Fellow Hall of Fame hurler Rich “Goose” Gossage once said of Dennis Eckersley’s mound skill: “He could hit a gnat in the butt with a pitch if he wanted to.”
Eckersley’s control helped him blaze a unique path as the only big league pitcher with 100 saves and 100 complete games. He spent the first half of his 24-year career with the Indians, Red Sox and Cubs as one of the game’s top starting pitchers, capturing double-figure win totals 10 times – including a 20-win season – and tossing a 1977 no-hitter.
“It was obvious to me Eckersley would be an outstanding pitcher,” said Bob Quinn, Cleveland’s minor league director during Eck’s tenure with the team. “He had outstanding speed and intimidated you with a sidearm slider. But the thing that always impressed me – and I saw him pitch in the Texas League – was his makeup. He has that extra ingredient that says he will excel. Not necessarily a perfectionist, but he wants nothing but to beat you.”
Following a disappointing season with the Cubs, Eckersley was traded to the A’s prior to the 1987 season. From 1988 to 1992, under the guidance of manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan, he became arguably one of the finest closers in baseball history, averaging 44 saves a season and helping the A’s to four American League West titles and a World Series crown in 1989.
“His control is so good, I would be willing to put on the gear and catch any pitch he throws with my eyes closed,” said former player, coach and manager Johnny Oates, “because I know he’s going to hit some part of the glove with every pitch.”
Eckersley’s 1992 season may have been his most dominant, finishing with a 7-1 record, a 1.91 ERA, a league-leading 51 saves, and 93 strikeouts with only 11 bases on balls (six intentional) in 80 innings pitched. As a result, he won both the AL Cy Young and Most Valuable Player Awards.
Fellow pitcher Jerry Reuss said: “What he’s doing right now is setting new parameters for relief pitchers to come. He’s going to be the basis of what everyone else is compared to.”
Eckersley ended his career with a record of 197-171, 361 games started, 100 complete games, 1,071 games pitched, 390 saves, 2,401 strikeouts and a 3.50 ERA.
“He’s the most amazing pitcher I’ve ever seen,” said Oakland teammate Ron Darling. “He has the ability to throw a strike any time he wants. Nobody else can do that. Nobody.”
Eckersley was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2004.