Cardinals acquire Eckersley from Athletics

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Craig Muder

His place in Cooperstown was likely already assured when 41-year-old Dennis Eckersley was traded from the Athletics to the Cardinals on Feb. 13, 1996.

But the Eck still had plenty left in the tank for the Redbirds.

Following an incredible nine-year stretch in Oakland that saw him save 320 games and win the 1992 American League Cy Young and MVP awards, Eckersley headed to the National League and a Cardinals team that had recently hired former A’s manager Tony La Russa. The Cardinals sent pitcher Steve Montgomery to Oakland in exchange for Eckersley, and the side-arming right-hander stepped right into the closer’s role in St. Louis – saving 30 games and helping the Cards win the NL Central.

“I’ve still got it,” Eckersley told USA Today immediately after the trade. “Look for the same pitcher you saw in the American League.”

Eckersley replaced Tom Henke – who retired after notching 37 saves and an All-Star Game selection in 1995 – as the Cardinals stopper, holding the job for two seasons. In 1997, Eckersley saved 36 games, then finished his career with the Red Sox in 1998.

It marked the end of an odyssey that began as a young phenom in the Indians’ rotation in 1975.

“His pitched are wicked,” said Orioles manager Earl Weaver – a man not given to hyperbole – in 1975.

Eckersley pitched three seasons in Cleveland before being traded to Boston in a blockbuster deal prior to the 1978 season. After the Red Sox sent him to the Cubs in a midseason trade in 1984, Eckersley helped Chicago win the NL East title. He found himself with the A’s in their bullpen at the start of 1987, where La Russa converted him into a reliever. From there, Eckersley led the A’s to three straight AL pennants from 1988-90 and the 1989 World Series title.

When he retired following the 1998 season, Eckersley had totaled 390 saves – then third on the all-time list – and appeared in 1,071 games, which was the most ever at that time. He won 197 games and was named to six All-Star Games.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2004.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series