Eckersley at the 2008 All-Star Game Red Carpet Parade
October 3, 1954 |
|April 12, 1975, for the Cleveland Indians|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 26, 1998, for the Boston Red Sox|
|Earned run average||3.50|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Member of the National|
|Baseball Hall of Fame|
|Vote||83.2% (first ballot)|
Dennis Lee Eckersley (born October 3, 1954), nicknamed "Eck", is an American former professional baseball pitcher. Between 1975 and 1998, he pitched in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Oakland Athletics, and St. Louis Cardinals. Eckersley had success as a starter, but gained his greatest fame as a closer, becoming the first of two pitchers in MLB history to have both a 20-win season and a 50-save season in a career.
Eckersley was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004, his first year of eligibility. He is the pitcher who gave up a dramatic walk-off home run (a phrase Eckersley coined) to the injured Kirk Gibson in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. He works with New England Sports Network (NESN) as a part-time color commentator for Red Sox broadcasts, and is also a game analyst for Turner Sports for their Sunday MLB Games and MLB Post Season coverage on TBS.
Eckersley grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, rooting for both the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics. Two of his boyhood heroes were the Giants' Willie Mays and Juan Marichal, and he later adopted Marichal's high leg kick pitching delivery. He was a quarterback at Washington High School in Fremont, California until his senior year, when he gave up football to protect his throwing arm from injury. He won 29 games as a pitcher at Washington, throwing a 90 miles per hour (140 km/h) fastball and a screwball.
The Cleveland Indians selected Eckersley in the third round of the 1972 MLB draft; he was disappointed that he was not drafted by the Giants. He made his MLB debut on April 12, 1975. He was the American League Rookie Pitcher of the Year in 1975, compiling a 13–7 win-loss record and 2.60 Earned run average (ERA). His unstyled, long hair, moustache, and live fastball made him an instant and identifiable fan favorite. Eckersley pitched reliably over three seasons with the Indians.
He threw a no-hitter on May 30, 1977 against the California Angels. Two batters reached base in the game, one on a walk in the first inning and the other on a third strike that was a wild pitch. He earned his first All-Star Game selection that year and finished the season with a 14-13 win-loss record.
Boston Red Sox
The Indians traded Eckersley and Fred Kendall to the Boston Red Sox for Rick Wise, Mike Paxton, Bo Díaz, and Ted Cox on March 30, 1978. Over the next two seasons, Eckersley won a career-high 20 games in 1978 and 17 games in 1979, with a 2.99 ERA in each year. However, during the remainder of his tenure with Boston, from 1980 to 1984, Eckersley pitched poorly. His fastball had lost some steam, as demonstrated by his 43–48 record with Boston. He later developed a great slider.
On May 25, 1984, the Red Sox traded Eckersley with Mike Brumley to the Chicago Cubs for Bill Buckner, one of several mid-season deals that helped the Cubs to their first postseason appearance since 1945. Eckersley performed poorly in his sole start for the Cubs in their NL Championship Series with the San Diego Padres.
Eckersley remained with the Cubs in 1985, when he posted an 11–7 record with two shutouts (the last two of his career). Eckersley's performance deteriorated in 1986, when he posted a 6–11 record with a 4.57 ERA. After the season, he checked himself into a rehabilitation clinic to treat alcoholism. Eckersley noted in Pluto's book that he realized the problem he had after family members videotaped him while drunk and played the tape back for him the next day. During his Hall of Fame speech he recalled that time in his life, saying "I was spiraling out of control personally. I knew I had come to a crossroads in my life. With the grace of God, I got sober and I saved my life."
Eckersley was traded again on April 3, 1987 to the Oakland Athletics, where manager Tony La Russa intended to use him as a set-up pitcher or long reliever. Indeed, Eckersley started two games with the A's before an injury to then-closer Jay Howell opened the door for Eckersley to move into the closer's role. He saved 16 games in 1987 and then established himself as a dominant closer in 1988 by recording a league-leading 45 saves. He recorded saves in all four games as the A's swept the Red Sox in the 1988 ALCS (which was matched by Greg Holland in the 2014 ALCS), but he found himself on the wrong end of Kirk Gibson's 1988 World Series home run (Eckersley himself first coined the phrase "walk-off home run" to describe that moment) as the A's lost to the Dodgers in 5 games.
