Top of Mind: Dennis Eckersley

Red Sox Analyst, Catch Phrase King, Moustache Defender, Age 54, Ipswich.

Photograph by David Yellen

Photograph by David Yellen

These days it’s possible for pitcher to be hurling hairy cheese with mustard one moment, and tossing cookies the next. If any of that makes sense to you, clearly you’re warming up to Denis Eckersley, who’s been filling in for local legend Jerry Remy on NESN’s Red Six broadcasts this season. The Hall of Fame pitcher has certainly brought a unique vocabulary to the booth, but it’s his easy, laid0-back style that’s winning over TV execs and fans worldwide. All season he’s worked TBS’s Sunday broadcast (recently inking a multiyear contract extension for his postseason gig), and as the playoffs approach, expect to see the freewheeling commentator at the top of his game.

The way I talk is sort of a collection of all the stuff I’ve heard over the years. Whether it’s “the cheese” or “the hair,” everybody has a different name for everything. I got most of my stuff from a guy named Pat Dobson, who I played with in Cleveland right before I came here.

It’s not like I have these aspirations to be the number one guy. I’ve let life come to me…. The NESN job came my way. TBS came my way. And it came at a time when I was ready for it.

The thought of replacing somebody like Jerry—early on, it was like, “Whoa!” It was more difficult than I thought. He’s like an icon, you know? You can’t think about it, because you wouldn’t even want to do it.

It takes a long time to get good at it. When to talk, the timing and the chemistry with the guy you’re with…it just takes time.

When I first came to Boston back in ’78, I was single. And then I married somebody who was from here [they later divorced], so that’s how I ended up staying. Even going between Chicago and California for years, I kept coming back here for the off-season. This is home.

I have no feelings for any one team, none. When you’ve played in the big leagues as long as I have, all you care about is rooting for someone you know. Like Tony La Russa—when I watch the Cardinals, I hope they win. You have to have a personal connection.

In Boston, everywhere you go it’s like, “What happened with the Sox today?” [but] doing this job, you want to be objective…. I mean, I don’t want anybody to think I don’t care about the Red Sox, but not to the level of “Oh God!”

I miss pitching sometimes. What I don’t miss is the failure. I’m thinking, “Yes, I don’t have to deal with that,” because I know how hard that was for me.

It kind of gets to me if somebody drops “porn star” on my moustache.

That’s another part of this business: You can’t be sensitive to criticism, because you’re open for it.

When I left the game in ’98, I didn’t think that pitchers [were taking steroids]. If anything, I thought it was just the guys trying to hit bombs, the everyday players. Little did I know it was all the way through the game…. I don’t want to sound like a dope, but I was blinded by being self-absorbed. It didn’t affect me, in a way. I wasn’t thinking, “Oh my God, this isn’t fair, these guys are all juiced up.”

The best pitcher of our time? I would’ve said Clemens. Now I say Pedro. He played in that era when people were juiced, and he was dominant. Simply dominant.

Because my wife’s been in politics and because the presidential race was just here, I’ve been watching more politics over the past five years than I ever have. Which is not a bad thing until you get addicted.

I was almost rooting for Hillary. And I didn’t like Hillary. But McCain was killing me and that was it. We didn’t have anybody.

I like to golf—I only wish I was better at it. That’s really one of the few things you’re probably going to play the rest of your life. It’d be nice to be good at it.