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Three-Run Johnson: An Ode To Dennis Eckersley

SB Nation logo SB Nation 8/15/2022 Bob Osgood
© Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Dennis Eckersley announced last week that he’ll be retiring from the NESN broadcast booth at the end of the 2022 season. He plans to move to California to be closer to his children and grandchildren this fall. Eckersley first put the headset on in 2003, and over 20 seasons filled various roles on the Red Sox broadcast. He has been as much an entertainer as he has been a thoughtful analyst during that time, and I couldn’t let the opportunity pass by without sharing some of my favorite quotes and moments from his time in the booth.

In the early years, you would often see Eckersley in the pre-and post-game show, which was reason enough to keep the television on for an extra half-hour or so each night. Whether it was an umpire with a tight zone (“I gotta have that”), sketchy defense from an opposing team, or a slow-working pitcher to blame for everyone being at the park so late, Eck would usually have a couple of solid one-liners and semi-innocent criticisms for us viewers who stuck around for the post-game show.

Once Jerry Remy began missing time in the booth, Eckersley’s role expanded and he spent more time alongside Don Orsillo and, eventually, Dave O’Brien. Watching at home, something was missing when Remy wasn’t there, and a few fill-in announcers stand out as particularly awkward. However, when Eckersley was in that chair, you felt like you were in good hands from both a knowledge and entertainment standpoint. As a former pitching great, he often had a sense of when a pitcher was reeling, as evidenced by the 2018 play of the year, the 13-pitch at-bat that ended with a Mookie Betts grand slam. There’s Eck casually stating, “Here we go. It’s time to party. Right here,” just before the 13th pitch is released (7:58 mark). “I’m tellin’ ya! It’s time to party!” he re-emphasizes as Betts rounds third base.

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Watching MLB.TV on a nightly basis, I can attest to how many trash announcing crews litter the broadcasts throughout the nation. Sure, an analyst may have played in the Big Leagues at some point, but can they speak to today’s game? Do they know the opposing team’s players outside of reading the pregame notes? For Dennis Eckersley, other than his need for a pitch clock, it’s clear that he loves today’s game as much as he did when he played. He often discuses how, after the drive home from Fenway, presumably in a drop-top with his moss flowing, he always watches the west coast games before calling it a night.

When Remy returned in 2010, NESN would occasionally deploy the three-man booth, especially for the big games. A Friday night Yankees-Red Sox game at Fenway in August had just a little more juice when this happened, and you can count me as someone who believes the “Orsillo, Remy, and Eckersley” booth was as good as it gets for baseball broadcasting.

© Boston Globe | Jim Davis

The Remy-Eckersly pairing occurred even more frequently after Dave O’Brien took on play-by-play duties in 2016. Remy and Eckersley had previously been teammates in Boston from 1978 to 1984 and had an outstanding rapport. As the play-by-play guy, O’Brien just needed to get them going and get out of the way.

For example, O’Brien asked the two of them about Studio 54 during a late-season game in 2017. Eck responded with the following, “I was Denny Disco. Gave up five bombs the next day after I went to Studio 54. That’s back in the day. I was just a kid, 23, 24 years old. I was in hog heaven. You know who I used to see in there? That artist, the guy that painted those tomato cans, Andy Warhol. You couldn’t miss him, kind of an Albino dude, right? He’s sitting there, I said I know who that guy is.” The genuine laughter from Remy throughout is delightful.

Within the replies to that tweet, you see one that displays the lone time in his career that he gave up five home runs, which in fact happened to be on July 1, 1979, at Yankee Stadium. That’s Eckersley’s uncanny memory on display, as it is on a nightly basis.

While Eck always hated a bad home plate umpire, a slow pitcher, or low attendance in an opposing stadium, (such as the day game in Detroit this past April when Eck noted, “Don’t be afraid to mix in a night game, maybe somebody will show up.”), nothing offends him more than a soft-tossing pitcher, “throwing salad”. Anytime I checked the probable starters and saw a guy who topped out at 86, I’d be sure to pay close attention that night. Poor Ryan Yarbrough had the deadly combination one evening of soft-tossing, slow-working, and a lack of control. As a result, we will forever have a five-minute YouTube video entitled: The Comedy Central Roast of Ryan Yarbrough, hosted by Dennis Eckersley and Jerry Remy. I hope no one has ever sent this to the Yarbrough family.

Remy: “This guy has got nothing to get Martinez out on.”

Eckersley: “He’s got nothing to begin with… He takes his sweet time out there too. That’s his favorite spot, salad away. Look at that [NESN displays pitch sequence]: salad, cutter, three more pieces of salad.”

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It wasn’t only the opponents who would catch heat from the booth. Unlike, say, Tommy Heinsohn on the Celtics broadcast, Eckersley was plenty willing to criticize the home team. If a Red Sox starter didn’t have his best stuff, Eck called that out. Poor baserunning? “That can’t happen.” He said the same things that we were saying on our couch. Unfortunately, that led to a dust-up with David Price and some other players who didn’t care to hear the truth. Eckersley took the high road and, for the most part, never changed his ways in the booth. I’m still not sure that Price ever found out that Eck is enshrined in Cooperstown.

Speaking of the truth, Eckersley has been plenty open about some of the low points of his Hall of Fame career and life outside of baseball. He coined the term “walk-off” by accident in reference to a pitcher walking off the mound while the other team celebrates. “I really don’t want ownership of the walk-off thing because it just reminds everybody ‘that’s the guy who gave up the home run to Kirk Gibson’,” Eckersley said in his MLB Network documentary. The home run by Gibson, which won Game 1 of the 1988 World Series for the Dodgers over the A’s, began a strong friendship between the two players and even lead to Eckersley interviewing Gibson for NESN on the 30th anniversary of the home run. He has also spoken candidly about his alcoholism and the end of his first marriage, beginning in a 1988 Sports Illustrated article. His wife left him in 1978 for his best friend, Cleveland teammate Rick Manning. In 2018, during one of the aforementioned three-person booths, Eck was asked if there were any players that he was close with despite being part of a rivalry on the field. Eckersley deadpanned, “I don’t know about a rivalry, I had a real close friend that stole my wife? How about that?”

I can say with certainty that sentence has never been uttered on any other MLB broadcast, before or since. When Bill James tried to downplay Frank Robinson’s 1966 MVP season the day after Robinson died in a now-deleted tweet, Eck literally told him to “Shut up.” Don’t worry, Eck never deleted his tweet.

© NBC Sports Boston

There is an endless list of Eckspeak that I’ll miss more than anything next season, including but not limited to: gas, cheese, paint, slide piece, change piece, piece of cheese, salad, bridge, moss, iron, slammage, gappage, I gotta have it, Stats Masterson, Gas Masterson, just to stay in shape, pair of shoes, studly do-right, mediocre cheese, educated cheese, that’s a beautiful thing, bet the ranch on it, time to party, walkoff Johnson, and, most importantly, three-run Johnson.

A high bar has been set in the Red Sox television announcers' chairs over the past 25+ years, starting with the Sean McDonough and Jerry Remy tandem and going through the upcoming retirement of Dennis Eckersley. Where it goes from here is a discussion for another day. As the Red Sox sit in last place by three full games with seven weeks left, I’m going to find a way to enjoy the rest of the season with Eck in our living rooms.

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