To people who came of age in the 1970s, Dennis Eckersley was always one of the good guys.
He was brash. He was obnoxious. He taunted batters he’d just struck out. He looked like a rock star with a baseball cap. He was the very epitome of the modern athlete, of the type of antihero patented by the likes of Joe Namath, Derek Sanderson and Bill Lee.
He once pitched a no-hitter when he was with the Cleveland Indians, and when it came down to the last batter, Eckersley pointed to him and screamed “you’re next.”
In the post-Ball Four world, Dennis Eckersley was the answer to a journalist’s prayers. If you asked him a question, he answered it, often unflinchingly. If he had a bad game, or threw a bad pitch, he stood up and accepted accountability.
In the celebrated 1978 “Boston Massacre,” in which the New York Yankees came to Fenway Park and just tap danced on the heads of all the Red Sox players, Eckersley pitched the third game of that series and lost to Ron Guidry. Afterward, he bemoaned the fact that he gave up a two-run single to Bucky Dent.
“He shouldn’t get a hit off me in a month,” said an exasperated Eck (perhaps Mike Torrez should have taken note).
Eck won 20 games that season — a summer in which his wife left him for his best friend (Rick Manning). Even when his personal life was a hot mess, he went out there and pitched, and never offered excuses.
Just when it looked as if his career was about to end, manager Tony LaRussa turned him into a closer. Now sober, Eckersley became a machine on the mound. Yet famously, he gave up Kirk Gibson’s 2-run homer in Game 1 of the 1978 World Series. Gibson, who could barely walk, did a slow trot around the bases, and could not conceal his elation.
Eckersley never hid, as a lot of athletes do so. Much later, when Gibson tried to apologize for showing Eckersley up, Eck would have none of it. He told Gibson that if it had been the other way around he would have been dancing going around those bases.
He’s just as flip and prone to speak his mind bluntly as a broadcaster, and as such, he ran into his polar opposite two year ago in Boston Red Sox pitcher David Price. And now the ugly incident between the two is front and center again.
What Eckersley actually said to incur Price’s wrath is irrelevant at this point. He had the audacity to criticize a rehab pitching line of Eduardo Rodriguez. Price, who apparently appointed himself as the clubhouse constable, called Eckersley out in front of the team, implying, among other things, that he had no idea how tough it was to play professional baseball.
To those of us who have followed the game for more than 40 years, this was absurd then, and it’s absurd now. In his personal life, Eckersley descended into Dante’s nine circles of hell and lived to tell about it. As a professional, well, you be the judge. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Eckersley was legitimately stung by Price’s comments and, quite rightly if you ask me, doesn’t feel any need to “smooth things over” with the temperamental pitcher. However, in a lengthy profile that’s already up on the Boston Globe website, Eckersley was asked about the incident — and he answered the questions. Just as he did back in 1978. He has not changed one iota, at least in that regard.
Now, Price, who really ought to keep his trap shut and hide in shame in some dark corner of the clubhouse, says he’s “shocked” that this confrontation has resurfaced.
Sorry, bud. You don’t get to sweep this under the rug. If Eckersley ever agrees to meet with you and shake hands, and you find some reason not to, you deserve everything you get. Everything!
But you don’t get to dictate the terms here. You’re the one who made an issue out of this. Not him.
As a fan, I am eternally grateful that David Price picked the right month to become the pitcher the Sox signed as a free agent three years ago. The Red Sox really needed him and he stepped up.
But that doesn’t, in any way, justify what he said about a guy who is a walking example of personal redemption. He was too ignorant then to bite his tongue, and he’s equally ignorant now for continuing to act like the wounded warrior.