched seven seasons appearing in 197 games with a 19-19 record as well as 39 saves and a 3.60 ERA. In 240 1/3 innings he walked 121 and struck out 150.
“I’ve been out of the game for a few years,” Ogiltree said, “so when Shawn Travers phoned with news about the Hall of Fame class I was blown away.
“This team helped prepared me for the next level, I learned to live with someone else on our road trips among other things.”
After being drafted by the Tigers, Ogiltree said he was in for a shock.
“I was 6-foot-6, 180 pounds who threw 86 MPH,” Ogiltree said. “I think I gave up 11 runs in 1 1/3. But I learned it’s not how bad you do ... it’s how you handle things afterwards.”
And then he told of being on a back field at Dunedin playing an intra-squad game.
“All of a sudden this tall goofy, tall, red headed guy starts heckling me from the other dugout,” said Ogiltree. “I didn’t know him. That was the first time I met Matt Logan.
“Since then we won a double-A championship (2004) together, we played for Team Canada together and now we work together (Pepsi).”
That Eastern League championship team, managed by Mike Basso, included future and past major leaguers Aaron Hill, Erik Kratz, Stubby Clapp, Tyrell Godwin, John-Ford Griffin, John Hattig, as well as pitchers Brandon League, Dustin McGowan, Gustavo Chacin, Josh Banks, Jordan De Jong, Adam Peterson and Jamie Vermilyea.
Ogiltree was 2-4 with a 2.64 ERA and three saves. He pitched 61 1/3 innings walking 32 and striking out 36 in 45 games, while Logan hit .221 with one homer and 21 RBIs.
Before he signed he pitched for Guelph CJOYs in the IC and when his pro days were done the Brantford Red Sox.
After looking at an image of submariner Ogiltree on one of the screens around the banquet hal, guest speaker Molitor said “folks in that picture, John was not fielding a bunt. That’s the way he threw. Submariners like Mark Eichhorn used to give me problems.”
* * *
Molitor, is back as a Twins coach this year after being a minor-league instructor. He praised former Ontario Blue Jays and Twins farmhand Steve Wickens, as he did earlier this summer.
“He works hard, he’s one of my favourties,” said Molitor. “He does a lot of things well. He had to work hard to get his average up to .260.”
The Whitby infielder hit .260, with 22 doubles, three triples, three homers and 44 RBIs at class-A Ft. Myers Miracle. He hit .200 in April and .216 in June before finishing with a flourish.
Molitor also gave a shout out to Whitby’s Jon Waltenbury, who played three years in the Twins system.
“I know how this team has had guys drafted and placed with the national team, but what impresses me is the kids who came up to me before the dinner looked me in the eye and gave me a firm hand shake.”
Ten years ago Molitor was inducted into the Hall of Fame. He played golf in the same foursome as Yogi Berra.
“I was waiting for him to say something,” Molitor said. “Finally, Yogi had a long putt and hit it ... the ball wound up half way from the hole. Yogi said ‘if I had hit it harder I would have missed it shorter.’
“That’s when I knew all those things Yogi was supposed to have said were true.”
* * *
Kottaras will be starting his eventh year in the majors and his first with the Chicago Cubs this year. He played for coach Danny Bleiwas with the 2001 team that also went to the Connie Mack World Series, attended Connors State and was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 20th round of the 2002 draft.
Working his way through the minors he played for the rookie-class Idaho Falls in 2003, class-A Fort Wayne in 2004, class-A Lake Elsinore and double-A Mobile in 2005, Mobile and triple-A Portland in 2007. Moving to the Boston Red Sox he spent parts of 2007-08 with triple-A Pawtucket and with the Milwaukee Brewers triple-A Nashville in 2011.
In eight seasons he played 584 games hitting .273 (557-for-2,043) with 142 doubles, five triples, 70 homers and 310 RBIs. He has an .820 OPS.
Kottaras made his major-league debut at the Rogers Centre Sept. 13 2008 with the Red Sox in a 8-1 loss to the Blue Jays. Manager Terry Francona inserted Kottaras into the blow out and the catcher struck out against A.J. Burnett in his first at-bat reaching on a wild pitch, in the seventh and flew out facing Brian Tallet in the ninth.
