Wednesday, March 7, 2007

100 Greatest Red Sox >> #42 Dennis Eckersley

Dennis Eckersley, P, #43 (1978-1984, 1998)

88 W - 71 L, 241 G, 191 GS, 64 CG, 771 K, 3.92 ERA, All-Star 1982

Looking over the twenty-four years of Dennis Eckersley's career, eyes naturally gravitate towards his nine years in Oakland where he redefined the role of the closer while racking up four all-star appearances and a Cy Young and MVP in 1992. Ask anyone to conjure up an image of Eckersley and they are likely to recall the fearless closer with arms flailing as he releases the ball with hair flowing from his hat aiming the ball with pinpoint control. Head however to New England, ask the same question and you'll get memories of a young flamethrower, a starter wearing a Red Sox uniform.

Dennis Lee Eckersley was born October 3, 1954, in Oakland, California. Growing up in Fremont, California, where he attended Washington High School, Eckersley was multi-sport athlete in baseball, basketball and football. His sport of choice was solidified when was selected out of high school by the Cleveland Indians in the third round of the 1972 free-agent draft.

Eckersley spent his first three seasons as a professional ball player rising up through the Cleveland Indians farm system as a hard throwing starter with incredible potential.

"It was obvious to me Eckersley would be an outstanding pitcher," said Bob Quinn, Cleveland's minor league director at the time. "He had outstanding speed and intimidated you with a sidearm slider. But the thing that always impressed me - and I saw him pitch in the Texas League - was his makeup. He has that extra ingredient that says he will excel. Not necessarily a perfectionist, but he wants nothing but to beat you."
In 1975, at only 20 years of age, Dennis Eckersley was invited to attend camp and made the Indians big league roster. Eckersley started his career where he would end it, in the bullpen. But after ten scoreless outings in relief, Eckersley got his first opportunity to start on May 25th, 1975 against the Oakland A's pitching a complete game, three hit shut out. He would pitch a major league record 28 2/3 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run to start his major league career.

Eckersley would finish the 1975 season at 13-7 with a 2.60 ERA, earning him the honors of Sporting News AL Rookie Pitcher of the Year. Eckersley's time in Cleveland would feature more incredible achievements including a no hitter and a 21 inning hitless streak in 1977. Eckersley would go 40-32 over his three seasons in Cleveland earning him a spot on the 100 Greatest Cleveland Indians Roster before being traded to Boston before the 1978 season along with catcher Fred Kendall for pitchers Rick Wise and Mike Paxton, third baseman Ted Cox and catcher Bo Diaz.

Eckersley's first season in Boston was his best, compiling a 20-8 record, with a 2.99 ERA. Eck was particularly stellar down the stretch as the Red Sox battled the rival New York Yankees in a heated pennant race. Over his last four starts, all wins, Eckersley would pitch 33.2 innings including three complete games while allowing only twenty-seven baserunners and three earned runs (0.80 ERA) while striking out twenty.

Eckersley would follow up his successful 1978 campaign with an equally impressive second season in Boston. At the age of 24, Eckersely went 17-10 matching his previous 2.99 ERA finishing in the top ten in Cy Young balloting (7th), wins (5th), and ERA (3rd). Unfortunately for Dennis, 1980 would usher in a decade of decline for the starting pitcher. Eckersley would hover around the .500 mark for the next four seasons in Boston before being dealt to the Chicago Cubs on May 25th of 1984 along with outfielder Mike Brumley for first baseman Bill Buckner.

Eckersley would go on to rebound in Chicago over two and a half seasons, earning him the #96 spot on Bleed Cubbie Blue's Top 100 Cubs List, before once again being dealt in 1986 to Oakland where he would solidify his place in baseball history as one of the most dominant relievers of all time. If I could find a Top 100 A's of all time list, there is no doubt that Eck would place highly on his fourth such list (Cleveland, Boston, Chicago, and Oakland).

Eckersley would follow his manager Tony LaRussa from Oakland to St. Louis in 1996 spending two seasons with the Cardinals before coming back to Boston to end his career as a set up man for Tom Gordon in 1998.

Dennis Eckersley, a six-time All-Star, ended his 24-year (1975-98) major league career with a record of 197-171 (48-41 as a reliever), 361 games started, 100 complete games, 2,401 strikeouts, and a 3.50 ERA. His career in baseball culminated in 2004 when he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame with 85% of the vote.

In his induction speech in Cooperstown, Eckersley referenced the role that baseball and the fight that he had with alcohol abuse during his career played in his life.
"Walt Whitman once said, 'Baseball will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.' Well, I saved my life and my career was repaired. You never know when life is going to change forever."

"I care for this game with my heart and soul. I dedicated my life to being the best pitcher I could be. You leave me humbled and grateful for this honor. I'd like to leave an offering of a message of hope. That is, with the grace of God, you can change your life, whoever you are."
This Top 100 Red Sox profile was written by Tim Daloisio, Editor and Chief Blogger of the Red Sox Times.


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