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Molitor, Eckersley each elected to Hall of Fame on first ballot

Posted: Wednesday, January 07, 2004

NEW YORK In their final confrontation, Paul Molitor wanted to beat Dennis Eckersley so badly he bunted in the ninth inning to win a game that was meaningless to the Minnesota Twins.

When they see each other this summer, they'll be going into the Hall of Fame together.

The two tough competitors were chosen Tuesday in their first year of eligibility, the only players to gain election. And they thought back to that night at the Metrodome in August 1998.

''I was 43 years old,'' Eckersley recalled with a laugh. ''He dropped down a bunt and, guess what, it worked. He's a little weasel, that's what he is.''

Molitor turned 42 that night, and his single gave the Twins a 4-3 win over Boston, which was vying for the AL wild card. Eckersley had a few choice words for Molitor that night. But the two always had great respect for each other.

''He had a way of being unpredictable,'' Molitor said. ''He could throw any pitch at any time, which added to his effectiveness. Not to mention he could throw it to a teacup.''

Molitor, a patient, proficient batter, is eighth on the career list with 3,319 hits, many in clutch situations. He was picked on 431 of 506 ballots (85.2 percent) cast by reporters who have been members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America for 10 or more years.

Eckersley, among baseball's most exuberant and colorful players, was selected on 421 ballots (83.2 percent).

 

Oakland Athletics pticher relief pitcher Dennis Eckersley clenches his fist after defeating the Texas Rangers on Sept. 27, 1989. Eckersley and Paul Molitor were elected to baseball's Hall of Fame on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2004 in their first year of eligibility.

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

To gain election, a player must be chosen by at least 75 percent of the voters (380).

Ryne Sandberg was third with 309 votes, 61.1 percent, up from 49.2 last year. He was followed by Bruce Sutter (301), Jim Rice (276), Andre Dawson (253), Rich Gossage (206), Lee Smith (185) and Bert Blyleven (179).

Pete Rose, ineligible because of his lifetime ban from baseball, got 15 write-in votes, down three from last year.

Molitor, Seattle's hitting coach, became the first player elected to the Hall who spent more games at designated hitter than at any other position. He was a DH for 1,174 games (44 percent), played 791 at third, 400 at second, 197 at first, 57 at shortstop and 50 in the outfield.

Molitor was a seven-time All-Star who played from 1978-98 with Milwaukee, Toronto and Minnesota, and he was the World Series MVP with the Blue Jays in 1993. He was primarily a DH in his final six seasons.

''It certainly extended by career and allowed me to accomplish some things offensively that I might not have otherwise,'' he said.

Eckersley, 49, joins Hoyt Wilhelm and Rollie Fingers as the only pitchers who were primarily relievers elected to the Hall by the BBWAA. The six-time All-Star went 149-130 with a 3.71 in 361 starts, winning 20 games for Boston in 1978 and throwing a no-hitter for Cleveland against the Angels in 1977.

He was converted to a reliever when he moved from the Chicago Cubs to Oakland after the 1987 season, when he underwent treatment for alcoholism. He quickly became the game's dominant closer.

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

''I had the ultimate walk off in the World Series, a lot of pain in those walking offs,'' Eckersley said.

He was the American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner in 1992, when he was 7-1 with 51 saves and a 1.91 ERA.

Eckersley was a big reason Oakland won three AL pennants and one World Series from 1988-90. In 1989 and 1990, he had seven walks and 128 strikeouts in 131 innings.

''I could do no wrong. It was like walking on water at one point,'' he said.

In all, Eckersley went 197-171 in 24 seasons with 390 saves, third behind Lee Smith (478) and John Franco (424).

''There's no way I would have gotten into the Hall just strictly as a reliever,'' he said. ''Being a starter had to have something to do with distancing me from some of the other relievers.''

Molitor, 47, hopes the Hall decided he should go in with a Brewers cap. Eckersley, who played for six teams, wouldn't say which team he preferred for the cap on his plaque, but he added, ''I liked playing for the Oakland A's.''

''As long as my mustache looks good, it's OK,'' he said.

Rose, who admits in his soon-to-be-released autobiography that he bet on the Cincinnati Reds while managing them, must be reinstated by December 2005 to appear on the BBWAA ballot. In the 13 seasons he has been ineligible because of the ban, he has been written in on 230 of 6,171 ballots (3.7 percent).

''I am a little disappointed in the timing of it,'' Molitor said, referring to Rose's book. ''Does it take away from the current class and what the Hall is trying to do? In my mind, it does a little.''

Eckersley didn't care, saying: ''Bad timing, but it doesn't bother me.''

Fifteen players will be dropped from next year's ballot because they failed to draw at least 5 percent of the votes. That group includes first baseman Keith Hernandez (22 votes), who was on the ballot for nine years, and pitcher Fernando Valenzuela (19), who was on for two.

Five-time AL batting champion Wade Boggs is eligible for the first time next year.

Molitor and Eckersley will increase the Hall of Fame's members to 258. The BBWAA has elected 100 players, including 40 in their first year of eligibility. Induction ceremonies are July 25 in Cooperstown, the small village in upstate New York.



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