Thursday, June 10, 2004
The Fiery Fireballer
By Mike Puma
Special to ESPN.com
Oct. 9, 1988 -- Dennis Eckersley was named MVP of the ALCS after earning the save in a 4-1 victory over the Red Sox in Game 4 in Oakland. Eckersley, running on fumes, set a record with his fourth save in the series. He retired Todd Benzinger, Rich Gedman and Jody Reed in succession after walking leadoff hitter Spike Owen.
"It's a matter of not being afraid of the hitters," Eckersley said. "A lot of guys have good control, but they're afraid to go after guys. You can't be afraid of getting hit."
Leading 2-1, Oakland scored two runs with Eckersley warming in the bullpen in the eighth.
"Those two runs were about as big as they could be," Oakland manager Tony La Russa said. "I didn't know how [tired] Eckersley would be. I decided to send him out because he's Eck and I knew he would figure something out."
Odds 'n' Ends
As a junior, Eckersley was a backup quarterback and safety for Washington High School. He quit the team as a senior.
At 18, he married his high school sweetheart Denise, who, like Dennis, enjoyed partying. They have a daughter.
Pitching for San Antonio, Eckersley led the Texas League with 174 strikeouts in 1974.
In 1977 with the Indians, Eckersley pitched 21 consecutive hitless innings, three shy of Cy Young's record.
On March 30, 1978, Eckersley was traded with catcher Fred Kendall to the Red Sox for pitchers Rick Wise and Mike Paxton, infielder Ted Cox and catcher Bo Diaz.
Eck was a 20-game winner that season despite giving up the most homers (30) in the AL. He went 11-1 at Fenway Park and 9-7 on the road.
Eckersley had a career-high 17 complete games (in 33 starts) in 1979.
He married his second wife, Nancy, in 1980 and they have two adopted children. The two are separated.
Eckersley started the 1982 All-Star Game in Montreal. He was the losing pitcher, allowing three runs in three innings.
In Boston, Eckersley gave pitcher Dennis Boyd the nickname "Oil Can" because of the latter's penchant for drinking beer.
In 1984, a Kansas City man accused more than 20 players, including Eckersley, of using cocaine in his home. Eckersley denied the allegation and no charges were ever filed against him.
After trading Eckersley to Oakland, the Cubs agreed to pay $300,000 of his $800,000 salary.
From 1988-92, Eckersley threw only one wild pitch in 360 innings.
Starting in 1989 and continuing into the next season, Eckersley faced 185 batters without issuing a walk.
In the 1989 ALCS, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston accused Eckersley of scuffing the ball. Eckersley responded with an obscene gesture.
In 1990, Eckersley joined Dan Quisenberry and Jeff Reardon as the only relievers with two 40-save seasons. That same year he had more saves (48) than baserunners allowed (45).
Eck had three saves in Oakland's four-game sweep of Boston in the 1990 ALCS.
In Game 2 of the 1990 World Series, Eckersley allowed three straight 10th-inning hits in a 5-4 loss to the Reds.
In 1992, Eckersley became just the third closer to win the MVP and Cy Young awards in the same season. Rollie Fingers (1981) and Willie Hernandez (1984) were the first two.
In the early 1990s, Eckersley played a role in the music video for Richard Marx's song "Take This Heart." The video ends with Marx - as a Chicago Cub - hitting a World Series-winning homer off Eckersley.
Dave Winfield's 3,000th career hit came against Eckersley, a single on Sept. 16, 1993.
Eckersley's top salary was $3.8 million, with Oakland in 1993 and 1994.
Eckersley called his return to Boston in 1998 his biggest regret; He says he overthrew in an effort to prove he was worthy of closing games.
Eckersley received a standing ovation from the crowd at Fenway Park on Sept. 26, 1998 for appearing in his 1,071st game, breaking Hoyt Wilhelm's record for most appearances. Since then, Jesse Orosco has passed him.
Eckersley finished in the top 10 in Cy Young and MVP voting four times.
In six career World Series games, Eckersley was 0-2 with a 5.79 ERA and one save.
He received 83.2 percent of the Hall of Fame vote in 2004.