Making the rounds today on the golf cart with St. Louis Cardinals Vice-President and General Manager Walt Jocketty, Dennis Eckersley took some time to watch some of the current core of relievers pitching batting practice.
The Eck took a few minutes to talk baseball with his old manager Tony La Russa and soon he exchanged greetings with his former pitching coach Dave Duncan and fellow Hall of Fame member Red Schoendienst.
Eckersley is one of the few pitchers to excel as both a major league starter and a closer. His 390 saves put him in the top 5 of all time, while his 197 victories put him close to the top 100 of all time.
Eck began his major league career with the Cleveland Indians where he played for three seasons before being traded to the Boston Red Sox in 1978. A key member of the starting rotation with Boston, he eventually was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 1984.
He played two seasons for the Cubs and helped them win a rare division title before being traded to Oakland, in 1987 for three minor league players, and it was in Oakland where history was made.
The Oakland manager at that time was none other than the current manager of the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, Tony La Russa. It was La Russa who decided to convert Eckersley into a closer, and from that point, the rest is history.
He notched over 30 saves every year from 1988 to 1993, and Oakland reached the World Series in 1988, 1989, and 1990. In 1990, he had a miniscule 0.61 ERA, and in 1992 he recorded 51 saves and won the American League Cy Young Award.
Traded to the St. Louis Cardinals on February 13, 1996, for pitcher Steve Montgomery, he was reunited with both his old manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan. After two seasons with the Cardinals, where he saved a total of 66 games, he returned to the Red Sox as a free agent for his final season.
Tony La Russa said Eckersley taught him something he never forgot, "He taught me something about fear. Eck tells me he spends the whole game being afraid. Fear makes some guys call in sick, or be tentative. He uses fear to get him ready for every stinking time he pitches."
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. Through the 2003 season, his 1,071 games pitched ranked second all time behind Jesse Orosco's 1,252, while his 390 saves is third all time behind both Lee Smith's 478 and John Franco's 424.
Eckersley is the only major league pitcher to record 100 complete games and over 200 saves.
The Baseball Hall of Fame web page of Dennis Eckersley has this interesting "Did you know?" about the closer;
Did you know that in his last ten years in the big leagues, Dennis Eckersley walked just 86 batters in more than 600 innings pitched?
You know I should have gotten this guy's autograph today.