Dennis Lee Eckersley (born October 3, 1954), nicknamed "Eck," is a former American Major League Baseball player. Eckersley had success as a starter, but gained his greatest fame as a closer, becoming the first of only two pitchers in Major League history to have both a 20-win season and a 50-save season in a career (John Smoltz) was the other. He was elected to Baseball Hall Of Fame in 2004, his first year of eligibility. He is also noted as the pitcher who gave up Kirk Gibson's game-winning home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.
Early career Edit
Eckersley was born in Canada. He was drafted by the Oakland Athletics out of Washington High School of Fremont, California in the third round of the 1972 amateur draft and made his Major League debut on April 12, 1975. He was the The Sporting News American League Rookie Pitcher of the Year in 1975 compiling a 13-7 record and 2.60 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 even threw a no-hitter on May 30, 1977 against the California Angels.
Boston Red Sox Edit
Eckersley was traded with Fred Kendall on March 30, 1978 to the Boston Red Sox for Rick Wise, Mike Paxton, Bo Diaz, and Ted Cox. In the book The Curse of Rocky Colavito, author Terry Pluto noted that the trade was necessitated by an awkward situation. Eckersley's then-wife, Denise, had begun a seemingly non-platonic relationship with fellow Indian and (at the time) his best friend, outfielder Rick Manning (she and Manning eventually married).
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 evident by his 43-48 record with Boston. He later developed a great slider.
Chicago Cubs Edit
Eckersley was traded on May 25, 1984 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. (It also later on proved to be a fateful transaction in Boston Red Sox history; see 1986 World Series). 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).
Oakland Athletics Edit
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 each of the four games the A's won in sweeping the Red Sox in the 1988 AL Championship Series, and 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 57.7 innings in 1989, four batters in 73.3 innings in 1990, and nine batters in 76 innings in 1991. In his 1990 season, Eckersley became the only relief pitcher in baseball history to have more saves than baserunners allowed (48 SV, 41 H, 4 BB, 0 HBP).
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 Hernandez 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). His numbers slipped noticeably following 1992: although Eckersley still was among the league leaders in saves, his ERA climbed sharply, and his number of saves never climbed above 36. Eckersley's 5-year stretch from 1988-1992 is arguably the best 5-year stretch ever recorded by a relief pitcher in regular season play.
In 2002, Atlanta's John Smoltz matched Eckersley's feats of having had a 20-win season and a 50-save season, and also 150 or more wins and 150 or more saves.
Final playing years Edit
When Tony LaRussa left the A's after the 1995 season, he became the St. Louis Cardinals' new manager and arranged to bring Eckersley along with him. 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, 1998.
Eckersley's 390 career saves ranks fifth on the all-time list.
Post-playing career Edit
He currently works as a studio analyst for the Boston Red Sox on NESN. Primarily, Eckersley provides post game coverage, working to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the team's play. Unlike many other commentators, he is willing to point out sloppy play by the team that employs him. He also spends time with kids Jake and Allie, every other weekend. During the summer, Eckersley lives on the Turner Hill golf course in Ipswich, Massachusetts.
- In 1999, he ranked Number 98 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players and was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball "All-Century Team."
- As mentioned in the early part of this article, on January 6, 2004, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility along with Paul Molitorr 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.
The role of the closer had been around since the late 1950s and early 1960s (Pittsburgh Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh is credited with inventing the role by using Elroy Face late in close games), and there had always been feared relievers and closers with Hall of Fame-caliber careers, such as Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, and Rich "Goose" Gossage. However, even in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a closer was considered a weaker and less valuable pitcher than a top starter. Pitchers started games and if they were real men, they finished them (or so the mentality went). Relievers were either "firemen" (pitchers who only came into pressure-packed situations, with runners on and few out late in a game, and thus "put out the fire"), or pitchers not good enough to start; the vast majority of relievers were considered to be the latter.
The A's used Eckersley almost exclusively for the ninth inning and inserted him regardless of the pressure or game situation. Instead of being a fireman or a mop-up man, Eckersley became a one-inning pitcher. Starters were no longer expected to finish games; there was another pitcher who was coming into the game in the ninth inning, no matter what. Although the idea of a dedicated closer was hardly new (Lee Smith was already closing for the Cubs by the time Eck was converted to the closer role), it was rejected outright by old-school purists; it took Tony La Russa and Eckersley to popularize it.
Eckersley's incredible short-term dominance of the position was perhaps the most influential aspect of this popularization. He was seen to shut down a game after the eighth inning; he was fresh, cocky, and usually hit his spots. He pointed his finger at an opposing batter after a whiff or a ground out (something Eck was known for because of his great sinker, a pitch he primarily developed after becoming a closer) or at the opposing dugout, and his glare became well-known after he and Boston's Dwight Evans famously battled during the 1988 and 1990 playoffs.
After Eckersley, every team wanted a pitcher who would end a game after eight innings, save their starters from overextending themselves, and give their fans something exciting to look forward to late in the game. Although the value of a closer is still debatable, Eckersley's influence is indisputable; by 2006, the notion of a team without a dedicated closer seemed as ridiculous as a pre-Eckersley team with one. In fact, a complete game by a starter is now as rare if not rarer than a save by a relief pitcher was 40 or 50 years ago. Eckersley had exactly 100 complete games as a starter, making him the only pitcher with 100 complete games and 300 saves in his career.
- Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame
- List of Major League Baseball saves champions
- List of Major League Baseball all-time saves leaders
- Top 100 strikeout pitchers of all time
- List of Major League Baseball no-hitters
- Baseball-Reference.com - Major league career statistics
- Dennis Eckersley interviewed at OceanViewPress.com
- baseballhalloffame.org – Hall of Fame biography page
- - Article by Hal Bodley about Eckersley's alcoholism