Dennis Eckersley - What Almost Was, What Could Have Been in His Time with the Indians in the 70's
If you were a fan of the Cleveland Indians in the 1970's, you watched an organization that had a lot of very good players that wore a Tribe uniform.
Some, like Ray Fosse, Buddy Bell, and Chris Chambliss were originally signed by the Indians, and made their Major League debuts with Cleveland. Others, like Craig Nettles, Gaylord Perry, and George Hendrick came over in deals, spent some productive years in town, and then were shipped away.
Some were post-season regulars, which made fans in northeast Ohio wince in pain during the playoffs every year, thinking about what might have been.
Sometimes things never change.
That brings us to our favorite Tribe player of the 1970's, Dennis Eckersley.
Eckersley was another star young player who came up through the Cleveland farm system and was ultimately traded away to a bigger market, in his case, Boston.
Eck was drafted in the 3rd round of the 1972 draft and spent two years in Class A Reno before moving to the Texas League (AA) with San Antonio, going 14-3 with a 3.40 ERA, striking out pretty much a batter per inning.
There were no Top 10 Prospect lists at the time, so Eckersley was under the radar as spring training started in 1975 under new manager, Frank Robinson.
The 20-year-old side arming right-hander made the team out of camp and pitched out of the bullpen.
He made 10 scoreless relief outings, totaling 14-1/3 innings, and followed that by throwing a shutout in his first big league start against the World Champion Oakland A's.
He finished that rookie season with a 13-7 record, a 2.60 ERA, and allowing just 147 hits in 186 innings. He did walk an uncharacteristic 90 batters.
And his cockiness was appreciated by the younger fans, and opposing hitters didn't like it so much.
His second year in Cleveland, he went 13-12 with a 3.43 ERA in 199 innings, striking out 200 hitters.
He was struggling mid-season, his ERA was 4.93 at the All Star break, and made some relief appearance in July, but in the second half Eckersley went 9-4 with a 2.41 ERA and 138 punch outs in 119 frames.
In 1977, Eck threw a then career high 247.1 innings, and led the AL in strikeout to walk ratio at 3.54. He also authored his only career no-hitter beating the Angels 1-0.
What is forgotten is that in his previous start, Eckersley went 12 innings against the Mariners, and didn't allow a hit after the fifth inning, so he had thrown 16-2/3 hitless innings.
The start after the no-no came on June 3rd, again vs. Seattle at the old Kingdome. The Mariners didn't get a hit in that contest until two outs in the 6th, meaning the righty fired 22-1/3 hitless innings. That's very close to the major league record of 24, set by Cy Young.
And he did it as a starting pitcher.
Unfortunately, the Indians dealt Eckersley to Boston following the season for four players, notably the hot prospect, Ted Cox. The best player the Indians ultimately received was catcher Bo Diaz. Eck won 20 games in his first year with the Red Sox.
GM Phil Seghi felt Eckersley's sidearm motion wouldn't hold up long term. And there was the other matter of teammate Rick Manning falling in love with the pitcher's wife.
Seghi made the wrong choice on which player to move along, and Eckersley wound up pitching until he was 43, becoming a dominant closer.
He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 2004 after winning 197 games and saving 390 more.
His stay with the Indians was brief, but we were always a fan. It would've been nice to have him with the Tribe a little longer.