Dennis Eckersley, or “Eck” as he was nicknamed, was a pitcher who plated for five different teams, including the Red Sox, during a career that lasted over twenty years. Although he began his career as a starting pitcher, Eckersley had most of his success as a closer and was the first of only two players in MLB history to have both a 20-win season and a 50-save season in his career.
Born on October 3, 1954 in Oakland, California, Eckersley grew up rooting for the Giants and was actually disappointed when he was drafted by the Cleveland Indians instead of the Giants out of high school in the 1972 amateur draft. Check out this scouting report on Eck from 1973, I’d say he overcame the hurdles the scout was worried about:
Despite his disappointment, Eckersley was able to make an impact from the moment he first took to the mound. His 13-7 record with the Indians during his rookie season as well has his 2.60 ERA were good enough to earn him American League Rookie of the Year honors. In 1977 he threw his first no-hitter and was selected to his first of six All-Star Games.
On March 30, 1978 Eckersley was traded along with Fred Kendall to the Red Sox for Rick Wise, Mike Paxton, Bo Díaz, and Ted Cox. In his first two seasons with the team Eckersley had what were arguably his best seasons as a starting pitcher, winning 20 games, a career high, in 1978 and then winning 17 in 1979. Over the course of the following four seasons, though, he did not pitch nearly as well; he developed a strong slider in this time, but his fastball lost some speed and he finished in Boston with a 43-48 record. Check out this sweet video of the guy in his prime:
During May of the 1984 season Eckersley was traded to the Chicago Cubs with Mike Brumley in exchange for Bill Buckner. His time with the Cubs did not go well but were important to him as both a player and a person; his record was pedestrian, but it was during those years that he checked himself into rehab for alcoholism. On April 3, 1987 Eckersley was traded once again, this time to the Oakland Athletics.
The original intention of Tony La Russa, who was managing the A’s at the time, was to use Eckersley as a long-reliever or setup pitcher. When then-closer Jay Howell went down, howver, the door was opened for Eckersley. By 1988 he had established himself as an elite closer, and from then until 1992 he was the most dominant closer in the game. During that span he finished first in the AL in saves twice, and in that span he saved 220 games, never posting an ERA above 2.96.
Eckersley had an illustrious career to say the least. In the 1992 season he won the American League Cy Young award and the American League MVP when he had 51 saves in the season. Though his numbers began to slip after the 1992 season, he was still among the league’s top closers for the rest of his career. When La Russa left Oakland after the 1995 season he took Eckersley with him, where he remained until playing in his final season with the Red Sox in 1998. Just check out his full line of stats below:
Today Eckersley still remains one of the best closers, and baseball players in general, in history. He is ranked Number 98 on The Sporting News’ list of the 100 Greatest Baseball players and was named to the Major League Baseball All-Centruy team. His number, 43, has been retired by the Oakland Athletics and in 2004 he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
As many Sox fans are familiar with, Eckersley’s career in baseball has yet to end, as today he is a studio analyst for the Red Sox on NESN. In addition to that work, he also serves as an analyst for TBS during their post season coverage and has filled in to provide color commentary for NESN when called upon.