Eckersley, Molitor enter Hall today

Sunday, July 25, 2004

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor excelled in the clutch, so they should be used to the nerves by now. Then again, induction speeches at the Baseball Hall of Fame are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

"I'm getting a little bit more anxious," said Molitor, contemplating Sunday's ceremony. "There's a lot of things to handle."

"I feel like the kid that didn't study for his test until the last night," said Eckersley, a studio analyst on cable TV for Boston Red Sox home games. "I'm so uptight about this. It's going to be difficult because when you revere something like this, it's emotional, and I'm a very emotional guy. But I'm going to try to keep it together. It's amazing what a speech will do to you. I'd better get it done so I can have fun."

Getting it done was what both did during their long careers. In 24 seasons, Eckersley appeared in 1,071 games, the most of any Hall of Fame pitcher, and finished with a record of 197-171 and 390 saves.

Molitor, now a batting coach for the Seattle Mariners, played 21 seasons, including 15 with the Brewers. He joins Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb as the only players in history with 3,000 hits, 600 doubles and 500 steals. He's also the first Hall of Famer to have played over half of his games as a designated hitter.

Both Eckersley and Molitor were elected in January in their first year of eligibility. Eckersley will wear an A's cap in the Hall of Fame, while Molitor enters representing the Brewers.

Eckersley went 149-130 with a 3.71 ERA in 361 starts -- including a no-hitter -- but his claim to fame came after the Chicago Cubs dealt him to Oakland at the start of the 1987 season. At the time, his career seemed all but over.

"I remember sitting in the locker room when they came to me and said, 'We're going to trade you,'" said Eckersley, an Oakland area native. "It was the longest hour of my life. But I was going back home. It was like a fresh start."

Eckersley had made just two relief appearance since 1976, but A's manager Tony La Russa slotted him as the long man out of the bullpen anyway. An injury to Jay Howell created an opening at closer.

Under the watchful eye of pitching coach Dave Duncan, Eckersley was converted into an overpowering reliever and quickly became the game's dominant closer, expected to pitch only the ninth inning when the A's had a lead. It was a revolutionary idea at the time and transformed the position into what it is today.

"My mind-set was as a starter," Eckersley said. "I wanted to go after people. I could go back to pitch the way I did in my early 20s. I didn't have to pace myself."

More importantly, he had begun treatment for alcoholism after his sister-in-law captured one of his drunken stupors on videotape and showed it to him the next morning. Eckersley vowed to mention his battle with drinking in his induction speech.

"Accepting being an alcoholic was huge in itself," said Eckersley. "Everything else was minor compared to that."

With his shaggy black hair and distinct mustache, the fiery Eckersley relied on pinpoint control and was the most effective reliever in baseball from 1988-92, helping the A's win four division titles, three AL pennants and one World Series. He won the AL MVP and Cy Young Awards in 1992, going 7-1 with 51 saves and a 1.91 ERA.

Eckersley also is credited with coining the phrase "walkoff homer" -- and the worst night of his career included one. He allowed Kirk Gibson's famous game-winner in the opener of the 1988 World Series, which helped propel the Los Angeles Dodgers to the title in five games.

Come Sunday, even that might be forgotten.

"He had that moment, which was a wonderful moment for him," said Eckersley. "Have a nice life, Kirk, I'm in the Hall of Fame."

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