Tue, Jul 27, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Great Hall accepts Eckersley, Molitor

PRO BASEBALL In 24 seasons, Dennis Eckersley appeared in 1,071 games, the most of any Hall of Fame pitcher. Paul Molitor accumulated 3,319 hits in his 21-year career

AP , COOPERSTOWN, NEW YORKAP, TORONTOAP, PHILADELPHIA

National Baseball Hall of Fame inductees Paul Molitor, left, and Dennis Eckersley after receiving their plaques at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York, Sunday.

PHOTO: EPA

Flanked by 50 Hall of Famers, cheered by hundreds of fans, and staring out at his parents, Dennis Eckersley repeatedly fought back tears on Sunday and managed to complete his induction speech into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The cocky right-hander with the mustache and shaggy hair was humbled as never before.

"It was brutal. I've never been through something like this. I can't explain it," said Eckersley, who was elected on the first ballot in January with former Milwaukee Brewers star Paul Molitor. "I've been nervous before, but you just don't know how it's going to come off. I'd rather pitch. It's overwhelming."

Even more overwhelming was Eckersley 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.

The sweet-swinging Molitor accumulated 3,319 hits in his 21-year career with Milwaukee, Toronto and Minnesota.

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."

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 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. But without seeking help for his alcoholism prior to that season, Eckersley wouldn't have attained the highest honor in the sport.

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.

Carlos Delgado hit a three-run homer to become the first Toronto player to drive in 1,000 runs, and David Bush got his first major league win as the Blue Jays beat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 5-3 Sunday.

Toronto completed a three-game sweep of the Devil Rays, who have lost six straight overall and nine in a row on the road. Since moving a season-high two games over .500 on July 3, Tampa Bay has gone 5-15.

"Today is today. Whatever happens at the end of the year we'll deal with that later," said Delgado, who is in the last year of a US$68 million, four-year contract. "Right now, it was a good day. We won the game, and I got to 1,000 RBI, which is great."

Bush (1-1) allowed three runs -- one earned -- and eight hits in 7 1-3 innings. In his previous start against Oakland last Tuesday, Bush took a no-hit bid into the eighth inning. Aubrey Huff ended Bush's 17-inning scoreless streak by homering in the sixth.

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