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ECKCELLENT

Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley were elected to the Hall of Fame this afternoon. Now that Eckersley–most famous as world-class closer for the Oakland A’s–has reached Cooperstown, perhaps the voters will begin to look more kindly on relief pitchers. Still, Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage, arguably the two most significant relievers of the free agency era, did not make the cut once again.

Eckersley, a demonstrative and volatile performer, has been a nervous wreck of late as he waited to hear if he made it into the Hall. In a report that was published yesterday, he said:

“It’s killing me is what it’s doing…It’s murdering me. Tell me already, so I can deal with it if I don’t. I feel like a little kid, where you’re dangling something in front of me. I can’t even sleep. I’m like a yo-yo.”

Eckersley is as entertaining off the field as he was on it. Terry Pluto covered the swinging salad days of Eck’s career in “The Curse of Rocky Colavito,” while Mike Bryan had an excellent chapter on Eckersley in his book, “Baseball Lives.” Here is an excerpt from Bryan’s book:

People say baseball players should go out and have fun. No way. To me, baseball is pressure. I always feel it. This is work. The fun is afterwards, when you shake hands.

When I was a rookie I’d tear stuff up. Now I keep it in. What good is smashing a light on the way up the tunnel? But I still can’t sleep at night if I stink. I’ve always tried to change that and act like a normal guy when I got home. “Hi, honey, what’s happening?” I can’t. It’s there. It doesn’t go away. But maybe that’s why I’ve been successful in my career, because I care. I don’t have fun. I pitch scared. That’s what makes me go. Nothing wrong with being scared if you can channel it.

I used to hide behind my cockiness. Don’t let the other team know you’re scared. I got crazy on the mound. Strike a guy out, throw my fist around—”Yeah!” Not real classy, but I was a raw kid. I didn’t care. It wasn’t fake. It was me. This wasn’t taken very kindly by a lot of people. They couldn’t wait to light me up. That’s the price you pay.

I wish I was a little happier in this game. What is so great about this shit? You get the money, and then you’re used to the money. You start making half a million a year, next thing you know you need half a million a year. And the heat is on!

Used to be neat to just be a big-league ballplayer, but that wore off. I’m still proud, but I don’t want people to bother me about it. I wish my personality with people was better. I find myself becoming short with people. Going to the store. Getting gas.

If you’re not happy with when you’re doing lousy, then not happy when you’re doing well, when the hell are you going to be happy? This game will humble you in a heartbeat. Soon as you starting getting happy, “Boom.” For the fans—and this is just a guess—they think the money takes out the feeling. I may be wrong but I think they think, “What the hell is he worrying about? He’s still getting’ paid.” There may be a few players who don’t give 100 percent, but I always thought if you were good enough to make that kind of money, you’d have enough pride to play like that, wouldn’t you think? You don’t just turn it on or off.

Eckersley is a good talker. But he’s not as slick as the media-friendly David Cone; he is much closer to Pat Jordan: a straight-shootin’ sombitch. I admire him for his vulnerability and honesty. Bryan’s interview with Eck was conducted during spring training in 1988, with his his greatest years as a relief pitcher ahead of him. But Eckersley was candid about how he felt about life after baseball:

I’ve been very fortunate to pitch for fourteen years in the big leagues. That’s a long time for a pitcher. I’m afraid of life after baseball. Petrified. I’m not ashamed of saying it. I’ll be all right, but nothing will ever compare with this. I will not stay in baseball. I think about commercial real estate and money, big money!

Or maybe I’ll grow up after I get ouf of this fuckin’ game.

Funny that we should be talking about grown-ups with Pete Rose clouding the baseball landscape, but both Mr. Molitor and Mr. Eck are all grown up now, and where they belong: in Cooperstown. Here’s hoping that Blyelven, Ryno, Sutter and the Goose join them soon.

Categories:  Baseball  Bronx Banter  Games We Play  Hall of Fame

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