Note: April 10, 2023 will mark the 50th anniversary of the first game at Royals/Kauffman Stadium. Each week, I will look at one memorable moment in stadium history, with the top moment revealed on April 10, 2023. Missed an entry? You can find past ones here.
There was little reason to visit Kauffman Stadium on a Monday night in September 1996. The Royals, at 69-80, were playing out the string. Their opponent, the Minnesota Twins, were not faring much better, with a 74-75 mark. Accordingly, an announced crowd of 16,843 that appeared much smaller made its way through the turnstiles.
But there was a chance they could see history. The Twins’ Paul Molitor, a St. Paul native, needed just two hits to reach the 3,000 plateau. Minnesota had just ended a nine-game homestand and was starting a 10-game road trip, so it was unlikely he would be held out for a chance to reach the mark at home. Indeed, there he was in the starting lineup, batting third, fitting for a man with a .342 average for the season (and he had just turned 40 a few weeks earlier!).
By this point, Molitor had accomplished pretty much everything a major leaguer could want: All-Star appearances, a World Series ring and World Series MVP award in 1993, three Silver Slugger awards (with a fourth to come following this 1996 season), a 39-game hitting streak in 1987. But he had one more milestone to reach.
One of the bright spots of the 1996 season for the Royals was Jose Rosado, who had performed quite well since joining the rotation in mid-July. The rookie lefthander entered this start with a 6-5 mark and 2.67 ERA. And he dispatched the first two Minnesota hitters with strikeouts. But Molitor punched a single to right field for hit 2,999. After a wild pitch, Marty Cordova singled and the Twins had a 1-0 lead.
By the time Molitor came to bat again, Minnesota had pushed the lead to 3-0 on a Pat Meares home run. Rosado was clearly not at his sharpest, but got Molitor on a fly ball to start the third inning.
Molitor’s next at-bat came in the fifth, with one out and no one on. Rosado threw a letter-high fastball, and Molitor lofted a fly ball to right field. Frankly, it should have been caught. Center fielder Rod Myers and right fielder Jon Nunnally converged, but even the small crowd made enough noise to hamper communications. The ball dropped between them and made its way to the fence. Molitor flew around second and slid into third, although there was no need, as no relay throw was made. Molitor’s teammates, and even his normally reserved manager, Tom Kelly, mobbed him while the crowd gave him a standing ovation. It was the first time a member of the 3,000 hit club had reached the milestone with a triple.
“The only time I looked away from the ball was when I looked down to make sure I’d touched first base. Then I saw the center fielder was a little indecisive and saw it drop, and then your instincts just kick in. You smell a triple. I thought there would be a relay, but maybe they just tucked the ball in their pocket. I’ve had crisper hits, but it was placed pretty well.”–Molitor, quoted by Jeffrey Flanagan, The Kansas City Star, September 17, 1996
“That was me, man, all the way. It was just so loud. I was going for it, trying to be aggressive. I didn’t see Nun. I tried to catch it, and it fell in.”–Myers, quoted by LaVelle E. Neal III, The Kansas City Star, September 17, 1996
“The center fielder makes the call. I have got to move. He didn’t realize I was that close, and it scared him.”–Nunnally, quoted by LaVelle E. Neal III, The Kansas City Star, September 17, 1996
The game was halted for a few minutes for the celebration. The Royals shot off fireworks and played a video of some of Molitor’s career highlights, including his 2,000th hit, which also came against Kansas City, although that was in County Stadium in Milwaukee. Molitor lofted his batting helmet in appreciation of the crowd.
“The fans here were very special. When you do something like this on the road.. sometimes certain things can cross the boundaries of teams and baseball.”—-Molitor, quoted by Jeffrey Flanagan, The Kansas City Star, September 17, 1996
“The Royals put on a really classy presentation that didn’t hold up the game, and he wouldn’t have wanted that. It was a classy thing to do in someone else’s ballpark.”–Kelly, quoted by the Associated Press, September 17, 1996
Molitor’s historic moment was witnessed by two other baseball legends who had reached the 3,000 hit mark: George Brett and Molitor’s longtime Brewers teammate Robin Yount. The two (at the time) future Hall of Famers congratulated Molitor in the locker room after the game.
“It was so much fun to watch this. I really wanted him to do this tonight. It was fun to actually sit back and enjoy something like this as opposed to having the pressure of doing it.”–Brett, , quoted by Jeffrey Flanagan, The Kansas City Star, September 17, 1996
“To be here and watch this will be etched in my memory for the rest of my life. I don’t remember all my birthdays, but I will remember this day for a long time. I don’t want to forget it.–Yount, quoted by Jeffrey Flanagan, The Kansas City Star, September 17, 1996
Once the game resumed, Rosado recovered nicely, stranding Molitor at third. The Royals, held to two singles and a walk through five innings by Minnesota starter Brad Radke, exploded for five runs in the sixth for a 5-3 lead, then tacked on a run in the sixth.
Molitor would collect one more hit on the night, a single off Bob Scanlan in the seventh. The Twins rallied for two runs in the ninth against Jaime Bluma, with Molitor hitting a sacrifice fly to pull Minnesota within a run at 6-5, but Bluma struck out Cordova to end the game.
To date, Molitor is still the only one of the 33 players to collect 3,000 hits to reach the milestone in Kansas City (of course, Brett got there in Anaheim).