Eck, Molitor are flying into Hall on same plane

THE BALTIMORE SUN

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.

That's known around here as the Sidney Syndrome.

Finley is believed to be coveted by the Florida Marlins, but the Philadelphia Phillies and Rangers also apparently have expressed interest in acquiring him.

Bullpen experiment

The Cubs aren't happy with the inconsistency of closer LaTroy Hawkins, and they aren't hiding their desire to find an alternative if he doesn't become more efficient late in the season.

Hawkins is averaging three saves out of every four save opportunities, a percentage that ranks him third-worst in the league. The Cubs probably won't try to trade for a replacement, but they are considering the possibility of using rehabbing starter Ryan Dempster in the role.

Dempster, who is trying to come back from Tommy John surgery, is being moved to the bullpen at Triple-A Iowa. He'll likely start out in middle relief when he returns to the major leagues in August, but general manager Jim Hendry said that an eventual shot at the closer job is not out of the question.

"I'm kind of curious to see what we have in Dempster," Hendry said. "I don't think you'd put him right into it, but he has guts, he throws 95 [mph] and he has a pretty good slider. It's worth an experiment. I wouldn't say on Sept. 1 he couldn't be [the closer]."

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

The right prescription

THEATER OF THE ABSURD

Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was willing to try anything to snap his team out of its midseason offensive slump, even a new performance-enhancing drug.

He walked into the dugout during a scoreless game last weekend with a bottle of capsules and offered them around to the players.

"I walked through the dugout and said, 'Come on boys, check 'em out, RBI pills!' " Gardenhire said. "True story."

The real-looking pharmaceutical bottle was a gag, of course, but the Twins took the cure anyway, scoring four runs in the inning on the way to a 4-1 victory over the Royals.

TEAM RANKINGS

1. Yankees (1)

Should be put alone in own division because they don't play well with others.

2. Cardinals (2)

Looking for right-handed middle relief. Just tinkering at this point.

3. Dodgers (3)

Determined to be perfect again after one bad outing, Eric Gagne won't even blow a bubble.

4. Rangers (4)

Shaky rotation loses No. 3 starter Ricardo Rodriguez to broken elbow.

5. Padres (11)

Twelve-game stretch vs. Giants and Dodgers could determine their fate.

6. Twins (9)

On a dare, Matt LeCroy eats live bug in clubhouse for $550. Rest of team trying not to choke in AL Central.

7. Red Sox (5)

Division hopes fluttering like a Tim Wakefield knuckler.

8. Giants (6)

Can't decide where to sit in standings.

9. White Sox (7)

Carl Everett makes his yearly return to bolster lineup.

10. Phillies (8)

Need a starter, center fielder and relief help. And bottle of antacids for Larry Bowa.

11. Braves (12)

Want to give Bobby Cox one last chance to lose a World Series.

12. Cubs (10)

Trying to fool hitters looking for fastballs, Carlos Zambrano and LaTroy Hawkins throw tantrums.

13. Athletics (13)

Just wondering how Barry Zito would look in black and orange.

14. Angels (14)

Mickey Hatcher might be first hitting coach to miss a road trip with a sore groin.

15. Reds (15)

Still flirting with wild card, vow not to be sellers at trade deadline.

16. Marlins (16)

They can still run, but can't stop opponents from doing the same.

17. Mets (19)

Mike Piazza sprains wrist playing first base. Needs to find a safer position, like catcher.

18. Indians (22)

Travis Hafner cranks out five homers and 11 RBIs in two games.

19. Brewers (17)

Starting to go flat.

20. Astros (18)

Andy Pettitte, Jeff Bagwell and Brad Ausmus only players with guaranteed contracts in 2005.

21. Tigers (20)

Unveil 2005 All-Star Game logo. It's Jason Johnson complaining about no run support.

22. Devil Rays (21)

Cinderella season could be ending. Don Zimmer just turned into a pumpkin. Then again, who could tell?

23. Orioles (26)

Karim Garcia gives Orioles power-hitting outfielder and bouncer for bullpen.

24. Pirates (24)

Want a major league-ready player and top prospect for Kris Benson, eliminating themselves from consideration.

25. Blue Jays (23)

Happy in Toronto, Carlos Delgado won't waive no-trade clause. Last seen giving himself a paper cut.

26. Rockies (25)

Could move Larry Walker, Preston Wilson and Charles Johnson if another team willing to add $1 billion in payroll.

27. Mariners (27)

Five members of roster never played in majors. Rest of team wondering when they should start.

28. Royals (28)

This team is so bad it made Dick Vermeil cry.

29. Expos (30)

Called a players-only meeting before recent game. Half the club is excused.

30. Diamondbacks (29)

We don't want to say they've quit, but one guy pitched in his street clothes.

- Roch Kubatko

(Last week's ranking in parentheses)

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