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Dennis Eckersley's player card
Paul Molitor's player card
Caple: Eckersley's homer connection
Baseball Hall of Fame members
Saturday, July 24
Updated: July 26, 2:09 AM ET
Hall highlights Molitor's, Eck's hybrid careers
By Jim Caple
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley combined for 12 .300 seasons, 3,343 hits (including 24 by Eck), 1,791 runs (seven by Eck), 504 stolen bases, 390 saves, 190 wins, a 20-win season, a 39-game hitting streak, one no-hitter, 13 All-Star selections,10 postseason appearances and two World Series championships.
And now comes the hardest, most demanding, most pressure-filled requirement of their long roads to Cooperstown. Delivering the acceptance speech.
"All you hear from the Hall of Famers is, 'Don't be so long with your speech.' What's up with that?'' said Eckersley. "And then you hear them say, 'Oh, it's going be better next year.' "
"Yeah, most Hall of Famers tell you to keep it short,'' Molitor said. "But a few came up to me later and said, 'Don't worry about that. This is your day. It's your chance to do what you want.' "
Eckersley, always spontaneous, compared his speechwriting process to a kid who waits until the last night to study for a test. Molitor, always methodical and meticulous as a player, finished his speech two weeks ago, writing multiple drafts, repeating and timing it every day in the past week. He's been offered videotapes of past induction speeches and even given advice on what to wear. "I'm going to wear a black suit even though it will probably be a hot day. They say it's wise because of the perspiration factor."
Molitor promises a simple "vanilla" speech, long on thank you, short on controversy. (There will be no fog machines.)
There are so many people for each to thank, though. The parents who took them to practice day after day, summer after summer (Molitor's voice cracked just talking about how he'll choke up when he talks about his deceased father and mother). The coaches who worked with them and encouraged them ("Tony Muser asked me whether I was content to be a .300 hitter," Molitor said. "That was a turning point. He challenged me to be better than I thought I was."). The family and friends who were there when they were struggling with alcohol and drugs.
And then there are the managers who put them into new roles, making the switches that were crucial to their Hall of Fame credentials. Molitor was a superb position player the first half of his career before finishing up as a DH. Eckersley was a top starter before becoming the game's dominant closer.
The switches were crucial for both. Would Molitor have reached here had it not been for the designated hitter rule? Would Eckersley have a plaque had he not been able to spend half his career pitching little more than one inning at a time?
It's important to remember that Molitor didn't become a DH because he was a poor fielder – he made the All-Star team at third base, second base and first base – but because it allowed him to stay healthy.
"The DH helped my career, naturally," Molitor said. "I was a player who had trouble staying in the lineup on a regular basis playing defensive baseball. I fought the DH originally because I still enjoyed defensive baseball, but I saw the logic behind it. Over time, it proved to be a wise move because it enabled me to play into my early 40s."
Molitor wasn't the stereotypical DH though, the lumbering slugger who could hit home runs and little else. Speed was always a part of his game and he always did the little things that made a difference. Even at age 42, he laid down a bunt on Eckersley (who was 43).
"I was with the Twins and the game didn't mean much because we were probably 20 games out," Molitor said. "But it was a way I saw to win a game by dropping a bunt down. He was 43 and I was 42. I still was trying to find ways to win."
Eckersley had won 151 games as a starter but was 32 years old in 1987 when Oakland moved him out of the rotation and into the bullpen. The shift allowed him to pitch another dozen seasons and win a Cy Young and MVP award.
"[As a starter] I was so aggressive and I wanted to go after people, but I had to change the longer that I started, because I couldn't just go after people, I had so many left-handed batters to face," Eckersley said. "I didn't really have to change a whole lot [as a closer] -- it was kind of nice, I could go back to how I pitched in my early 20s, because I didn't have to pace myself, so it really wasn't a big adjustment."
Would either be here had it not been for their mid-career switches? To look at a different way, would either be here had it not been for their first roles on the field?
"I'm not in here because I saved 390 games," Eckersley said. "I'm in here because of both careers I had."
Eckersley, clearly overwhelmed by this weekend, says "This is like a birth." When Molitor was shown where his plaque will hang, he said "it was like picking out your funeral plot. Like looking at your final resting place."
A second birth or a final reward, the inductions are much deserved. Molitor and Eckersley will deliver their speeches this weekend not because of the positions they played and the roles they filled, but because of how superbly they played no matter what they were asked to do on the field. Position player or DH, starter or closer, they both earned their place in posterity.
"It's a big day," Molitor said, "but hopefully it's not a thing where you're being judged by the delivery of your speech."
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.