HALL OF FAME

Eckersley, Molitor in on 1st try


Published: Wednesday, January 7, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 6, 2004 at 11:07 p.m.
NEW YORK - Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley were elected to baseball's Hall of Fame on Tuesday in their first year of eligibility.
Molitor 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 was selected on 421 ballots (83.2 percent).
To gain election, a player must be chosen by at least 75 percent of the voters (380).
Molitor, a clutch hitter who played nearly half his games at DH, was with family and friends in Minneapolis when he got a telephone call with the good news.
"There was a huge sigh of relief on my part," Molitor said. "The room kind of erupted with some screaming and applause. It was pretty emotional. I don't think it's one of those moments you can really plan for."
Eckersley was in Boston and was overwhelmed.
"I need to regroup here. I feel like a child," he said.
Second baseman 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).
Eckersley joins Hoyt Wilhelm and Rollie Fingers as the only pitchers who were primarily relievers elected to the Hall by the BBWAA. Wilhelm got the call in 1985, Fingers in '92. Eckersley started for a decade before becoming a dominant closer.
"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."
Dawson said Molitor and Eckersley were deserving.
"Those guys had exceptional careers," the 1987 NL MVP said. "But who's to say that you can only put a couple players in a year? The ballot itself seems to be so sacred these days. I'm still waiting for someone to explain why, if you can vote for X-amount of players, that you only put a couple in every year."
Pete Rose, ineligible for the ballot because of his lifetime ban, received 15 write-in votes, three fewer than last year. 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? ... In my mind, I think it does a little bit."
Eckersley didn't care, saying: "Bad timing, but it doesn't bother me."
Molitor thought Rose's admission "has to be cleansing for him" and said that public reaction could be a factor commissioner Bud Selig weighs when deciding on Rose's application for reinstatement.
"If the outcry becomes such that they want to let bygones be bygones and show forgiveness, I think baseball may have to pay attention to that," Molitor said.
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.
With quick wrists and smarts at the plate, Molitor ranks eighth on the career list with 3,319 hits. He batted .306 with 1,782 runs and 1,307 RBIs in 21 seasons for Milwaukee (1978-92), Toronto (1993-95) and Minnesota (1996-98).
A seven-time All-Star, Molitor was the MVP of the 1993 World Series for the Blue Jays. He hit .418 in his two World Series appearances, and will begin his first season as batting coach for Seattle this year.
Molitor played every infield position, plus the outfield and designated hitter. He is the first player elected to the Hall of Fame who appeared as a DH in more games than any other position.
Eckersley is third on the career saves list with 390, trailing Smith and John Franco. Relying on pinpoint control, he was the most effective reliever in baseball from 1988-92, helping the Athletics win four division titles and one World Series.
He won the AL MVP and Cy Young Awards in 1992 with one of the greatest seasons by a reliever, going 7-1 with 51 saves and a 1.91 ERA.
But what sets Eckersley apart from other relievers is the early success he had as a starter before switching to closer.
The six-time All-Star won 20 games for Boston in 1978 and even threw a no-hitter for Cleveland in 1977. He finished with 197 wins and 1,071 appearances in a 24-year career.
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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