It’s 10 degrees here this morning, so it’s time to think about baseball. I am very excited that ex-Indian Dennis Eckersley made it into the Hall of Fame on the his first ballot: what more could he have done? maybe this will help break the prejudice against relievers, who are sadly underrepresented in the Hall:
- Closer Dennis Eckersley and designated hitter Paul Molitor were elected to Cooperstown in their first year of eligibility. Eckersley is only the third pitcher to appear mostly as a reliever to be elected. Molitor is the first Hall of Famer to have more at-bats at DH than any other position.
Molitor, who will enter the Hall as a Milwaukee Brewer, received 85.2 percent (431 of 506) of the writers’ votes. Eckersley, expected to be enshrined as an Oakland Athletic, was named by 83.2 percent.
….”I know guys like Goose, Sutter and Lee Smith, when he first came up, had to work a lot harder for saves than I did,” said Eckersley. “I hope this makes it easier for them to get in.”
Eckersley, who started his career in Cleveland in 1975, didn’t become a full-time closer until 1987 after the Chicago Cubs traded him to Oakland. Tony La Russa, the A’s manager, used him almost exclusively to get the final three outs of a game.
“Going to the bullpen was great,” said Eckersley.
“All I had to do was pitch one or two innings. I could be the kind of pitcher I was when I was 20 years old. I could challenge people and throw strikes.”
Eckersley spent his first 12 years as a starter. He threw a no-hitter for the Indians in 1977, won 20 games for Boston in 1978 and completed 100 games.
“No way I get in the Hall just as a reliever,” said Eckersley, who saved 390 games. “Being a starter is what distanced me from other relievers.” [Cleveland.com]
I am certain it is true that being a successful starter helped, but he wouldn’t have been voted in just as a starter either. Shouldn’t the vote be based upon being the best at your own position? It isn’t a pitcher’s fault if he excels at being a reliever – give credit where credit is due.
- Eckersley and Molitor faced each other many times. Molitor said the most memorable at-bat may have been the last.
It came in 1998, the final season for both players. Molitor, playing for the Twins, laid down a bases-loaded, two-out bunt in the ninth inning to beat Eckersley and Boston.
“Dennis always showed a lot of emotion on the field and he’s probably still mad at me,” said Molitor with a laugh. “He was profane with me as he left the field.”
Eckersley laughed when told of Molitor’s story.
“I’m 43 years old, they’re 25 games out of first place and he drops down a bunt,” said Eckersley. “But guess what? It worked. What Molitor is, is a little weasel.”
But a Hall of Fame weasel.
Of course, the machinations of the ever-selfish Pete Rose cast a shadow over this year’s class, but we should do our best to ignore the liar and gambler and focus our attention on the two who didn’t disgrace themselves and the game.
By the way, plenty of great players weren’t voted in: second baseman Ryne Sandberg (309 votes), outfielder Jim Rice (276), outfielder Andre Dawson (283), closers Goose Gossage (206) and Lee Smith (185) and starting pitcher Bert Blyleven (179) were the next highest vote getters – a player must receive 75 percent (379) of the vote to be elected.
Now there is something fans can do if their favorite player hasn’t been deemed worthy of the Hall:
- For as little as $5 per year, baseball-reference.com, the leading online compendium of baseball statistics, will sell you a sponsorship of one of its player Web pages (pages for superstars can cost as much as $200). In return, users can post a brief mash note above the career numbers of their favorite player in baseball history. What has emerged as a result is one of the great democratic blossomings of the Web: a collection of personal baseball testimonials. Taken together, the messages form not an online Hall of Fame but something more like a Hall of Love.
….A lawyer friend of mine has crammed a frantic Hall of Fame brief on behalf of Goose Gossage into the 255-character limit: “HOF case: (1) amazing 10-yr peak as RP: ’75-85 (excl. yr as SP in ’76), 2.06 ERA in 975 IP; (2) more dominant yrs than Sutter&L.Smith combined (check ERA+ for each!); (3) staggering longevity: almost 1600 IP in 21 RP yrs(Sutter&L.Smith total barely 2300).”
….In the Hall of Love, there is no such thing as failure, really, only thwarted success. Jose DeLeon was “[m]uch better than his W-L record indicated.” Vic Davalillo “would have been the 1963 Rookie of the Year had he not broken his arm.” Von Hayes “[n]ever received the respect he rightly deserved.”
The sponsor of Nick Esasky, an ex-Red, writes, “Anyone who mocks him as a ‘free agent bust’ doesn’t understand the seriousness of vertigo – imagine trying to hit a 95 mph fastball immediately after being spun around the teacup ride at the fair. God bless you, Nick.”
Some of the best Hall of Love messages simply speak up for the players, such as they were. Rob Deer’s citation just says “The Three True Outcomes of baseball” – a nod to Deer’s uncanny talent for producing non-team-dependent events: home runs, walks, and strikeouts.
….Perhaps the most eloquent Hall of Love entry comes from someone named Bill Elenbark. His homage to an itinerant infielder transcends one man’s career – it produces a sort of koan about the souls who batted after the cleanup hitter and before the leadoff man. “Between something and nothing,” he writes, “there was Kevin Seitzer.” [Slate]
Excellent! I love weird personal stuff like this. It emphasizes open-ended possibility: “if not for … then …” If Orel Hershiser hadn’t been mediocre every other year, if Fernando Valenzuela hadn’t been 10 years older than he said he was, if Albert Belle hadn’t been a wretched asshole with a cramped soul, etc. What it also does is remind me of how special and precious those few are who don’t disappoint, who don’t surrender to the odds, the ravages of time, or self-indulgence.
All hail Dennis and Paul (for this year)!