We’re continuing the "A’s Favorites" series of write-ups with our second piece focused on Dennis Eckersley. As a quick reminder, the genesis of this series is from a thread on Athletics Nation several weeks ago regarding who were some of each poster’s favorite players from the past. My responses within that thread were grouped together by era:
80’s and early 90’s – Rickey Henderson, Dennis Eckersley, and Carney Lansford
Late 90’s and early 2000’s – Tim Hudson and Eric Chavez
Recent departures – Kurt Suzuki
Drafted by the Cleveland Indians in 1972, Eckersley made his MLB debut in 1975 and it took him very little time to make his mark in the majors, winning AL Rookie Pitcher of the Year. Some might forget that "Eck" was a starting pitcher for the first twelve years in his career and had a good amount of success in the role. After three seasons in Cleveland and an All-Star game appearance, Eckersley was traded to the Boston Red Sox in 1978 (some interesting, mindless information on the Wiki page linked above as for the reasons why) where he started to put together some gaudy numbers. In ’78, Eckersley put up a 20 win season, with a 2.99 ERA. He followed that up with a 17 win season and a matching 2.99 ERA in ’79.
However, in his last four, full years in Boston (’80-’83), Eckersley looked like an average pitcher and potentially on the decline, going 43-48 in 114 starts, with a 4.43 ERA. While he made the All-Star team again in ’82, Boston parted ways with Eck at the beginning of the ’84 season and sent him to the Cubs (for Bill Buckner). While with the Cubs, Eck went 27-26 with a 3.63 ERA.
On April 3, 1987, Eck was traded from the Cubs to the Oakland A’s. After starting two games early in the season for the A’s, he was moved to the bullpen out of necessity and due to an injury to the A’s closer at the time, Jay Howell. Those were the last two starts in Eck’s career, as he quickly became the dominant closer that A’s fans have come to know and love. After 16 saves in ’87, Eckersley became the most formidable closer in the AL for a five year span. Maintaining impeccable control with his pitches and perfecting his slider, you may not see many more impressive five year runs as you do from Eck’s performance from ’88-’92. Leading the AL in saves in ’88 (45) and ’92 (51), over that five year span, Eckersley saved a total of 220 games for the A’s. His ’92 season led to even greater accolades as he took home both the AL Cy Young and AL MVP awards.
Needless to say, Eckersley was a pivotal member of the championship years for the Athletics franchise and the run the team made over the same time period. While he is unfortunately most likely to be remembered by the masses as the pitcher who gave up Kirk Gibson’s HR in game one of the ’88 World Series, I choose to completely abolish this moment from the record books and focus on the dominating performances he provided in the ’88 ALCS and throughout the ’89 playoffs.
Eckersley played three more years in Oakland but saw his numbers start to decline. While he still closed games for the A’s, the expectations of a "lights out" closer started to fade. When Tony La Russa left the A’s to manage the Cardinals (!!!) he brought Eckersley with him. After two more strong years as a closer with the Cardinals (and against NL hitting), Eck finished his career with one final year in Boston in ’98.
At the time of his retirement, Eckersley was the only player to have recorded a 20 win season and a 50 save season; since matched by one player, John Smoltz. Eck finished a 24 year career with 197 wins, 171 losses and 390 saves. His career ERA was 3.50. He went to the All-Star game a total of six times and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004. The A’s franchise retired his jersey (#43) the following year.
What drew me to … Dennis Eckersley
Plain and simple, Eckersley was the most dominant pitcher in baseball and a member of what had become my favorite team. Similar to Carney Lansford, he had that unique look with the long hair flowing under the cap and the thick moustache. (Note; he still has that sweet hair style.) Eckersley was a phenomenal pitcher with a unique delivery, but he was also intimidating as heck on the mound. Very few players would get as fired up as Eck night in and night out. After closing down big games, his "fist clench and then point" could have or should have been patented.
In doing a bit of online research across a number of sites, I stumbled across this YouTube clip that I thought was pretty special. His Hall of Fame speech came from the heart and showed his special character. However, I find the beginning clips equally riveting where former players provide their perspective on facing him (and his arrogance when on the mound!).
Where is "Eck" now?
You can find Eckersley calling games for the Boston Red Sox on NESN and/or in the TBS studios for pre and post game shows with Matt Winer and David Wells. Personally, and admitting bias, I think Eck does a pretty good job in the booth and in the studio. While he has a bit of flair, of course – what would you expect, it doesn’t feel like pushed pomp and circumstance. I feel like he is just saying what he feels and how he would normally say it if he wasn’t on television.