Peter Gammons: Dennis Eckersley and what it is to be a teammate

I spent 11 Januaries flying into Cleveland for the Indians Rookie Development Program, and have done many others, from the Yankees to the Red Sox to the Rays. There was always one story I told about what it is to be a teammate, a story about Dennis Eckersley.

A lot of those young players to and with whom I talked weren’t alive on September 9, 1978. I got that. The Red Sox were in free fall, it was a weekend that Sports Illustrated’s cover declared “The Fenway Massacre,” and while the 23-year old Eckersley, for whom the Red Sox traded four players in March, was on a ride to winning 20 games, on this Saturday afternoon, after the Yankees had won the first two games of the series in blowouts and had seen a 13 ½ game lead whittled to two and if Eck did not beat Ron Guidry (in his 25-3 year), all that would stand between the Yankees and first place was rookie Bobby Sprowl.

Eckerlsey matched Guidry 0-0 into the fourth inning, but with two outs and two on Lou Piniella lofted a pop fly into shallow right field. The sun was bright, a September sun, the wind blowing. Jim Rice was playing right field because Dwight Evans was out with a concussion. Frank Duffy was playing second because Jerry Remy was hurt.

The ball drifted out into the shallow right center version of the Bermuda Triangle, with Fred Lynn, Rick Burleson, Rice, Duffy and George Scott in pursuit. Rice, of course, was playing out of position and charging as hard as he could, and called for the ball. Duffy turned to get out of the way, but the wind blew the ball in and away from Rice, hit Duffy in the derriere and two runs scored.

Bucky Dent then hit a two strike pitch off The Wall for two more runs, and when Eckersley left before the inning has ended, it was 7-0. Which turned out to be the final score, and, indeed, all that stood between the Yankees and first place was Bobby Sprowl.

There was an inordinate number of national, local and New York media people there. It was the Yankees vs. the Red Sox, and the collapse—which still resulted in Billy Martin’s firing— it was history.

Afterwards, the media went into a clubhouse that was almost devoid of players, and soon Duffy was circled, explaining why his error cost the Red Sox the game.

Out of the trainer’s room came Eckersley. He walked over to the media scrum and hollered, “leave him alone. Talk to me. He didn’t load the bases. He didn’t hang the (—) two strike slider to Bucky Dent. The L goes next to my name. Come over to my locker and question me.”

Years later, Duffy hadn’t forgotten it. I never will. Two starts later, Eck beat the Yankees in New York, then won three more in a row, and after Luis Tiant shut out the Blue Jays on the final day of the season, the Red Sox had come from 3 ½ back to a playoff with the Yankees Tom Boswell called “the greatest game ever played.” Bucky-Bleeping-Dent. Remy’s ball that Piniella never saw. HOF Carl Yastrzemski popping up against HOF Rich Gossage with two on to end it.

To Eck, it was never anyone else’s fault, not after the Kirk Gibson homer, not after being left out in Game Four of the ’92 ALCS to face Roberto Alomar and all those great Toronto hitters.

This is not a lecture to David Price, a model teammate himself, or anyone else in uniform. Eck beat a lot of injuries and demons in his Hall of Fame career, and he is as good a friend as one could ever have.

I just wanted to introduce all of you to him.

Comments

  1. GhostOfFenway says:

    Fun facts: Eck finished 4th in the Cy Young voting that year. And within the next decade manager Billy Martin would go on to be fired 4 more times by Yankees.

  2. The game, the players, that competitive attitude, will never be like it once was… i hope I am wrong but, thats what I see.

  3. Eck tells it like it is while also reminding the audience that he has done the same or worse.
    Price ought to be following Eck around like a puppy rather than tilting at windmills in his own mind convincing himself that he is a leader of some kind.

    • I agree, while cutting David Price some slack for the ferocity of the Boston media, which does not include Dennis Eckersley, who merely pointed out that the pitcher, any pitcher, should have covered first base more quickly. David Price is an extremely intelligent man, who perhaps thinks too much, and perhaps over complicates things. I am sure that both Eckersley and Price have taken the incident in context, at least I hope so, because I think any pitcher could learrn from Eckersley.
      I am pleased that he has gotten the job of filling in for Jerry Remy; he knows the game, is fun to listen to, and doesn’t talk too much.

      • Eck is smart

      • I’m not sure they have both taken the insults in context. Eck didn’t go on the last road trip, because he’d have to be on the plane with certain players who apparently know better than him.

  4. Joe Red Sox says:

    Price has issues. Needs to get off Twitter and appreciate what he has in life.

  5. Joe Red Sox says:

    David price never won anything and never will.

  6. Billy Riheldaffer says:

    Great article ! Eck is a standup guy and proved it ! His open admission of being a ” Recovering Alcoholic ” has probably added to his ” Save Total” in the Biggest Game- The Game of Life ” !

  7. Billy Riheldaffer says:

    Great job Peter! As always great add to baseball lore and topical for today’s players. Price is a solid addition to the Red Sox–a little bumpy on take off and that’s okay.

  8. Billy Riheldaffer says:

    That is some old school, hard-butt team loyalty. Give me a locker room full of players like that any day.

  9. Freddy B. says:

    “…as one could HAVE ever had.” (In the last sentence, Mr. Gammons, you missed a word.)

  10. Peter Gammons hit the nail on the head with this article. It should be noted the night Price pitched, Eck had high praise for him throughout the game, minus his error. Boston is a rough town to play in, especially when it comes to dealing with the media. Price is a very bright person, who thinks way too much at times, and yes, has a penchant for tilting at windmills. I agree that Price should follow Eck around like a puppy, and could learn a lot from him. He should also talk to other past Red Sox players who were stand-up teammates and not afraid to face music when needed.

    EMH
    Albany, NY

  11. That 1978 pennant race is one of the reasons why I dislike the wild card so much. If they were playing under the current rules, both teams would have been guaranteed a spot in the postseason, and there wouldn’t have been that exciting duel to the finish of the regular season.

    • Ya, but now there is a game like that every year, where you know one team goes on and the other goes home. And while neither of those teams will have been the best in baseball, there is still a heavy value put on the division winners, as they don’t have to worry about an elimination game to start their postseason. I think this is the best format there has ever been.

  12. Mike Violette says:

    If that’s not an open letter to Price then I don’t know what is. Eck was and is a stand up guy. You can’t say the same for Price. His behavior was boorish and what’s even worse is the Red Sox let him get away with it. I wish Eck would’ve Will McDonough’d him.

  13. EddieD_Dedham says:

    Great column and a great story.

  14. Eck was and is great. Price is smart enough to see this as time goes on, and I think Price’s best days in Boston are ahead of him. The person above who spoke about the insane Boston media is correct. Most of them are a bunch of children who try to out-tantrum each other through their hyperbole and negativity. I’m rooting for Price.

  15. Thank you Peter!

  16. Thank you.

  17. Loved Eck before I read this but it doesn’t surprise me that he took full responsibility. He does a great job in the broadcaster’s booth and I really enjoy listening to his take on the game. It’s like watching the game with a friend who is really knowledgeable about baseball and pitching in particular(which he of course is!)

  18. I AM A PEDIE FAN AND APPRECIATE HIS COMING FORWARD AS A LEADER WHICH HE IS. ECK IS A GREAT PITCHER AND DESERVES RESPECT. PRICE IS A DISAPPOINTMENT. EDDIE JUST HAD A BABY AND IS STILL WORKING ON HIS GAME. THAT SAID, LEAVE IT ALL ALONE AD LET IT WORK ITSELF OUT.