07/24/2004 6:18 PM ET
Eckersley reflects in image, Hall
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- On the last day before the rest of his life, Dennis Eckersley looked in the mirror. And conceded that the reflection was a phony.
|"I was just so aggressive. When I threw the ball, I just thought someone would make an out," Dennis Eckersley said Saturday. (Ben Platt/MLB.com)
"I acted a certain way on the mound so guys would think, 'This guy has it goin' on.' It was somewhat of an act," said Eckersley, reflecting on his hyper mound presence.
The celebrated -- or despised, depending on which side you were on -- act helped mask Eckersley's insecurities and became part of his repertoire.
"I was just so aggressive. When I threw the ball, I just thought someone would make an out. I went after people. I didn't nibble.
"I was just such a poor sport. I didn't like to lose. I don't know how I made it all those years ... I was grinding so hard all the time."
In the late '80s and early '90s, the Eck Act stood out for its audacity. "I'd walk into the locker room at All-Star Games with my eyes on the floor, thinking, 'Does this guy or that not like me?'"
Eckersley's eyes suddenly widened. "Today, a lot of guys are demonstrative. I'm not so bad anymore." And he chortled heartily.
Eckersley's eyes widened often, and he chortled a lot, during Saturday afternoon's formal media conference at Cooperstown High School, his and Paul Molitor's final public appearance prior to their induction Sunday afternoon as the newest members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
The media event followed two days of hanging around with his soon-to-be fellow Hall of Famers, whose advice brought out the caustic in Eck.
"'Don't make too long a speech.' Jeez, that's all I hear," Eckersley said. "It'll be better next year, they say. What is that? I'm here this year.
"But I revere this so much, I don't want to do anything wrong," added Eckersley, who will be enshrined with 25 family members among the vast outdoor audience at the Clark Sports Center.
He is genuinely a 49-year-old kid in the candy shop, amazed that they have let him in, wondering how he got to this place.
"This is a difficult club to get into. I'm just glad I'm here," he said.
He threw his first pitch what seems like a blink ago, but it has been 29 years. And sometime around 3 p.m. Sunday, whenever he folds the speech he had just made, Eckersley will finally stop thinking like a pitcher, stop looking for the next sign.
"For me, it's major closure," he said. "For five years, while I really thought I had a chance for this, I never really shut it down.
"After this, I can go into shutdown mode. I'm ready to move on, to whatever."
Eckersley has never really left baseball, currently working as one of the Boston Red Sox's television game analysts. Baseball has certainly not left him.
Sunday, the two will be wed forever -- ironically, following a very public farewell at which Eckersley's hip bravura will likely finally melt with tears.
He has been through so much good, so much bad -- so much life -- that his efforts to do justice to all the people and events will be emotional.
"It will be my story, dealing with the special people in my life and the places where I've played," Eckersley said Saturday, previewing the induction speech he has pored over for weeks.
Earlier, he had said that he wanted his speech to "more than anything, get across that my recovery thing goes on for rest of my life. It's about acceptance in life when something happens to you.
"Hope is the message, not despair ... 'I did it, maybe you can do it, too.'"
Allusions to his 1987 conquest of alcoholism. Yes, it will be emotional. But it will also be Eckersley, so thousands will walk away from the Clark Sports Center feeling good.
For 15 years, many people have been hung up on the two pivotal postseason homers he has allowed, among the most infamous in baseball history.
Those who consider Kirk Gibson's homer in the 1988 World Series and Roberto Alomar's blow in the 1992 ALCS indicative of Eckersley's clutch forget about his hundreds of money-time saves.
Those who are concerned about the psychological scars of those homers forget this is a man adept at recoveries.
Eckersley admits to having been bothered far more by the two-run Alomar homer in the ninth inning of Game 4 that turned around the ALCS in the Blue Jays' favor.
"That hurt a lot more," he said. "I had a lot to do with us not getting to the World Series. By then, I'd been a closer for a number of years, and my expectations of myself were high. I wasn't expecting that.
"Gibson? That was the first game ... we had all the chances to come back in that Series."
The gimpy Gibson's pinch-hit home run to win Game 1 of course is one of the definitive moments of recent baseball history.
A reporter from Los Angeles on Saturday informed Eckersely that, in fact, Gibson's homer has been named the No. 1 moment in L.A. sports history.
"That's wonderful," Eck said, at his sarcastic best. "I'm thrilled.
"It was an incredible moment for baseball, but a horrible moment for me."
Then came the zinger.
"Kirk has his moment ... I'm in the Hall of Fame ... See ya!."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.