In the 1989 World Series he secured the victory in Game Two, and then earned the save in the final game of the Series, as the A's swept the San Francisco Giants in four games.
Eckersley was the most dominant closer in the game from 1988 to 1992, finishing first in the A.L. in saves twice, second two other times, and third once. He saved 220 games during the five years and never posted an ERA higher than 2.96. He gave up five earned runs in the entire 1990 season, resulting in a microscopic 0.61 ERA. Eckersley's control, which had always been above average even when he was not otherwise pitching well, became his trademark; he walked only three batters in 57.2 innings in 1989, four batters in 73.1 innings in 1990, and nine batters in 76 innings in 1991. In his 1990 season, Eckersley became the first relief pitcher in baseball history to have more saves than baserunners allowed (48 SV, 41 H, 4 BB, 0 HBP). In a statistical anomaly, he had exactly the same WHIP and ERA: both were 0.613636363636363636364.
He was the American League's Cy Young Award winner and the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1992, a season in which he posted 51 saves. Only two relievers had previously accomplished the double feat: Rollie Fingers in 1981 and Willie Hernández in 1984. Since Eckersley, one other reliever, Éric Gagné, has won Cy Young honors (Gagné won the National League award in 2003 with the Los Angeles Dodgers). In the 1992 American League Championship Series against the Toronto Blue Jays, during Game 4 in what some considered the turning point in the series that the Jays won, Eckersley gave up a game-tying 2-run home run from Roberto Alomar and his team eventually lost 7-6 in 11 innings.
Eckersley's numbers slipped noticeably following 1992: although he still was among the league leaders in saves, his ERA climbed sharply, and his number of saves never climbed above 36.
After the 1994 season, the Athletics elected not to exercise a $4,000,000 option on Eckersley, making him a free agent. The team indicated that it would be interested in signing him at a lower salary. Oakland signed him to a one-year contract in early April 1995. His contract was the first MLB deal after a three-month signing ban resulting from a labor dispute between owners and the players union.
Final playing years
When La Russa left the Athletics after the 1995 season to become the St. Louis Cardinals' new manager, he arranged to bring Eckersley along with him.[clarification needed] Eckersley continued in his role as closer and remained one of the league's best, but following the 1997 season, he signed on with the Red Sox for one final season.
Eckersley announced his retirement in December 1998. He commented on his career, saying, "I had a good run. I had some magic that was with me for a long time, so I know that I was real lucky to not have my arm fall off for one thing, and to make it this long physically is tough enough. But to me it's like you're being rescued too when your career's over. It's like, 'Whew, the pressure's off."
He retired with a career 197-171 win-loss record, a 3.50 ERA and 390 saves. Eckersley's career saves total ranks seventh on the all-time list as of early 2017. Eckersley had appeared in more games (1,071) than any pitcher in MLB history, though he ranks fifth all-time as of early 2017.
Eckersley's unusual delivery utilized a high leg kick along with a long, pronounced sidearm throwing motion. He had pinpoint accuracy, and fellow Hall of Famer Goose Gossage said of him, "He could hit a gnat in the butt with a pitch if he wanted to." He was aggressive and animated on the mound, and he was known for his intimidating stare and pumping his fist after a strikeout. As a starter he was able to throw four pitches for strikes, but as a reliever he narrowed his repertoire to two pitches; a sinker and a backdoor slider.
|Dennis Eckersley's number 43 was retired by the Oakland Athletics in 2005.|
In 1999, he ranked Number 98 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players. He was named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. On January 6, 2004, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, with 83.2% of the votes. On August 13, 2005, Eckersley's uniform number (43) was officially retired by the Oakland Athletics. The baseball field at his alma mater, Washington High School, has been named in his honor.
Eckersley has worked both as a studio analyst and color commentator for the Boston Red Sox on NESN since 2003. "Eck" is known for his easy going manner and his own baseball vernacular which has caused members of Red Sox Nation to attempt to keep up with "The Ecktionary", a defining list of his on air sayings.
In 2017, Eckersley was took some criticism and was confronted by pitcher David Price over comments made on air about a minor league rehab start for pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez. Price was reportedly spoken to by the team's management but he never issued an apology to the Hall of Fame reliever.
