Dennis Eckersley got a standing O Monday night in Fenway Park. Not for pitching, though even at 62 the Hall of Famer looks like he could still go out to the mound and shut the other guys down to secure yet another win. The Red Sox honour assorted team legends at each home game, and Monday night was Eckersley’s turn.
After highlights of his career were shown on the ballpark Jumbotron, cameras cut to Eckersley in his seat in a team suite. The Fenway faithful went nuclear in their ovation. He gave a wave with a facial expression half grateful and half nervous. And you wondered whether the New York Post‘s Mark W. Sanchez was the only one thinking the ovation chose Eckersley’s voice over David Price’s anything.
“It was weird,” Dennis the Menace told the Boston Herald‘s Steve Buckley. “You’re getting cheered for getting yelled at. It was weird.”
Now on the disabled list with an elbow issue similar to the one that drydocked him earlier this season, Price chose to double down last weekend on his feud with Eckersley. “If you’re going to say what he said, come around, show your face,” he said before the Red Sox squared off against the Royals at home. “If guys have a problem with it, pull him aside. That ain’t how it’s done. That ain’t the first time it’s happened here regarding Eck. It’s unfortunate.”
Price insists he was standing up for Eduardo Rodriguez in June, after Rodriguez had a none-so-great rehab start whose stats were flashed on a monitor in the broadcast booth and for home viewers, prompting Eckersley—who probably knew a few such moments on the mound himself—to say, simply, “Yuck!” and Price to order him the eff off the team flight that night.
Which wouldn’t exactly make Eckersley that unusual among those whose broadcasting jobs are analysis. It probably wouldn’t hurt him to spend a little more time in the clubhouse, of course, but apparently today’s players think a Hall of Famer who is both observant and terse just doesn’t know what he’s talking about and probably never will.
Price wants to talk about standing up, for a teammate or otherwise? Let Peter Gammons—who covered the Red Sox for years and now edits and writes for his own site Gammons Daily—tell you a story about standing up, for a teammate and otherwise.
It was the 1978 weekend known in Red Sox Nation lore as the Boston Massacre, when the Yankees came to Fenway and bludgeoned the Olde Towne Team en route the comeback that turned a Red Sox runaway in the American League East into a one-game playoff showdown that’s long since been called the game of Bucky Bleeping Dent.
On the final day of the set manager Don Zimmer inexplicably chose a kid named Bobby Sprowl to start instead of Luis Tiant. “The kid has ice water in his veins,” Zimmer said. Ice Water Sprowl got bastinadoed and Zimmer got etched in red ink into the long, sad log of calamitous Red Sox miscalculations.
The day before, Eckersley got the start against Cy Young Award winner-to-be Ron Guidry. They matched shutouts until the fourth inning, when Lou Piniella’s pop fly to shallow right with two on and two out brought Jim Rice in from right, Fred Lynn in from center, Rick Burleson over from shortstop, and Frank Duffy—subbing for injured Jerry Remy—pursuing the ball.
Duffy turned to move aside when he heard Rice on his horse hollering for the ball. Then a gust of wind blew the ball right into and off Duffy’s hind quarters, allowing two Yankee runs home. Then B.F. Dent banged a bases-loaded high line drive off the Green Monster for two more runs. The Yankees chased Eckersley before the inning ended and with a 7-0 lead as he left.
The lead held up for the Yankee win. After the game, the press swarmed Duffy like vultures upon carrion. As Duffy began explaining the unfortunate error, Eckersley bolted forth from the trainer’s room and hollered, Leave him alone. Talk to me. He didn’t load the bases. He didn’t hang the [bleeping] two-strike slider to Bucky Dent. The L goes next to my name. Come over to my locker and question me.
Standing up for a rehabbing teammate over a one-word critique is easy. Standing up for a hapless one in the middle of a press pack after an extremely hard-luck loss triggered when a freak error opens the floodgates for your number one rival at your expense takes real cojones.
Dennis the Menace—who went forth from that hard-luck loss to beat the Yankees in the Bronx two starts later, before winning his next three consecutive starts, helping the Red Sox overthrow a late 3.5 game deficit (they’d once led the division by 10+ games that year), setting up the B.F. Dent Game—wouldn’t let you blame anyone else.
Not after Kirk Gibson flattened the back-door slider that sailed in through the lobby. Not after Tony La Russa sent him out in Game Three of the 1992 American League Championship Series, with two out, one on, and the Athletics down a run. With Joe Carter slashing a single moving Manny Lee to third and stealing second, before Eckersley’s fellow Hall of Famer Dave Winfield singled Lee home for what proved the insurance run, as the A’s went down in order in the bottom of the ninth against Tom Henke.
And not after the Reds pulled off their surprise 1990 World Series sweep, either, an A’s humiliation that might have been cause in part by La Russa’s refusal to consider Eckersley for anything other than the absolute ninth. In Game Two he didn’t bring Eckersley in to start the eighth with a 4-3 Oakland lead. In Game Four he didn’t bring Eckersley in to start the eighth with a 1-0 Oakland lead.
So what did Eckersley have to say after the sweep, which came a year after he landed his only World Series ring in the Earthquake Series sweep of the Giants?
“I said before in September if we didn’t win the whole thing, we choked,” he told Thomas Boswell. “So we choked. Now that it’s over, I’m relieved because it was killing us. It was killing me. I felt responsible and I feel embarrassed. Nobody wants to feel like that. It’s a bomb in the first inning of Game One and it was domination in every game. They crushed us twice and they beat us at our own game twice.”
That, ladies and gentlemen, is a stand-up man.
Eckersley—who’s been working as the number one television game analyst for the Red Sox with Remy still sidelined fighting cancer—has received no apology from any Red Sox player over the in-flight incident in which Price, miffed over the “Yuck,” told him to get the eff off the plane. He has, however, received apologies from the front office, including owner Tom Werner.
He’s not exactly complaining. “I’m cool with everything,’’ he told the Boston Globe the day after his standing-O from the Fenway faithful. “I’ve moved on. I’m just going to keep doing what I do, which is call it like I see it. It’s all about the Red Sox and the ultimate goal of winning it all.”
Sounds familiar. Sounds like the Dennis the Menace of old, in fact. Sounds like the Red Sox clubhouse of new could use a lot more of that and a lot less of a pitcher whose elbow should only be as functional as his big yap.