He had hit first hit in his next game, a 19-8 loss to the New York Yankees when he doubled in the seventh off Phil Coke. He caught 45 games with Boston in 2009, then was with Milwaukee 2010-12, before being dealt to the Oakland A’s for the final 27 games. He spent the 2013 season with the Kansas City Royals and signed a $1.075 million contract with the Cubs.
He’s played 295 games in six years hitting .214 (148-for-692) with 40 doubles, three triples, 29 homers and 96 RBIs with a .730 OPS.
Kottaras did not make the banquet but sent a taped message of thanks to the organization which was supposed to be played for the banquet. Technological difficulties prevented the message from being played.
Said Molitor: “that’s not expected, you have to remember — George is now with the Cubs.”
* * *
Molitor addressed the topics of the day.
Like expanded replay which will come into affect this year: “it’s going to be interesting. A ball caught will be ruled a trap with the bases loaded and two out? Then the umps will have to decide where to place the runners. Trapped catches are only examined in the outfield. What in an infielder goes out into the outfield and makes a play? When do you use your challenge? If it’s a bad call but you are up 5-0, do you save it?”
Performance-enhacning drugs: “Baseball is going a great job. I’m glad people have been caught and are playing a price. The thing I don’t really like is some guys are caught and are signing bigger contracts. Maybe there should be a stiffer penalty.”
* * *
Coach Milt Nikkel was inducted into the builder’s category. Nikkel joined the Ontario Blue Jays in 2004 from the Mel Oswald’s Canadian Thunderbirds, serving exclusively in a volunteer capacity. He’s been with the 18U team ever since.
Jamie Pogue, a former Jays coach, and a Ontario Jays Hall of Famer in his own right, introduced Nikkel. Pogue is currently a bullpen coach with the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I roomed with Milt and he reminded me of a couple of coaches I had in the minors with the Cardinals: George Kissell and Dave Ricketts,” said Pogue.
Now, you might not know the name Kissell. Along with Hub Kittle and George Sisler, Kissell formed the College of Cardinals in the 1980s. Rickett later joined that grand and august, respected group.
It would be like comparing a young lefty to Randy Johnson.
Or comparing a slugger to Frank Thomas.
“Milt is one of those people that you can’t quantify his contributions,” said Bleiwas. “He is an integral part of our organization and everyone who comes into contact with him develops an instant rapport. He was a member of our 2010 regional championship team that advanced to the Connie Mack World Series in Farmington and our 2013 B.E.S.T. 18u national championship team.”
* * *
Molitor’s message to the teen-age players in the crowd started when he was a youngster.
He had six sisters and one brother and each day they’d watcher their father get up at 6 AM, walk six blocks to the bus and head to work.
“You can learn life lessons playing that last forever,” Molitor said. “As my father used to say ‘it was better to try and fail, than not to try at all.’ You should try to get better. Set goals. Have discipline.
“Take care of yourself. I didn’t do that. I had my detours. You have to pick the other guy up. If you are a pitcher don’t get down when a guy makes an error. If you guys have a lead-off triple, then a pop up and a strikeout, be the guy that picks up everyone with a base hit to drive in a run.
“If you have made a mistake own up to it. Don’t blame the sun or a teammate. Take constructive criticism.”
And then Molitor posed for pictures for over an hour.
Class of 2012
INF Tyler Johnstone
INF Pete Orr
OF Adam Stern
LHP Drew Taylor
Class of 2013
C Jamie Pogue
INF Scott Thorman
Class 0f 2014
C George Kottaras
1B Matt Logan.
RHP John Ogiltree
Coach Milt Nikkel
MVP: Brampton’s Tony Hrynkiw, who hit a two-out, two-strike, two-run home run in seventh inning against California in Game 1 of at Mickey Mantle World Series.
Pitcher of the Year: Barrie’s Cole White, top pitcher at the Mickey Mantle World Series.
Coach of the Year: Mississauga’s Sean Travers.
Alumni award (pro): Whitby’s Evan Grills, Houston Astros.
Alumni award (college): Peterborough’s Mike Reeves, Florida Gulf Coast University.
Dedication and Perseverance: Mississauga’s Ryan White, Rose State College in Oklahoma.