NEW YORK -- Near the end of their careers, Paul Molitor and
Dennis Eckersley were linked by a bunt. This summer, they'll be
connected by an induction.
The two tough competitors were elected to baseball's Hall of
Fame on 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, when Molitor bunted in the ninth
inning to drive in the winning run in a game that was meaningless
for the Minnesota Twins.
"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
Eckersley, among baseball's most exuberant and colorful players,
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).
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
"It certainly extended my 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 `90, 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, will go in with a Brewers and Eckersley with an
Athletics cap, Hall president Dale Petroskey said Wednesday.
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).
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.