Eck, Molitor are flying into Hall on same plane

ON BASEBALL

Baseball

A Look Inside

July 25, 2004|By PETER SCHMUCK

When Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley are inducted into the Hall of Fame today in Cooperstown, N.Y., every kid who ever thought about playing professional baseball should take a moment and think about the meaning of perseverance.

Molitor might have ended up with 4,000 hits if he had not had to battle through a long series of injuries that cost him hundreds of games over the course of his great career. He also battled some personal demons in the late 1970s and early '80s, and admitted to using cocaine.

Eckersley overcame alcoholism and switched roles in the middle of his career to become one of the most dominant closers in the history of the game.

They would appear to have little in common as players. Molitor was the consummate hitter, quiet and professional. Eckersley was his pitching counterpoint, a fist-pumping competitor who sometimes rankled opponents with his animated behavior on the mound.

In reality, they were very much alike - two standup guys who never gave half an effort and never made excuses when they came up short.

Remember the dramatic home run that Kirk Gibson hit in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series? To the media covering that game, it was also Eckersley's finest moment. He stood at his locker and shouldered the blame for a devastating loss through wave after wave of inquiring reporters and broadcasters.

Molitor could have been forgiven for a little self-pity during those painful early years, but he never let the game be about himself. He would eventually be rewarded with a World Series ring in 1993 and went on to amass 3,319 hits to secure his place in Cooperstown.

Both are richly deserving. There shouldn't be a dry eye at the Clark Sports Complex when they make their acceptance speeches this afternoon.

Not going anywhere

Texas Rangers slugger Mark Teixeira has been mentioned in some trade rumors recently, but there is little chance that the team would entertain offers for him, especially the way he carried the offense through July.

Teixeira, who would certainly look good in the uniform of his hometown Orioles, entered today on a 29-for-71 tear in July that includes 11 home runs and 28 RBIs. The Mount St. Joseph graduate will almost certainly be the American League Player of the Month.

He got off to a slow start, largely because he was banged up during the first half, but is making up for lost time.

"I expect a lot of myself and I was disappointed early in the season, being injured and not being able to help the team," Teixeira said. "I have a lot of pent-up energy and I'm letting it go right now."

No surprise

Though the St. Louis Cardinals were pigeonholed in third place by just about everyone during the offseason, manager Tony La Russa insists that he is not surprised that his team has gone on a major roll to take the biggest lead in any of the six divisions.

"I kept saying to myself, `How bad can we be? We'll be anywhere from pretty good to really good,' " La Russa recalled. "I mean, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, Edgar Renteria, Reggie Sanders ... how bad could we be?"

There are still more than two months to go, but it will be very difficult for anyone to catch them with everyone fighting among themselves in the six-team Central. And the Chicago Cubs - the team considered to have the next best chance to win - do not have any head-to-head games left with the Cardinals.

Looking skyward

The Detroit Tigers ought to be happy just to be putting the horrible memory of last year's 43-win performance far behind them, but they don't want to stop there.

Despite a sub-.500 record, they still think that they can put a scare into the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox at the top of the AL Central. It isn't out of the realm of possibility, since they entered yesterday just eight games out of first place.

"This is the most confidence we've had since I've been here," said veteran outfielder Bobby Higginson. "We really feel we can play with anybody. This is a totally different crew. It's never been like this.

"We might have been confident in the past for a week or so when we were playing well - but not the way it is now. Not like this. We feel like we're going to win every day we go out there. This team is pretty resilient."

Bad memories

The egregious Arizona Diamondbacks are starting to look like the 2002 Orioles, who - you might recall if you aren't lucky enough to have blocked it out - lost 32 of their final 36 games.

The D'backs entered yesterday in the worst tailspin since that happy time in Baltimore, having lost 30 of 35 games to snatch worst-team-in-baseball honors away from the Montreal Expos (who, by the way, may be coming to a dilapidated downtown stadium near you).

Finley to Marlins?

Arizona outfielder Steve Finley can veto any deal because he is a "5-10" player (five years with the same team and 10 years of major league service), but the buzz at Bank One Ballpark is that he'll accept a deal to a contender and, possibly, return to the D'backs next year after becoming a free agent in November.

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