Teams: Cleveland Indians, 1975-1977; Boston Red Sox, 1978-1984, 1998; Chicago Cubs 1984-1986; Oakland A's, 1987-1995; St. Louis Cardinals, 1996-1997
In the early 1980s, Dennis Eckersley was considered washed up -- his days as an effective pitcher seemingly over. Little did anyone know that his greatest success lay ahead.
Eckersley won 13 games three times
each with the Indians and Red Sox
and topped 40 saves
four times with Oakland.
The young Eckersley bested hitters with a smoking fastball, a sinker, and a slider. Over time, he developed superb control. When the tall, thin hurler dropped down sidearm, most right-handed batters bailed out.
Dealt to Boston, Eckersley vaulted into the top echelon of AL pitchers with a 20-8 campaign in 1978, then followed up with a 17-10 mark. Self-assured, handsome, and talented, he seemed on track for a great career.
Then it all turned sour. Back and shoulder injuries bothered him, and from 1980 to '83, Eckersley was an ordinary 43-48. In addition, nighttime revelry was taking its toll. Not yet 30, Eckersley was drinking his way out of the game.
Traded to the Cubs in 1984, Eckersley pitched fairly well that year and in 1985, but he suffered more shoulder miseries and his personal life was in shambles. Before the 1986 campaign, he checked into rehab and stopped drinking, but a trade to the Athletics -- his hometown club -- in April 1987 ended his career as a starting pitcher.
At age 32, Eckersley tried his luck in the bullpen. After beginning 1987 in long relief, he ended up as the closer, garnering 16 saves with a 6.6/1 strikeout/walk ratio.
Refining his control even further, "Eck" spent the next eight seasons in Oakland as perhaps the greatest closer ever. Was his best year 1992, when he won Cy Young and MVP Awards after going 7-1 with 51 saves? Or was it 1989, when he fanned 55 and walked just three? How about 1990, when he allowed just five earned runs in 73 innings (0.61 ERA), striking out 73 and walking only four? His only black mark was allowing Kirk Gibson's walk-off homer in Game 1 of the 1989 World Series.
Eckersley earned induction into the Hall of Fame in 2004 based on his success as both a starter (197 career wins) and reliever (390 saves). How did he do it? Eckersley summed up his return from the brink this way: "There's good fear and bad fear. The bad fear is when you're feeling sick and almost paralyzed ... for me, it made me more aggressive. And the more aggressive I became, the better I was."
Here are Dennis Eckersley's major league totals:
|W||L ||ERA ||G ||SV ||IP ||H ||ER ||BB ||SO |
|197 ||171 ||3.50 ||1,071 ||390 ||3,285.2 ||3,076 ||1,278 ||738 ||2,401 |
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