The latest edition of the MLB Network Presents documentary series focuses on a Hall of Fame pitcher turned successful local and national broadcaster. The career of Dennis Eckersley, who excelled as both a starting pitcher and a closer, is in the spotlight in this film, and more than just his baseball career is discussed.
Filmed at the Cabot Theater in Beverly, Mass., Eckersley takes the stage for a revealing, in-depth interview in the spotlight. Eckersley gives insight to the ups and downs he experienced during his pitching career, all as he faced crossroads in his life with family, a battle with alcoholism, and his path to sobriety. But through it all, he’s comfortable with who he is, perhaps more than ever. Subjects detailed throughout the hour-
- Eckersley’s breakout performance as a rookie pitcher for the Cleveland Indians in 1975;
- Getting traded to the Boston Red Sox in 1978 as his first marriage was ending;
- Recognizing his addiction to alcohol and checking into rehab during his time with the Chicago Cubs in 1986;
- Transitioning from a starter to the first true ninth-inning closer with the A’s in 1988;
- Being on the losing side of one of the most famous moments in baseball history during the 1988 World Series;
- Starting a second career as a baseball broadcaster, where “Eck” offers candid analysis and his own unique vernacular.
Among those interviewed are Eckersley and his daughter Mandee, Tony La Russa (Eckersley’s manager in both Oakland and St. Louis), Mark McGwire (a teammate with the A’s and, briefly, the Cardinals), long-time A’s broadcaster Ray Fosse (who was also Eckersley’s teammate in Cleveland), Red Sox teammate Fred Lynn, sportswriters Peter Gammons and Dan Shaughnessy, and current NESN colleague Dave O’Brien. The film alternates highs and lows, jumping from his drafting and initial success in Cleveland, to the end of his first marriage (his first wife left him for former Indians teammate, and current Indians broadcaster, Rick Manning), to his trade to the Red Sox and initial success (and eventual struggles) in Boston.
Eckersley’s also talks about his battle with alcoholism following his trade to the Chicago Cubs (for Bill Buckner, who would have his own infamous World Series moment in the 1980s, just like Eckersley), which transitioned into him joining the A’s and transitioning into the role of a dominant closer, which is where many baseball fans remember him the most. I liked the comments from La Russa about just why they had signed Eckersley (because the A’s rotation was injury-prone and how they figured he would leave the bullpen for the rotation when someone got hurt) and Eckersley’s reaction following his first season as a reliever (he wanted to rejoin the rotation, but that plan was scuttled when Oakland traded incumbent closer Jay Howell to the Dodgers as part of a deal for starter Bob Welch).
I was a bit disappointed with how film ends covering Eckersley’s pitching career, glossing over Oakland’s 1990 World Series loss to the Reds, Eckersley’s 1992 Cy Young and MVP winning season (which included another soul-crushing Postseason homer in the ALCS), and his final three lean years in Oakland and three disappointing seasons in St. Louis and Boston. Why not talk about those years, where things didn’t necessarily go according to plan following the only World Championship of his career?
Our audience will also appreciate the end of the film, which discusses Eckersley’s transition into broadcasting. His unique way of speaking is featured, and hearing everyone talk about just how ridiculous words like “cheese,” “moss,” and “salad” are in a baseball context is pretty great. They also touch on Eckersley’s strange feud with David Price last year, which he called “humiliating”.
This doc is a strong compliment to this summer’s Only In Hollywood, which focused on Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Eckersley candidly talks about the aftermath of giving up that iconic hit, and the film ends with Gibson and Eckersley reuniting at Dodger Stadium before Game 4 of this year’s World Series.
Overall, this isn’t the strongest entry into the MLB Network Presents series, but is an insightful look at Eckersley’s career for those, like myself, too young to remember his early days as a starter.
Eck: A Story Of Saving airs on December 13th at 8 PM on MLB Network.