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Caple: Listen up, Pete!

Caple: Molitor's, Eck's versatility

Caple: Eckersley's homer connection

Sunday, July 25
Updated: October 19, 3:54 PM ET
Teary Eckersley overcome on podium
Associated Press

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Dennis Eckersley knew the tears would flow -- and it didn't matter a bit.

"I practiced it and I cried every time," Eckersley said after he and Paul Molitor were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. "I knew I had no chance going in."

Though Eckersley had to pause several times to regain his composure during his emotional speech, the longest delay came when he talked about being a recovering alcoholic for 17 years.

"I was spiraling out of control personally. I knew I had come to a crossroads in my life. With the grace of God, I got sober and I saved my life," Eckersley said as the crowd applauded loudly. "I was a new man, a renewed man. It took a great deal of acceptance to come to terms with being an alcoholic, but acceptance was the key to my sobriety. If I had not gained acceptance at that time in my life, I would not be standing here today. My career would not have taken me this far."

Even Molitor, who spoke first, wiped his eyes as Eckersley spoke.

"It definitely hit me," said Molitor, whose sweet swing produced 3,319 hits in his 21-year career with Milwaukee, Toronto and Minnesota. "I was emotionally taken to tears. Part of it is knowing Dennis and knowing his heart is in it. Part of it rings a bell to things that you go through on your own. I know that there are battles out there that can be won, but they take their toll."

Flanked by a record 50 returning Hall of Famers, cheered by hundreds of fans, and often staring at his parents as he spoke, Eckersley somehow completed his speech.

"It was brutal. I've never been through something like this," said Eckersley, who was elected on the first ballot in January with Molitor. "I'd rather pitch. It's overwhelming."

More overwhelming than Eckersley was on the mound. In 24 seasons with five teams, he appeared in 1,071 games, the most of any Hall of Fame pitcher, and finished with a record of 197-171 and 390 saves.

Eckersley grew up in the Oakland area and his parents were always near when he was playing ball. His father, Wallace, would leave work early to watch him play, coached Little League and even dragged the infield before and after games in his Ford Ranchero while mom, Bernice, worked the snack bar.

They were there on Sunday, even though dad is confined to a wheelchair and breathes with the help of an oxygen tank because of emphysema.

"My parents were there for me, and they're here for me now," Eckersley said. "My dad struggled to get here today, and both of us knew nothing could have stood in the way of us sharing this moment together.

"I've had the emotion of pitching poorly bring me to tears, but nothing that could match the emotions of talking about loving people and the people that care about you that had their fingers crossed for 25 years."

Eckersley, who broke in with Cleveland in 1975, began his career anew after the Chicago Cubs dealt him to Oakland at the start of the 1987 season -- when his baseball life seemed all but over because of the drinking problem.

Under the guidance of manager Tony La Russa and bullpen coach Dave Duncan, Eckersley was converted from a starter 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, transformed the position into what it is today, and became his ticket to Cooperstown.

"They created a platform for me to pitch another 12 years," Eckersley said. "Those years to me were like magic."

Molitor provided the perfect example of just how otherworldly the day can be for inductees. Before Molitor took the podium to speak, Commissioner Bud Selig read the inscription on Molitor's plaque. He might as well have be reading "Gone With The Wind."

"I wasn't hearing a lot of it," Molitor said. "That's kind of the peak of the adrenaline. I'll have to go through it again. It's kind of a blur."

Molitor, only the third player in major league history with at least 3,000 hits, 600 doubles and 500 stolen bases, appeared calm at the outset. He didn't anticipate the emotion that repeatedly tinged his voice as he spoke.

"The emotional aspect of it I wasn't sure was going to unfold," said Molitor, who didn't know his daughter Blaire would attend until Saturday night. "Going through it as many times as I did and kind of getting some of the emotion out, at times when you're by yourself you realize that it's kind of hitting you. It kind of helps you when you actually have to get up there."

Molitor's mother died in 1988 and his father died of cancer two years ago, but dad knew this day would come.

"He had told his doctors that they'd better get him healthy because he had a date in Cooperstown," Molitor said. "I know how much he wanted to be here."

Also inducted were longtime A's and Giants broadcaster Lon Simmons, who won the Ford C. Frick Award for major contributions to baseball broadcasting. The New York Times' Murray Chass gained entrance as the J.G. Taylor Spink Award recipient for meritorious contributions to baseball writing.