Each Sunday, I take a step away from daily politics and focus on someone who has done extraordinary things or who we may need to know a little better. This week’s focus is on The Eck, a man who played baseball well, could bring the most boring game to life with his voice, and was a genuine man….he never changed in nearly fifty years.
There are few men in sports that bridged my youth with my elder years. Dennis Eckersley was a new type of player in his time. Like Big Pappy defined the DH, Eck defined the closer. His windup and delivery were unique, as was his nomenclature when he moved to the broadcast booth. He made the most boring game exciting with his analysis of every at bat and his unlimited stories. He was a gift for fans for fifty years
One of only two pitchers in Major League history to have both a 20-win season and a 50-save season (John Smoltz is the other), Dennis Eckersley actually had two distinct careers in baseball. Splitting his first 12 seasons between the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, and Chicago Cubs, the hard-throwing righthander was an effective, albeit somewhat erratic starting pitcher who compiled an overall record of 151-128. After joining the Oakland Athletics in 1987, Eckersley evolved into one of the greatest relief pitchers in baseball history, revolutionizing the role of the “closer” for future generations.
One of my greatest memories of the Eck did not happen in a Red Sox uniform. It was in 1988 when he was a prolific closer for the powerful Oakland A’s. It was the first game of the World Series, and Eck just had to do his thing and close out the win. Uncharacteristically, he walked the tying run, and Tommy Lasorda, the legend manager of the Dodgers, sent the hobbled, almost crippled Kirk Gibson to the plate. This should have been a mismatch, but it may be one of the most incredible at-bats in history. It lasted nearly ten minutes as the count went to 3-2, and Gibson started fouling off Eck’s pitches. Finally, Eck let one pitch take too much of the plate, and Gibson gave it a weak swing but strong enough to put the ball into the bleachers for a game-winning home run.
The crowd went crazy, and Eck watched in disbelief as the ball entered the stands. It was a surreal moment in a hall-of-fame career. It was one of those moments that you always remember. Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola called the game. Two of the baseball broadcast giants. The stars were aligned for something special to happen. Unfortunately for Eck, he did not come out on the winning side of this battle. Eck went on to redefine the reliever role and ended his successful career in Boston. He then moved into the broadcast booth to begin his second career.
Eck was special. He started in the studio as an analyst but soon moved into the booth. A very popular Jerry Remy was having health issues, and Eck was the fill-in until he became the primary analyst in the booth. The Red Sox Nation embraced Eckersley, and he them. He always said he gave the job the passion that defined a city.
Dennis Eckersley is an emotional man and showed that side of him many times during his final broadcast. There were honors from the Red Sox, and halfway through the game, the entire Red Sox team came out of the dugout to salute Dennis Eckersley. The tears flowed, but so did the memories.
Thank you, Eck, for a career to remember, but thank you more for being the bridge to my youth when baseball and sports were more fun. Eck and I are the same age, but he seems bigger than life in many ways. He always found a way to earn that respect. Godspeed, Eck, and may your tomorrows be as fruitful as your yesterdays.