In the spring of 2009, when regular NESN commentator Jerry Remy took time off for health reasons, Eckersley filled in for him, providing color commentary alongside play-by-play announcer Don Orsillo. Since then, Eckersley has been the primary substitute for Remy when he is unavailable, including filling in for the final two months of the 2013 season, when Remy took extended time off due to the murder indictment of his son, Jared. Eckersley has continued to work with Orsillo's successor, Dave O'Brien, for various Red Sox games in 2016 and 2017 as Remy has decreased his on air schedule, mostly due to health reasons.
He has also worked with TBS as a studio analyst from 2008 to 2012. In 2013 Eck moved to the booth with TBS calling Sunday games for the network in season and also providing post season analysis from the booth where in the 2017 post season he was teamed up with Brian Anderson, Joe Simpson and Lauren Shehadi.
Eckersley married his first wife Denise in 1973 they had a daughter Mandee Eckersley, Denise left him for Rick Manning, his then-Cleveland Indians teammate, in 1978; the affair precipitated Eckersley's trade to the Red Sox that year. Two years later, Eckersley married model Nancy O'Neil. They had two children together, daughters Allie and a son Jake Eckersley. They divorced shortly after his retirement from baseball. His third wife, Jennifer, is a former lobbyist and manages Eckersley's business and charitable affairs.
In 1989, Eckersley's brother, Wally "Glenn" Eckersley, was convicted of attempted murder and kidnapping, and sentenced to 40 years in prison. Eckersley testified at his brother's trial that alcoholism ran in their family. Wally will be released in 2029 at the age of 78.
- Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame
- List of Major League Baseball annual saves leaders
- List of Major League Baseball all-time saves leaders
- List of Major League Baseball career strikeout leaders
- List of Major League Baseball no-hitters
- "Eck's long haul to fame". San Francisco Chronicle. July 11, 2004. Retrieved October 4, 2016.[permanent dead link]
- Jim Ison. Mormons in the Major Leagues. p.37
- "This Series has loads of hometown heroes". Star-News. October 16, 1989. Retrieved November 9, 2014.
- "Eckersley: No-hitter". St. Petersburg Times. May 31, 1977. Retrieved May 3, 2014.
- "Dennis Eckersley Statistics and History". Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved May 3, 2014.
- Gammons, Peter (December 12, 1988). "One Eck of a Guy". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved August 14, 2013.
- Kekis, John (July 26, 2004). "Eckersley gives stirring speech as he and Molitor enter Hall". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved October 4, 2016.[permanent dead link]
- "Eckersley a free agent, but A's want him back". Los Angeles Times. October 21, 1994. Retrieved May 3, 2014.
- "Eckersley re-signs to break the ice". Los Angeles Times. April 4, 1995. Retrieved May 3, 2014.
- "Pitcher Dennis Eckersley retires after a 24-year career". Rome News-Tribune. December 11, 1998. Retrieved November 9, 2014.
- Verducci, Tom, Kennedy, Kostya (December 21, 1998). "Eckstraordinary". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved May 3, 2014.
- Smith, Claire (May 19, 1992). "ON BASEBALL; Eckersley First Rate In His Second Career". The New York Times. Retrieved October 4, 2016.
- Falkner, David (October 12, 1989). "On Field or Off, Eckersley Battles". The New York Times. Retrieved October 4, 2016.
- "Baseball's 100 Greatest Players by The Sporting News (1998)". Baseball Almanac. Retrieved September 20, 2013.
- "The All-Century Team". MLB.com. Retrieved September 20, 2013.
- Blum, Ronald (January 7, 2004). "Molitor, Eckersley each elected to Hall of Fame on first ballot". Peninsula Clarion. Retrieved September 20, 2013.
- Bowles, C. J. "Forever No. 43". MLB.com. Retrieved September 20, 2013.
- Leatherman, Gary (September 5, 2006). "Dennis Eckersley Field dedication set for Friday at WHS". Tri-City Voice. Retrieved September 20, 2013.
- Eckersley to fill in for Remy Archived 2009-05-07 at the Wayback Machine. NESN.com, May 4, 2009
- The Curse of Rocky Colavito: A Loving Look at a Thirty-Year Slump, Terry Pluto, p.167–169, Gray & Company, ISBN 978-1-59851-035-5
- Doyle, Paul (July 25, 2004). "A closer who needed a save". Hartford Courant. Retrieved May 3, 2014.
- "Alumni Profiles: Jennifer Eckersley '93". Heidelberg University. Retrieved August 17, 2016.
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube
- Dennis Eckersley at the Baseball Hall of Fame
May 30, 1977