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Sunday, July 25, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Major League Baseball
By Larry Stone
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. Wherever Dennis Eckersley has gone for the past 16 years, Kirk Gibson has followed.
Until now. Eckersley has finally found the ultimate way to transcend the gimpy slugger, whose legendary home run in the 1988 World Series has always served as the stark counterpart to all the pitcher's triumphs.
"Kirk Gibson can have that moment for the rest of his life," Eckersley said. "I'm in the Hall of Fame see ya!"
Even yesterday, at Eckersley's final news briefing before he is inducted, along with Paul Molitor, into the Hall of Fame today, Gibson's homer was inevitably broached, with the questioner noting that it was voted the greatest moment in Los Angeles sports history.
"That's wonderful," Eckersley said, his voice dripping with good-natured sarcasm. "I'm thrilled."
Eckersley and Molitor shared the stage for about an hour of lively Q and A that highlighted the distinctions in their personalities. Eckersley was animated and free-wheeling, Molitor thoughtful and measured.
But both displayed genuine reverence for their new home or at least the home of their plaques, which won't be unveiled until tomorrow. Eckersley, who always took extreme care with his appearance, admitted to being curious to see his likeness.
"As long as they got my mustache down," he said with a smile.
Added Molitor, seated next to him on the stage: "I'm not too concerned about the likeness, as long as they've got the name right."
"I was expecting giant pillars," he said. "The whole town kind of grows on you. It's just warm. It's not cold. I feel comfortable in this whole setting. It's not what I expected, but I like it."
Today, both players will stand in front of an expected crowd of 15,000, seated before them on a green field, and give their speeches. Before he left Seattle, Molitor gave a hint of what to expect from him.
"My speech is going to be fairly generic, from the standpoint of no real surprises," he said. "I'm not going to interject any political views, or what I would do if I were commissioner for a day, or anything of that nature. Just kind of run through your chapters that involved your baseball journey. A lot of thank-yous."
Eckersley said his speech will focus on what he called his "magical" stint with the Oakland A's, with special tributes to manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan.
"I got sober right in the middle of all that, so I've got something to say," he said. "Hopefully, if anything, it gives some people hope about changing their life."
Both players have already begun to experience the trappings of being a Hall of Famer. This year, 50 of the 58 living members are on hand for the ceremony a record turnout and Eckersley and Molitor joined them last night for a dinner.
Asked about the challenges of resuming their lives after the inevitable letdown that will follow their induction, Eckersley said he expects today to bring closure to his baseball career.
"I've never really shut it down," he said. "On Monday, I shut it down."
Answering the same question, Molitor got off the quip of the day when he mentioned that he was back in baseball as the Mariners' hitting coach.
"I've really got them raking this year," he deadpanned.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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